Finding a solution to vision problems in children: should the Government ‘go to Specsavers’?

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There are some rather obvious problems with the current vision screen system: not all pupils are screened, screening varies, and schools are not informed of the result. Often, responsibility falls to parents or teachers to notice eyesight problems, and subsequently for parents to take a child to the opticians. This means that, in England, a very large number of children who should be getting and wearing glasses are not, and this will be having an impact on their achievement at school.

The Government has recently spent £1 million on an EEF-funded RCT Glasses in Classes, in 100 schools in Bradford, as part of the local Opportunity Area initiative. This is now being expanded to another 100 schools in other areas at further cost of around £400,000. Michelle Donelan MP, Minister of State for Universities, described the project in a recent letter to the Education Select Committee (17/03/21): “It is an innovative project working to solve a significant problem. All children in Bradford receive an eyesight test in their Reception year. The results are shared with families but not with schools. Our data found that 2,500 children in Bradford do not get the glasses they need, and that schools are unaware of their uncorrected eyesight issues. In many cases, children were perceived to have problems with reading – provoking the wrong, expensive, educational response – rather than a problem with eyesight.”

Fischer Family Trust Apex Vision Screening Project

Rather than implement a RCT, the Fischer Family Trust is trialling a low-cost Specsavers online vision screen in a small number of schools, where parental consent permits children to be screened by school staff, and where schools know which children fail the screen. Letters are subsequently issued to parents, indicating their child needs to go to a local optician for a free eye test. Schools are able to effectively follow-up with families and can track children’s outcomes. Specsavers provide the screen free of charge to schools, so the only cost is a teaching assistant’s time to conduct the screen (around 5 minutes per pupil) and staff time to obtain parental consent and follow-up with families. We aim to share experiences in order to develop the most effective methods for using the Specsavers vision screen and for subsequent school follow-up. We believe our project tackles the current vision screen system limitations at low cost and maximises the chances of removing children’s undetected vision problems, thereby contributing to ending avoidable early literacy failure.

Louise Parkinson

Fischer Family Trust Apex Vision Screening Project