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Free specs for kids to boost literacy

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Written by: Emma Lunn
23/09/2021
Thousands of schoolchildren will benefit from an expanded programme that provides two free pairs of glasses to improve reading and writing by tackling poor eyesight.

According to the British Medical Journal, 30% of pupils who need glasses have not been to an optician, while disadvantaged children are less likely to get, or wear, the glasses they need.

The government’s ‘Glasses in Classes’ scheme aims to ‘level up’ outcomes and will be adapted for five disadvantaged areas in England, under the Opportunity Area programme. Ministers say this will reach more than 9,000 pupils in at least 225 schools.

Children identified as needing glasses will receive one pair for home and one for school, helping them concentrate in the classroom and improve their literacy skills.

Nadhim Zahawi, education secretary, said: “As a young boy shortly after arriving in this country, I sat at the back of the classroom with poor language skills and low confidence, struggling to engage with my lessons.

“Back then, I could never have dreamt of the opportunities this country would give me and I am determined to help every young person overcome obstacles, just as I was supported.

“Too many children still struggle with the literacy skills they need to make the most of their education. Simple steps like providing free glasses to those that need them so they can clearly see words on a page, for example, can help close the literacy gap and foster a love of learning.”

The ‘Glasses in Classes’ project was developed by the Centre for Applied Education Research (CAER), a partnership created by Bradford Opportunity Area to remove health barriers to learning.

It was expanded across the city in 2019 using Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) funding to include 100 primary schools, of which half received the intervention, to further investigate the effect on literacy attainment of providing additional glasses for use in school.

The scheme will now be available for pupils in Doncaster, Derby, Durham, Norwich and Breckland, and North Yorkshire Coast.

Under the scheme, children and their families will receive support from a vision co-ordinator, usually a teaching assistant, to attend follow-up eye examinations, get their prescription glasses and wear them regularly.

Schools don’t usually get the results of vision screenings that pupils take in reception class but, during the Bradford pilot, these results were shared with staff in schools so they knew which pupils and families to support.

Children are already entitled to free NHS sight tests and vouchers to help with the cost of glasses, but this trial gives them two pairs for free.

Studies have shown that vision improved for children who wear their glasses compared to those who do not and that there is a link between poor eyesight and reduced literacy scores.

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