One in two local authorities in England fail to employ specialist teachers to support children with sight and hearing loss

  • Freedom of Information (FOI) data, published in a new report by national disability charity, Sense, reveals that half (52%) of all local authorities fail to employ any multi-sensory impairment (MSI) teachers.
  • There are nearly 4,000 children with MSI in England. The combination of hearing and sight loss means that they need specialist support to learn and develop.
  • Sense report calls for introduction of an ‘MSI Education Fund’ with £34.3 million ring-fenced funding to recruit, train and employ MSI teachers.
A woman and her son lie on the floor, reading a book. The mother, Sarah, is smiling. The boy, Harry, who has blue glasses and an orange t-shirt on, is concentrating on the book.

10 March 2022 – Children with combined sight and hearing impairments in England are currently missing out on vital support in school, according to a new report* by the national disability charity Sense.

There is estimated to be 3,829** children with multi-sensory impairment (MSI) in England, yet new Freedom of Information (FOI) reveals that half (52 per cent) of Local Authorities don’t currently employ specialist MSI teachers.

The combination of hearing and sight loss means that children with MSI have unique educational needs and require specialist support. MSI teachers provide educational support and deliver individual curriculum programmes that ensure a child’s needs are met and that they can develop key skills.

Yet, despite this, many local authorities may be failing to meet their legal duties and responsibilities, as set out in the Children and Families Act 2014. Some local authorities have teachers that specialise in support for hearing impairment or support for visual impairment, however, this is not the same as specialist MSI support due to the additional barriers to learning created when sight loss and hearing loss are combined.

The research by Sense shows that MSI specialist teaching provision varies widely across the country. In particular, there is a high percentage of areas without MSI teachers in the North-West (81 per cent), compared with a low percentage in the South-East of England (27 per cent).

Sense is calling on Government to introduce an ‘MSI Education Fund’ with £34.3 million ring-fenced funding available to local authorities in England to recruit, train and employ MSI teachers to improve the provision available and meet the needs of the population over the next five years.

Richard Kramer, Chief Executive of Sense, said:

“Although they may experience many barriers, children with combined hearing and sight impairments are able to learn when they have the right specialist support in place.

Without the right support, children with unique educational needs, are often left out of and unable to participate in learning. As a result, they are less likely to achieve their potential and live independent lives in their communities in the future.

Everyone deserves the chance to have the best start in life, and this includes children with complex disabilities having the same right to access education.”

Harry, a young boy who receives MSI support.

Harry’s story:

Harry, 8, has multi-sensory impairment, which means he has problems with his hearing and sight. At his first school, in Buckinghamshire, he received specialist support from an MSI teacher, credited with helping him to develop key communication skills, such as signing and writing numbers and words.

Unfortunately, his mother, Sarah Johnson, says things went downhill when the family moved to Bourne in Lincolnshire.

Lincolnshire council initially refused to offer specialist MSI support to Harry. His mother, Sarah, says she had to “fight” to get Harry’s needs recognised in his Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP)***, but even now this has happened, the support is a shadow of what he received in Buckinghamshire. Harry doesn’t receive any one-to-one support and the MSI teacher is only available to support him six times a year.

Sarah Johnson said:

“MSI teachers are specialists in breaking down the learning and communication barriers that children with MSI face.  The support we received in Buckinghamshire made an incredible difference to Harry, helping him to learn vital skills, which has helped reduce frustration and behavioural issues. 

“Since moving to Lincolnshire, we’ve had to fight to get Harry the support he’s now receiving, but it’s not enough and I worry about his development and how it will impact his future.

“How can the support be brilliant in one part county but not the other? These are children’s lives that are being messed with.” Sense is writing to the Chancellor ahead of the Spring statement, asking for funding.

Contact Sense’s media team

Email: [email protected]
Phone number: 0203 833 0611