NHS England's Special School Eye Care Service

Children with learning disabilities are 28 times more likely to have a serious sight problem.

Our peer reviewed research shows that thousands of children with disabilities across the country are missing out on the eye care they need. Over four in ten pupils we have seen had no history of eye tests or eye care, and yet half of the children have a problem with their eyes or vision, and at least a third need glasses.

NHS England responded to our findings from this work by committing to providing a fully funded eye care and glasses service to all special school students, which had begun to rollout to over 80 special schools in 2021.

In 2022 rollout halted for an evaluation. In 2023 a revived commitment was made to special schools eye care with rollout across England from 2024/25. As more news comes in we will keep this page updated or please see the NHS contact email below if you would like to contact NHS England for more information.


The NHS special schools eye care service is based upon the 'Framework for the provision of eye care in special schools in England' paper, written in collaboration with the country's optical bodies. All children will be offered a full vision and eye health assessment, at least every year and more often if needed. When children need glasses, these will be provided free of charge and children will be supported to get used to wearing new glasses. Plain English reports will be shared with parents/carers and teachers to explain each child’s visual abilities and needs, so that everyone understands how best to support them to get the best possible vision and, where necessary, how to adapt their education and support.

Launching the programme in 2021, NHS England had produced a series of 3 films for special school staffparents/ carers and clinicians to explain more about the new special schools eye care services.

NHS England also worked with SeeAbility, Contact and the National Deaf Children’s Society to produce a series of 3 guides for families on eye checkshearing checks and dental checks for children with a learning disability or who are autistic. The guides explain why these health checks are important, how they are done, how to access them and how to prepare and support your child.

The ambition of NHS England’s Eye Care programme was to eventually improve access to eye care services for all people with a learning disability or who are autistic and SeeAbility is also campaigning to ensure these wider changes happen. Please see our policy position for more analysis. However, for children who do not attend a special school, or where an in school service is not yet established, an eye test at least every year is recommended. All children under the age of 16, or 19 and in full time education, are entitled to a free NHS eye test carried out by an optometrist at a community opticians and vouchers will be made available to purchase glasses for those who need them. You can arrange this yourself and do not need to be referred. This test will include checking how well your child can see, how the eyes work as a pair, how the eyes are focused (to see if glasses are needed) and the health of the eyes inside and outside.

Children can also be referred by their GP, paediatrician or optometrist to a community vision clinic or hospital eye clinic where necessary.

Special school eye tests

SeeAbility’s Special School Eye Care Service

Since 2013, SeeAbility has provided over 4,000 eye care appointments and over 2,000 pairs of glasses to children in London, Manchester and Durham. 

As part of the NHS Special Schools Eye Care Service, SeeAbility currently provides eye care services in over two dozen special schools in London.

Our team of experienced optometrists, orthoptists and dispensing opticians are provided training, with support from NHS England, for colleagues who are now part of the Special Schools Eye Care Services rollout and who are working in special schools in the North West and North East of England.

If you are an eye care professional and want to keep up to date on the area of learning disability eye care and special schools eye care services, please follow our LinkedIn group.

Read the Eye Care and Vision Strategy 2021-2023

The Bradford Visual Function Box

The Bradford Visual Function Box

People with learning disabilities are 10x more likely to have serious sight problems. But traditional eye tests can be challenging. The Bradford Visual Function Box's innovative approach means you don't need to communicate to have your eyes tested.

Everyone can have an eye test – you don’t need to be able to read or speak.

The Bradford Visual Function Box

NASEN Guide to Eye Care for Teachers

We have worked with the National Association of Special Educational Needs to produce a guide for teaching staff on eye care and its importance.

Our awards

In 2017, our Dispensing Optician Ned Saunders was awarded the Optician Magazine Dispensing Optician of the Year Award for his work in special schools.

In 2019, our research was awarded the College of Optometrists Giles Van Colle Memorial Award for Excellence in Paediatric Clinical Research.

In 2020, in partnership with the schools where we provide eye care, we won the NASEN (National Association of Special Schools) Provision of the Year Award 2019.

In 2021 we won the Overall Award for Excellence at the prestigious Charity Awards, as well as picking up the category winner for the Healthcare and medical research award.

Get in touch

For more information on our work in special schools, contact:

Lisa Donaldson (Head of Eye Health) on 07899 975 143 or email l.donaldson@seeability.org

Or Noopur Patel (Optometry Clinic Manager) on 01372 755 068 or N.Patel@SeeAbility.org   

NHS England Contact

For more information on the NHS England national Special Schools Eye Care Service, contact england.specialschooleyecareservice@nhs.net