What we have learnt: how special schools have embraced eye care
The government backs the Special Schools Eye Care Service!
In June 2023 we were delighted to receive confirmation from the government that NHS sight tests will be on offer to all pupils in special schools from 2024/2025. As the article below was written when the service was in jeopardy, it may now contain some out of date information relating to future provision. Thank you to everyone who has supported the campaign, written blogs and stood firm about the benefits of the service.
This week we are featuring a series of blogs on the benefits of the NHS Special Schools Eye Care Service. Here, two special school leaders talk of how bringing eye care into special schools has been made such a difference for their pupils, with children now being able to make the most of their special education.
Stacey Sawicki is Deputy Head Teacher of Pupil Safety and Wellbeing at Hebden Green School, Cheshire. She says:
“The rollout of the Eye Care Service at our day special school has had a profound impact for children, parents and teachers.
"We are a specialist school for pupils between the ages of 2 and 19 with SEND. All our pupils have complex learning, medical, physical and sensory needs that mean that they need access to a wide range of multiagency professionals including nurses, physiotherapists and speech therapists during their school day. Having had this Service, we now know that eye care is also fundamental.
"Many of our children are reluctant to engage in clinic intervention and examinations such as those provided by a traditional eye care service. However, through the sensitive and specialised approach by a new visiting eye care team, 100% of pupils have been willing, and at times very eager, to have their eyes tested and choose their glasses.
"The visiting optometrist has worked closely with the school team to understand our pupils and responds well to them. He has motivating activities, games and toys that enable him to really understand what our pupils’ eye care needs are.
"Our pupils have fun when they have their eyes tested and are proud to choose their own glasses and wear them. The bespoke frames have given our pupils a real sense of identity and enabled them to make progress in the curriculum, which they are now more able to access.
"Our parents love the service and see it as something they would like in other areas. Feedback from parents has shown that having the service in school has reduced the many pressures they are under. They are happy that their children are receiving a service that acknowledges and meets their needs so that they can access the same offer as every other child. As the service provides two pairs of glasses for pupils, parents have shared that this reassures them, especially when the young person may need multiple pairs over time.
"We get a user friendly report as teachers on what the children can see and how we can help them make the best use of their vision. The impact of this is that our pupils are happier, healthier and more engaged. The Service has been a revelation and highlights best practice for health support for these young people. It should be in every special school, as soon as possible.”
Tina Harvey is Head Teacher at Perseid School in South London, and speaks of the long term impact eye care has had in the school. Tina says:
“Perseid was the first school that partnered with SeeAbility back in 2013 to test this model of care, and we’ve been on the journey since, hosting ministers, MPs, even royalty (see Tina with the Countess of Wessex, on World Sight Day) to showcase the fantastic impact that eye care has for children in our school, right through to when NHS England committed to roll this out for all special schools.
"The benefits of eye care build up and up over time, and it is a joy to see the progress that children have made in their education and independence, because so much of their vision needs are met. The relationships that are built with a familiar visiting eye care team, and the sharing of information in teaching plans means children now access their learning in such a profound way.
"Like all of my colleagues that have welcomed this service in their day special school my message for NHS England it must not break its promise: and remain fully committed to this being a service for all special schools.”
Watch the film that NHS England made at The Village School, London, for special schools and teachers, which shows the impact in school.