Thousands more pupils will be given free glasses in a bid to boost literacy by tackling poor eyesight.
The Department for Education has expanded its “Glasses in Classes” scheme to reach more than 9,000 pupils in at least 225 schools in England through its Opportunity Areas programme.
Children identified as needing glasses will receive one pair for home and one for school to help improve their reading and writing skills.
Opportunity Areas: Concerns over government's social mobility programme
Background: The 12 Opportunity Areas chosen for funding
The scheme, first piloted at 100 primary schools in Bradford, aims to prevent disadvantaged pupils from being left behind because of poor eyesight.
It will now be adapted for five disadvantaged areas in England under the DfE’s Opportunity Areas programme – through which the government has targeted more resources at 12 social mobility cold spots.
Glasses in Classes: Pupils get free glasses to help literacy
Children and their families in Doncaster, Derby, Durham, Norwich and Breckland, and the North Yorkshire Coast will now receive support from a vision coordinator, usually a teaching assistant, to attend follow-up eye examinations, get their prescription glasses and wear them regularly.
Schools do not usually get the results of vision screenings that pupils take in Reception but, during the pilot, these results were shared with staff in schools so they knew which pupils and families to support.
Speaking during National Eye Health Week (20 to 26 September 2021), education secretary Nadhim Zahawi 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.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “This novel scheme focuses on young people whose learning is hampered by poor eyesight and whose circumstances mean they have either not been to see an optician or do not have the glasses they need.
“It is refreshing to see the government reacting positively to a local initiative that has seen results in Bradford and extending it to a further five disadvantaged areas in the North of the country.
“It would be great if it could eventually be rolled out on a national basis to bring the same benefits to all young people.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union the NAHT, said: “It is essential that the government invests more in education and young people, and does so without delay.
“Programmes like this are encouraging but what the education sector is crying out for is a fully funded strategy for education recovery which meets the needs of all pupils in all areas of the country.
“There’s no time to waste, particularly because the Comprehensive Spending Review will be delivered next month.”