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Expertise centres for visually impaired children in the Netherlands

Focus: School Years

Topic: Inclusive education

J.W.F. Grevink


Royal Institute for the Education of Blind and Partially Sighted

Amersfoortsestraatweg 180

1272 RR Huizen

The Netherlands

* 31 35 6985811


  1. Introductory

This year, we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment. This event took place on the premises of the Royal Institute for the Education of the Blind in Huizen, the Netherlands.

In 1952, there were about 50 participants, now in 2002, we are here with 500 participants.

I presume none of the representatives of 1952 are present here today.   

As the director of the Royal Institute for Education of the Blind and Partially Sighted, which hosted the event in 1952, I am especially proud to be given the opportunity to inform you on the developments in special education of visually impaired children in the Netherlands.

I also represent the National Platform Education Visually Impaired.

The directors of the four educational institutes for visually impaired children cooperate in this platform.

  1. Social developments

In Dutch society a tendency has become apparent, which aims at active participation of impaired in social, cultural and economical life.

This development can also be seen in special educational policy: a growing need for integration and regulation of - in our case visually - impaired students.

Parents want their child to grow up in an as regular as possible environment and to attend mainstream education.

During the last twenty years, this tendency has shown itself in special education for blind and partially sighted children:

  1. Number of students

Nowadays, there are a total of over 2400 visually impaired children, who attend special education or receive special guidance.

883 students (35%) attend special education and 1564 students (65%) attend mainstream education combined with peripatetic educational assistance.

Annually, there is a small increase in the total amount of students. This is caused by the following factors:

1.     population increase in the Netherlands and therefore an increased number of visually impaired students;

2.     relative increase of visually impaired students from minority backgrounds;

3.     peripatetic educational assistance is an accessible form of educational support.

Compared to the percentage of students, who receive special education and also to the number of multiple (visually and mentally) impaired children, the percentage of students, who receive peripatetic educational assistance rises.

4.     Development of Expertise Centres

Until 2002, different laws applied to mainstream and special education in the Netherlands.

On the first of August 2002, during this conference, a new educational legislation will come into being, which monitors the relation between special education and mainstream education in order to facilitate access to mainstream education for students with limitations.

This system of Student-bound Financing, based on independent indication will be laid down in the Wet op de Expertisecentra (WEC).

The ten current kinds of special schools are accommodated in four clusters:

Groups of special schools organise themselves within a cluster thus forming local networks. The future expertise centres will have the following main functions:

1.     peripatetic educational assistance

2.     special education and secondary special education, including special education of multiple impaired children

3.     diagnostic assessment for the benefit of admittance and assistance (procedure planning)

4.     educational support (such as courses)

5.     regional services: consultation, advice and education

6.     research and development of sector-specific expertise

Since there has been a separation in legislation for mainstream and special education in the Netherlands, a system has been developed which regulates the financing: the student-bound financing.

In practice, this means that financial and personnel means will be received by the school, attended by students with special educational needs.

This legislation is also designated with the metaphor ‘rucksack’, a rather uncomfortable garment.

5.     Indication

Another important aspect of the new legislation is indication.

It is of course of the utmost importance, that children who need special assistance also receive it and that identical criteria are being used for all children. These criteria need to be applied as objectively as possible, taking the following into account:

  1. the student’s abilities (intelligence, independence, social-emotional development, etc.),

2)  the family and

  1. the environment (e.g. mainstream education). 

Guideline for the development of these criteria is the ICIDH-model, in which there is always attention for the educational limitation:

Which consequences has the limitation for the functioning at school?

Objective indication will be used from the first of August 2002.

This taxonomy will be further developed and refined in the period till 2006.

6.     Position sector visually impaired children

The schools for visually impaired children find themselves in a special


There has been special legislation for a number of sections since 1995.

This has been decided, in consideration with the Ministry of Education, Cultural Affairs and Science, because our relatively small sector has undergone a different development and includes an especially high percentage of integrated students.

The special position of the Visually Impaired Children Sector, becomes particularly evident in the following fields:

6.1 Financing

The special schools for Visually Impaired Children receive a kind of Lump-sum financing. However, a distinction has been made between financial and personnel means.

A great advantage is that financing is based on the functions which a school fulfils and less based on student numbers.

This also provides the institutions with the possibility to formulate and perform long-term plans on a great number of policy areas.

In Dutch Educational Establishment, primary, secondary and special education use a count-date (first of October) linked with personnel and material allowances.

When this count-date approaches, one can sometimes observe very complicated and fascinating scenarios at these schools.

Fortunately, the schools for Visually Impaired Children are hardly affected by this anymore.

6.2 Peripatetic educational assistance

The above mentioned stable personal and financial situation enables schools for Visually Impaired Children to compose a differentiated plan of action and a coaching plan for students who attend mainstream education.

Experience shows that coaching needs differ from student to student. This results in our peripatetic students receiving not a ‘rucksack’ but a ‘custom-made suit’.

6.3 Indication Visually Impaired Students

The admissibility to special education and/or special guidance has traditionally been based on the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) classic definition:

acuity = or < 0,3 or a visual field = or < 30 degrees.

These last years, an international discussion has risen about the updating of the above mentioned definition: more visual functions must be taken into account when deciding if a student is eligible for special coaching from our sector. 

The sector Visually Impaired is co-operating with an advisory committee of the Ministry of Education, Cultural Affairs and Science, on a ICIDH related approach based on measurable visual disorders.

For now, four groups can be distinguished:

-           ocular-motor functions;

-           visual-sensor functions;

-           visual-perceptive-cognitive functions;

-           visual motor functions.

Within this framework we currently speak, among other things, of the following assessments:

-           ophthalmologic assessment;

-           illumination assessment;

            -           visual function assessment;

-           low-vision assessment;

-           visual perception assessment.

With reference to the interpretation of the results of several research data,

the necessity of special educational support needs to be determined: is there an educational limitation?

As we speak, summer 2002, the talks between our sector and the ministry take place.

7.     Cooperation

The activities of the Education Visually Impaired Children Sector focus on education and educational related processes.

This is connected with legislation in the Netherlands. Rehabilitation activities (early coaching and early intervention, help at home, research and rehabilitation, intramural care and the like) are organised and financed by another ministry.

This often results in students and parents having to deal with two organisations. In this case there will be a close cooperation between the educational institutes and rehabilitation institutes. Point of departure at this: a child, a plan!

These collaborations can be expanded with other partners if the student’s situation gives cause for it.

8. Position of parents

Parents, who are, after all, responsible for their child, are often put into a client position in Dutch educational legislation and educational practice.

Demand determination is becoming an almost magical term in this connection.          

This strengthened position of parents can be observed in several areas:


Parents decide if their child applies for special help, coaching or education;


Based on assessment results, educational institutes give advice on the best continuation for a child; placement at mainstream education or special education. Parents however decide.


Educational institutes, annually formulate a plan of action or coaching.

This plan will be discussed with the parents, who naturally will be given the

opportunity to make additions and to express their views.

The final plan will be laid down by the concerned parties’ signing, including the parent’s signature.

The plan thus embodies the function of a curriculum related agreement for the period of one school year.


Parents can be elected for the Parent-Teacher-Association.

Employees are also represented in this council.

The Parent-Teacher-Association of an educational institute has far-reaching authority concerning the organisation of education, staff management and financial means (and the like) .

Research by the University of Amsterdam (2000) has shown that parents of visually impaired children in the Netherlands are generally satisfied with the choices and content of special education and coaching.


In 50 years the ICEVI will celebrate its 100th anniversary. During the last 10 years, I have learned not to make any predictions about future developments. My expectations have too often been caught up by reality. Nevertheless, I expect more people with a visual impairment to have acquired their own position in society. Here in the Netherlands, and in other countries.

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