SLE Project with Gipsy Hill Federation – Impact Journal for the Chartered College
The Latest News From The Laurel Trust - Issue 9 - Winter 2022
SeeAbility Article - The Power of Sight Testing in Special Schools - by Tina Harvey, Perseid School
Did you know that children with a learning disability are 28 times more likely than children without a learning disability, to have a serious sight problem? Back in 2013, staff at Perseid did not know that.
We are a London school for pupils aged 3–19 with severe and profound learning difficulties, including those with an additional diagnosis of autism. We knew that a significant number of our pupils had specific eye conditions or wore spectacles, but had little more detailed information. Apart from the very good termly input from the local authority’s peripatetic VI team for those pupils already diagnosed with a visual impairment, little additional expertise or vision screening was made available.
It was with great interest therefore, that we responded to an approach from the charity SeeAbility regarding the possibility of joining an ‘opt-in’ school-based eye care service.
It was explained to us that the eye care service being offered would provide an annual full sight test appointment for each pupil in the school, taking place at the school with feedback from the optometrist direct to teachers and with full parental involvement, and dispensing glasses on the premises if needed.
As a school we felt that the aims of the eye care initiative were in accord with the school’s mission to ‘Blaze a trail in outstanding holistic education’. We also saw this as an opportunity for greater family support – as all appointments would be carried out on the school premises thus avoiding hospital-based appointments and all the attendant challenges these present for children and families.
We are proud that Perseid was the first school to commit to being involved in the study, with a
further ten schools in London, Manchester and Durham joining the programme. The intention of SeeAbility from the outset was to use the findings from the screening service in the 11 schools to determine whether a sight testing programme would be appropriate for pupils with learning disabilities attending special schools. The article written by members of the excellent team supporting the pupils at Perseid School (Findings from an opt-in eye examination service in English special schools. Is vision screening effective for this population? Lisa A. Donaldson, Marek Karas, Donna O’Brien, J. Margaret Woodhouse;2019),gives further fascinating detail, showing that at least half of children in special schools have a sight problem and yet only one in ten children had ever been to a ‘high street’ optician for a sight test, and so many were simply missing out on the glasses they needed.
It will come as no surprise to those readers working in schools such as Perseid that the findings of the review confirmed the enormous benefit to our pupils: “almost all children with a learning disability can have an eye examination if the correct preparation is made” (Donaldson et al 2019). As we know, there is always a way to reach/communicate with/engage pupils with additional needs and the team allocated to Perseid are exemplary at this. It is not unusual, for example, to find the optometrist busy carrying out the test in corridors, in the playground or lunch hall, rather than the conventional assessment room. The team are skilled and ingenious in their ability to work with children with very significant special needs and, through close dialogue with teachers, support staff and parents, pupils’ preferred toys, communication methods, interests and attention spans can be shared to optimise the interaction with the optometrists.
Because the team visit regularly, relationships are built and pupils are able to feel confident with the team as they are used to seeing them around. The sharing of information between the SeeAbility team and class staff leads to increased awareness and understanding on both sides. Teachers and support staff have access to the eye team and benefit from being able to ask a quick question or check something out.
Every eye care visit is recorded by the team with a report for the parents/carers and school which is used to evidence visual needs and abilities within the EHCP – vital information that was hitherto rarely included. Subsequently, we are able to incorporate those needs into our teaching plans. Practically, spectacles are also dispensed at school via the team and it is easy to obtain replacements or repairs. Pupils are able to choose their preferred frames from the wide selection the dispensing optician brings.
Management of the team’s visits is straightforward and non-burdensome for the school. A named member of the SeeAbility admin team liaises with a named member of the school admin team. All permissions, reports etc are dealt with by SeeAbility. Where necessary, SeeAbility liaise with the peripatetic VI team and / or the hospital consultant to ensure appropriate exchange of information. The school and SeeAbility liaise at the start of each academic year to book in clinic dates and by managing this strategically in this way, the school is able to give the right priority in the school calendar and when allocating rooms, to this important service.
In the early days, it was a shock to us to discover the number of pupils who had untreated visual conditions or undiagnosed visual needs. There is no question that SeeAbility’s sight testing service to the school has improved our pupils’ access to learning in an absolutely profound way. This was recognised in November 2019 when both partner schools and SeeAbility won the prestigious Nasen Provision of the Year Award. Because we have seen first-hand the benefits, we have been delighted to support SeeAbility with publicity and information sharing. To that end, we hosted a visit in October last year from HRH the Countess of Wessex in her role as Global Ambassador for the International Agency for Prevention of Blindness.
What do parents think? The statistics from the summer 2022 London-wide parental review available through the SeeAbility website (www.seeability.org) speak for themselves:
• 92% of parents are happy with the eye care service*
• 93% would recommend our service to other parents*
• 4 in 5 parents now understand more about what their child can see*
• 28% of parents had already seen a difference in their child’s learning and behaviour as a result of wearing glasses* (*Of those that did not strongly agree or agree, none disagreed)
So many of the parents whose children are seen at Perseid say this is exactly the sort of service that makes their child’s life that bit easier, with accessing eye care being one less challenge to overcome.
“I am so happy that you are seeing our children in school, the whole experience was so much calmer. I have been struggling to get my son's eyes tested for a few years. He has autism and used to attend hospital but found the whole experience very stressful and traumatic (particularly the eyedrops). The lady we saw was so patient and because he was in his school environment he was calm too. I cannot praise this enough."
What next for SeeAbility?
Since 2019 SeeAbility has been part of an NHS England working group developing a programme of eye care for all special schools. NHS England is currently funding the service – called the ‘Special Schools Eye Care Service’ in 78 special schools not just in London but in the North of England too and is going to be running an evaluation in the coming months. In SeeAbility’s view it is absolutely crucial that NHS England are fully committed to establishing a national service, given there is a lot of change in the health system at the moment and more to come from 2023. And whilst we await the outcomes of the evaluation, the charity hopes that NHS England will be mindful of how hospital eye clinics are now grappling with long waiting lists and the Department of Education’s special educational needs reforms are focussed on early intervention. Bringing eye care to special schools is cost effective on both fronts but of course, fundamentally is about bringing children who most need it an equal right to sight. And who can argue with that?
How to get involved
Although this is now in a period of evaluation, if you would like to express interest in learning more about the NHS service you can contact the NHS on this email:
And for more background read more on SeeAbility’s website here which also has links to some films on the service:
Research on eye care needs of the special needs population
SeeAbility have published their findings of their eye care research project that Perseid School took part in. The research has been published in work in PLOSONE – an international peer reviewed journal. Here is the link:
The paper provides referenceable evidence of the high level of eye care need in the special school population as well as the inadequacy of vision screening for this group of children.
It provides evidence to support the Framework for special schools eye care we work to:
And it has provided the evidence which has led NHSEngland to commit in their new 10 year plan to the provision of eye care, audiology and dental services in all special schools.
Understanding the sensory world of children and young people on the autism spectrum with a view to developing best practice in teaching and learning
MSTA, partner schools and researchers formed a collaborative community of practice in order to understand and improve the sensory school environment for pupils on the autistic spectrum, and incorporate the findings into school improvement planning.
The paper aims to discuss this issue:
Useful resources for teachers who teach children with autism