Free glasses to boost literacy skills among poor pupils
Monday, September 27, 2021
Free reading glasses will be given to thousands more disadvantaged pupils in a bid to boost their literacy skills, the government has announced.
Latest figures released by the Department for Education show 30 per cent of children who need glasses have not been to an optician, hampering their ability to read and write.
For those children living in disadvantaged areas, they are even less likely to get, or wear, the glasses they need, the department said.
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By expanding its ‘Glasses in Classes’ scheme to five new disadvantaged areas in England, under the Opportunity Area programme, up to 9,000 pupils in around 225 schools could be reached, it added.
Under the scheme, eligible children will get one pair of glasses for home and one for school.
They will be supported by a vision co-ordinator, most likely to be a teaching assistant, to attend follow-up eye tests and wear their prescription glasses regularly.
The DfE said training would be made available for support staff taking part in the scheme launched to coincide with National Eye Health Week which starts today (Monday).
Pupils in Doncaster, Derby, Durham, Norwich and Breckland, and North Yorkshire Coast will benefit from Opportunity Area funding for the scheme.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said “simple steps” such as providing free glasses to children with poor eyesight would help close the literacy gap and promote better learning.
Referring to his own experience of being in a classroom as a young child with poor language skills and low confidence, he said the scheme would help to level up outcomes for disadvantaged pupils.
“I am determined to help every young person overcome obstacles, just as I was supported," said Zahawi.
“Too many children still struggle with the literacy skills they need to make the most of their education.”
The scheme, developed by the Centre for Applied Education Research, a partnership created by Bradford Opportunity Area to remove health barriers to learning, was expanded in 2019.
Funded by the Education Endowment Foundation, it targeted around 100 primary schools in the city, of which half were investigated further to assess the benefits on literacy attainment for those pupils that received free glasses in school.
The DfE said the latest expansion aims to support other areas facing similar challenges and to close attainment gaps that persist between some children and their more affluent peers.
During the pilot, results of vision screenings taken by reception pupils were made available to staff so they knew which families to support.
While children are automatically entitled to free NHS eye tests and vouchers to help with the cost of glasses, the pilot scheme provided two pairs for free, it said.
Data collected from the start of the Opportunity Area programme in 2017, showed pupils in Bradford were 6.2 percentage points behind the national average in reading at Key Stage 2.
By 2018, the gap had narrowed by nearly a third to 4.6 percentage points and halved to 3.2 percentage points in 2019, the department added.