Education – in the House of Commons on 27th February 2023.
What discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on the provision of eye testing for children in special school settings.
The NHS long-term plan will give children with special needs in residential special schools access to sight checks. In addition, my Department trialled a new scheme in mainstream schools last year, Glasses in Classes, which provides a spare pair of glasses for every child who needs one. I look forward to hearing from Durham University and the University of Bradford, which will be publishing their findings on that in due course. The Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend Claire Coutinho, who is responsible for children, families and wellbeing, will continue to work closely on this issue with her counterpart in the Department of Health and Social Care.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. My recent visit to the Eden Academy in my constituency illustrated the importance of vision to achieving educational outcomes. What plans are there across Government to ensure the availability of sufficient and appropriate eye testing, so that children in SEND day schools are able to achieve the best possible educational outcomes?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, as this issue is really important. My nephew has Down’s syndrome and wears glasses, so I know of its importance, and it was a privilege for me to support the Down Syndrome Act 2022 when I was in my previous role. Free NHS sight tests are available for all children under 16 or under 19 and in full-time education. Children can be supported to access high-street services or referred to the local eye service. The NHS is evaluating its proof-of-concept sight testing programme in special schools, and that evaluation will inform decisions about the funding and delivery of any future sight testing model.
I thank the Minister very much for that response. I was a recipient of those glasses as a four-year-old—that was not yesterday, of course, as everybody will be aware! I went to school at four and had my eyes tested, and I got those circular NHS glasses that people will remember. The point I am making is that early eyesight testing is important. What is being done with the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that any glasses prescribed are stylish and able to be worn, and would not in any way disadvantage a person, especially a young person?
I do indeed remember those glasses, which I believe were available in blue and pink at one point. As I said, all children have access to free NHS sight tests, and voucher schemes are in place for glasses as well. In addition, we have Glasses in Classes and the programme in SEND schools, which are being evaluated. It is vital that young people can see when they are trying to learn to read and take in all that knowledge.