Schools

Free eye tests in special schools under £10m scheme

165k more children will benefit from April 2024 after criticism over roll-out delay

165k more children will benefit from April 2024 after criticism over roll-out delay

Free NHS eye tests will be made available to all special schools from April next year in a £10 million government scheme.

The NHS’s Long Term Plan committed in 2019 to sight tests in all special residential schools, but following a “successful” pilot it will now be extended to all day schools.

Ministers say this will reach about 165,000 more children from April 2024.

It follows campaigns from eye health experts and charities who were concerned about a “lack of progress” for a long-term solution.

Charity SeeAbility say children with learning disabilities are 28 times more likely to have a serious sight problem.

Ministers say that while free NHS sight tests are available for all children, some face particular challenges in accessing high street testing services.

Testing in school allows children to receive “personalised advice on optimising the environment for learning,” health minister Neil O’Brien said today.

If a child needs glasses, an optical voucher will be provided to help with the cost of glasses.

Unknown sight issues cause ‘major barrier to learning’

In 2021, NHS England launched a “proof-of-concept programme”, piloting sight testing in 80 day special schools and three residential.

The evaluation is yet to be published, but the Department for Health and Social Care claim it was a “success”.

In February, the Clinical Council for Eye Health Commissioning wrote to the NHS urging them to commission a school eye care service.

They were “concerned by the delay” and “apparent lack of progress in… commissioning a long-term solution that supports those children who require such a service”.

SeeAbility has also been campaigning for a nationwide rollout.

Dan Scorer, head of policy at Mencap charity said undiagnosed sight issues for children with a learning disability “form major barriers to learning and development”.

O’Brien said the NHS will now engage with stakeholders and the public over the summer before publishing a revised service specification and roll-out plans.

Current contractors will continue to operate under the pilot arrangements, he added.

In a separate initiative, Glasses in Classes was rolled out to 225 schools in five disadvantaged “Opportunity Areas” by the Department for Education in 2021.

An Education Endowment Foundation evaluation of the pilot scheme for reception aged children found it can add one months progress for children eligible for free school meals.

However, pandemic disruption meant it was “harder to accurately estimate the size of the impact on pupils in the trial”.

Professor Becky Francis, EEF chief executive, said the new scheme was “encouraging” and added: “In order to make sure children get the support they need, strong communication between health professionals, educators and the school communities they serve is also crucial.”

More from this theme

Schools

More than 10,000 pupils ‘fall through the cracks’ – de Souza

Children's commissioner makes wide-ranging recommendations to make school system more 'inclusive'

Freddie Whittaker
Schools

New legal duty on school staff to report child sexual abuse

Home Office outlines new safeguarding requirement - but few details confirmed and no date for introduction yet

Lucas Cumiskey
Schools

Pupils share food with classmates amid cost of living crisis

Poll for the NEU finds 37% of children know someone who 'sometimes does not have enough food to eat...

Freddie Whittaker
Schools

Set Gatsby-style benchmarks for extracurricular activities, says EPI

Targets needed to address 'concerning inequalities in access', says think tank

Lucas Cumiskey
Schools

Government told ‘get a grip’ as new crumbly concrete closes schools

Urgent inspections launched after ceiling collapse at primary caused by crumbly concrete that isn't RAAC

Jack Dyson
Schools

Primary head named as first school safeguarding tsar

Jon Le Fevre will help the DfE explore whether schools should become a fourth safeguarding partner

Samantha Booth

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *