Save special schools 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 As the article below was written when the service was in jeopardy, it may now contain some out of date information relating to future provision.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.

Children with high support needs and severe learning disabilities are most likely to have sight problems and yet the evidence shows that they are getting no or inadequate eye care. We're campaigning for NHS England to maintain the NHS Special Schools Eye Care Service and rollout eye care across all special schools.

A child wearing glasses

Half of children in special schools have a sight problem – most often needing glasses.

A strike through a retinoscope

Yet over 4 in 10 special school children have no history of any eye care.

Magnifying glass over an eye

This means thousands of children are missing out on the eye care they need.

SeeAbility has been campaigning to improve the eye care system for all people with learning disabilities for many years, as everyone deserves an equal right to sight.  

In 2019 there was a major breakthrough when NHS England committed to rollout a new national programme of eye care in all special schools. This started to rollout in April 2021. 

But the rollout has stopped for an evaluation and it is by no means certain the programme will continue past summer 2023. We’re determined to ensure NHS England makes good on its promise. You can help us get this programme over the line! 

Read more about the NHS Special Schools Eye Care Service.

"Fundamentally it is about a basic human right to equitable eye care that was promised to our children. And that is worth fighting for."

Alyson Farrell, parent carer

Uncertain future

The new NHS Special Schools Eye Care Service was launched in April 2021 with the intention of ultimately reaching all special schools and over 140,000 children. Providing sight tests and glasses, it would be a first step in plans to improve eye care for people with learning disabilities, and was co-produced by an external advisory group including people with lived experience, family carers and eye care professionals. 

Having reached 80 day special schools and 3 residential special schools - supporting almost 11,000 children - national rollout of the service was halted in August 2022 for an evaluation. 

The Service is now being characterised by NHS England as a pilot which will end on 1 August 2023, and only a commitment for residential special schools, so the future programme of work is now uncertain. This includes for children already getting the Service in their day special school, and because it was promoted as a new long term Service, some hospital eye clinics have already discharged children to this support, which leaves their future eye care uncertain. 

Any changes to the original NHS plan could now leave a massive gap in eye care services for children and adults with learning disabilities. 

“NHS England never says what a brilliant thing it is that thousands of children are now getting the eye care they need. Don’t write off this Service and the years of work that was put into starting it.”

Scott Watkin, BEM

Read more about the concerns from member of the NHS expert working group Professor Kathryn Saunders and SeeAbility's Head of Engagement Scott Watkin BEM.

“The Royal College of Ophthalmologists have been involved with the development of the service over six years….. The special school eye service has had a positive impact on the children and their families as well as waiting lists and the backlog in local hospital eye services…We are very concerned to hear from the evaluation team that the service is in jeopardy.”

Royal College of Ophthalmologists


What about children with disabilities in mainstream schools?

As a first step the NHS plan had been special schools, as places where a large number of children with the highest support needs attend. It is not well known that the more severe a child’s learning disability, the more likely they are to have a sight problem, and research had confirmed this in almost half of children in special schools.  

But the expectation had been that the NHS would move on to other community improvements too, such as the need for a learning disability eye care pathway in each area to be accessed by both children and adults. At the moment these are only in a few areas of the country.  

The changes to the NHS plans for special schools leaves all these years of work uncertain, meaning we have to go back to campaigning for a more equal right to sight. 

When will this service come to my child's school?

We hope that the concerns that are being raised by all, as well as the evaluation that is yet to report, will show the benefits of the Service and secure a future rollout to all special schools. 

This service is not at my school - how can I get support for my child?

There is advice on how best to get eye care for your child on the SeeAbility at our dedicated children and young people’s pages or contact us at You can also search for an optometrist on our dedicated database

NHS England also worked with SeeAbility, Contact and the National Deaf Children’s Society on three guides around sensory checks. You can read the eye care guide for parents of children with a learning disability or who are autistic.

What about adults with learning disabilities?

SeeAbility is also campaigning for improved access to sight tests and glasses for adults with learning disabilities as sight problems are the most common issue that people with learning disabilities face. By signing up to our eye care mailer, we’ll be able to keep you updated on this work and show your support for our campaign for an equal right to sight. Sign up for our eye care newsletter to get regular updates.

Where can I access more information on eye care for people with disabilities?

There is advice on how to get eye care including in easy read formats on our eye care pages, or contact us for information and advice at