An evaluation on the eye care needs of children in special schools in England has now been published in the peer reviewed international science journal PLOS ONE. Three of the four authors, including the lead author, are from SeeAbility’s clinical team - Lisa Donaldson Optometrist and Clinical Lead, Marek Karas Senior Optometrist and Donna O Brien Policy and Research manager, supported by Dr Margaret Woodhouse OBE, of the School of Optometry and Vision Sciences at Cardiff University who is Principle Investigator for the project.

SeeAbility has worked for four years to deliver sight tests in a number of special schools and the paper plays an important role in publicising its work to effect a national change in England around eye care in special schools.

The paper reviews findings from SeeAbility’s eye examinations amongst 949 children attending 11 special schools in England and confirms the high level of visual needs in children in the special school population, with half having a problem with their vision. And despite children with learning disabilities being 28 times more likely to have a serious sight problem than other children, the research also points to over four in ten (44%) never having had a sight test.

Few children with the type of profound or complex needs that attend special schools appear to be accessing their right to an annual community NHS sight test (only around 1 in 10) with nearly half attending hospital eye clinics instead. The paper confirms the need for comprehensive eye examinations rather than traditional vision screening tests in special schools, as recommended by eye care professional bodies and recently Public Health England, and provides the case for support for children to have spectacle dispensing in school, with one third of children requiring glasses.

In January 2019 NHS England published its long term plan with a commitment to introduce a special schools sight testing programme, bringing eye care to over 100,000 children in England’s special schools.

Read more: Donaldson LA, Karas M, O’Brien D, Woodhouse JM (2019) Findings from an opt-in eye examination service in English special schools. Is vision screening effective for this population? PLoS ONE 14(3): e0212733 11 March 2019