Innovative scheme giving out free reading glasses to struggling pupils

Poor eyesight has been shown to hold children back in the ­classroom – but the right pair of glasses can reverse that and help foster a love of learning.

Yet ­studies show youngsters from ­disadvantaged areas are less likely to get, and wear, spectacles.

There’s a marvellous initiative going on at Leeds University, to help pupils with poor eyesight read better. With its initial success it’s being expanded to involve thousands more children.

The project, Glasses in Classes, arose from a collaboration between Leeds academics and Bradford schools and has won government funding to enrol 9,000 pupils in at least 225 schools. This means that pupils in ­disadvantaged areas such as Doncaster, Derby, Durham, Norwich, Breckland, and the North Yorkshire coast, will benefit.

A link has long been established between poor eyesight and lower literacy scores. Research has shown that one in three pupils who needs glasses hasn’t been to an optician.

The project supplies children who need glasses with two free pairs – one for home and one for school – with the aim of improving literacy and ­concentration in classrooms. It is one of several initiatives led by the Centre for Applied Education Research (CAER) to tackle health barriers to learning. Dozens of primary schools in Bradford have been taking part.

CAER programme director Professor Mark Mon-Williams, from Leeds School of Psychology, said: “The connections between health and education, our outstanding school leaders, the involvement of our regional universities, and the support from the Department for Education via the Opportunity Area initiative, shows the immense potential to level up opportunities for children through whole system working.” The announcement was made by the Department for Education to mark National Eye Health Week.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “Too many children still struggle with the literacy skills they need to make the most of their ­education. Simple steps like providing free glasses to those that need them so they can clearly see words on a page can help close the literacy gap and foster a love of learning.

“As a young boy shortly after arriving in this country, I sat at the back of the classroom with poor language skills and low ­confidence, struggling to engage with my lessons”.

The project wraps around children and their families to get support from a vision co-ordinator to attend ­follow-up eye tests, get prescription glasses and wear them regularly.

Pupils are already invited to attend vision screenings in reception classes but schools aren’t usually given the results to act on. Schools participating in the project, however, can see the results, and therefore identify which pupils and families need support.