SeeAbility children in focusNearly 4 in 10 pupils attending special schools have no history of eye tests, which means that thousands of children are potentially missing out on the eye care they need, according to new research by national sight loss and disability charity SeeAbility.

Children with learning disabilities are 28 times more likely to have serious sight problems than other children. There are 100,000 children in special schools in England, and if SeeAbility’s findings are replicated nationwide 37,000 could be missing out on the eye care they need. If eye problems are undetected children’s sight will be at risk.

The statistics are in the new report, An Equal Right to Sight, released by SeeAbility as part of its Children in Focus Campaign. The report draws evidence from the charity’s research project with Cardiff University’s School of Optometry and Vision Science. 

SeeAbility says it’s unacceptable that there is no national plan to meet the eye care needs of children with disabilities. “We are calling on the government to make sight tests available in every special school in England,” said David Scott-Ralphs, chief executive of SeeAbility. “Children with profound disabilities may not be able to tell someone they have a sight problem, or get to a high street optician. Let’s bring much needed eye care to them instead.

“We want people to join our Children in Focus Campaign and sign the petition on our website. This will be handed in to the Department of Health as this is a major health inequality that the government and NHS have a responsibility to address.”

SeeAbility has been delivering specialist sight tests to pupils in a cluster of London-based special schools since October 2013. Seven schools are now involved in the pilot scheme. 

The difference an eye test can make to a child with a learning disability can be profound. For example, Brandon is a pupil at The Village School in North London, is on the autism spectrum and non-verbal. He received his first sight test at age 16 and it was found that he could not see out of his right eye. If Brandon had received treatment before the age of seven, he might be able to see perfectly today.

“Every child in this country has the right to a free eye test,” said Kay Charles, headteacher of The Village School. “We need to look at these things in depth and change it for the better because thousands of children are missing out and they are the most vulnerable in our society. That has got to be wrong.”

Scott-Ralphs concluded: “The government needs to make it easier for children with disabilities to get a sight test. Making sight tests available in every special school in England would be a start in making the reforms needed and help thousands of children with disabilities.”