SENCO Week provides information to help you support pupils with physical or sensory difficulties and outlines the role of the Disability Discrimination Act

Most children will experience some level of physical or sensory difficulty at some time in their lives – whether it’s a broken leg, ‘glue ear’ or discomfort brought on by a medical condition. Teachers have to be aware of these conditions and how to alleviate any adverse effects on pupils’ learning. When difficulties are significant and long term, children are protected by the Disability Discrimination Act which makes it unlawful to treat them less favourably than others. This week we provide some reminders for you to share with staff about their responsibilities in this area, specifically for children with visual difficulties. Next week we look at hearing impairment and provide a help sheet on common medical conditions.

SEN Support

The Disability Discrimination Act

Schools and LEAs are under a duty not to treat disabled pupils less favourably than their non-disabled peers and to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure that they are not put at a substantial disadvantage in comparison to pupils who are not disabled. This involves planning strategically (via the accessibility plan) to increase access to school premises and the curriculum (including participation in after-school clubs, leisure and cultural activities or school visits) by:

  • Improving the physical environment; (providing appropriate equipment /technological aids/ additional staff support is made through SEN duties)
  • Providing written material in alternative formats to ensure accessibility (e.g. handouts, timetables, textbooks and information about school events).

Visual impairment Children with VI cover the whole ability range and the vast majority are educated in mainstream schools. Many can have their sight improved by wearing glasses, but parents can find it difficult to organise a visit to the optician, or do not recognise the need, so teachers and SENCOs may have to provide guidance and encouragement in this respect. Harry Potter has made wearing specs quite ‘cool’ for many youngsters – but the odd compliment from a teacher never goes amiss!

Signs of visual impairment include:

  • Holding head close to the desk/table or at an odd angle
  • Holding books too close/too far away
  • Blinking a lot, rubbing eyes
  • Screwing up eyes to look at things, squinting at the board
  • Sore-looking, weepy eyes
  • Clumsiness, often getting bruised
  • Headaches
  • Sensitivity to bright lights
  • Poor balance
  • Messy work
  • Confusion between similarly shaped letters/words
  • Difficulty with copying.

There are many causes of visual impairment, which affect children in different ways. For example, some conditions let too much light into the eye which leads to reduced vision in bright sunlight. Others can result in patchy vision a bit like looking through a colander. Vision may be blurred, cloudy, or parts of the ‘picture’ may be missing. Very few children with VI see nothing at all. The effects of various eye conditions are different and may vary from day to day, so it is important to seek specific advice from a specialist in your local authority VI service.

Monocular vision (seeing with only one eye) may occur as a result of injury, disease and in some cases, after unsuccessful treatment for a squint. It means that:

  • Pupils may adopt a compensatory head posture turning their head to one side
  • The field of vision is reduced so a pupil may be unaware of people or objects on his blind side; this can be especially hazardous in an unfamiliar, busy or cluttered environment
  • The child has no 3D stereoscopic vision; the environment may be confusing – steps and kerbs may not be recognised
  • It’s difficult to judge speed and distances so fast-moving games in the playground/PE may be frightening
  • Tasks such as threading needles or pouring liquids can cause difficulties.

How teachers can help

  • Check seating position: for a monocular pupil their good eye should be towards the teacher/whiteboard; lighting should be not too bright or too dim
  • Avoid standing with your back to the window as this creates a silhouette and makes it harder for the pupil to see you
  • Check that glasses are worn when they should be, and that they are clean!
  • Provide the pupil with his own copy of the text with enlarged print (good contrast and layout are often more important than size of print)
  • Check use of ICT (enlarged icons, talking text, teach keyboard skills)
  • Seek advice about special SATs and exam arrangements
  • Investigate the availability of low vision aids and lamps from the VI service as well as enlarged print dictionaries, lights, talking scales, play equipment, etc.
  • Draw the pupil’s attention to displays – which they may not notice
  • Keep floors free of clutter and tell the pupil if there is a change to the layout of a space or any new/temporary obstacles, especially any at head height (hanging artwork, etc).
  • If you are guiding a student with a visual impairment, let them take your arm, or with a young child, just hold hands: avoid leaving the child ‘in space’; always show them a chair or leave them touching the wall or a piece of furniture
  • Encourage pupils to learn touch typing and use it whenever appropriate
  • Read out what you are writing on the board and draw particular attention to the spelling of new and unfamiliar words: an individual desk copy of board work may be needed (allow extra time for completing written work if appropriate)
  • Expect the same standards of behaviour, but remember that these pupils may not see well enough to interpret the teacher’s gestures or facial expressions. A ‘look’ may not be sufficient to correct their behaviour!
  • nominate a work/subject buddy.


SEN News MP John Bercow is to investigate the provision of help for learners with Communication difficulties. The review, launched last month, was commissioned by the children, schools and families secretary, Ed Balls and health secretary, Alan Johnson. It is the first major review in seven years for people with speech, language and communication needs and should provide an excellent opportunity to bolster support for vulnerable children and young people. Mr Bercow promises to visit speech, language and communication services across the country to learn what works, what the problems are and what people think should be done to facilitate effective early intervention. He plans to submit an interim report by March 2008. Service providers, commissioners, academics, charities, parents, children and young people themselves are invited to participate in the review by emailing John Bercow at

or visiting the website

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This e-bulletin issue was first published in October 2007

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.