DfE expands free glasses scheme for schools in five areas of England

The Glasses in Classes scheme, which funds two free pairs of spectacles for children, will be rolled out to five disadvantaged areas of the country

child with cards

The Department for Education (DfE) will expand its Glasses in Classes scheme to reach more than 9000 pupils in disadvantaged areas of England.

Sharing data that reveals 30% of pupils who need glasses have not been to an optometrist, suggesting that disadvantaged children are less likely to get or wear spectacles, the programme aims to provide two free pairs of glasses for children – one for use at school and one for home.

Funded by the Opportunity Area programme, the scheme aims to “level up outcomes” and improve literacy skills by addressing poor eyesight.

Originally run as a pilot project across 100 primary schools in Bradford, Glasses in Classes will be adapted for five areas in England: Doncaster, Derby, Durham, Norwich and Breckland, and the North Yorkshire Coast.

During the pilot, the results of vision screenings were shared with school staff to enable them to support pupils and families. While children are already entitled to free NHS sight tests and vouchers towards the cost of glasses, the scheme provides two free pairs.

The pilot found that, since the start of the Opportunity Area programme in 2017 and 2019, the attainment gap of pupils in Bradford behind the national average in reading at Key Stage 2 level narrowed by approximately half.

The DfE suggested local partners within the five areas identified will collaborate to adapt the programme to meet needs in the community.

Through the scheme, children and families will receive support from a vision coordinator, typically a teaching assistant, to attend follow-up eye examinations and receive their prescription glasses. Training will be provided for support staff.

Education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, commented on the programme: “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, for example, can help close the literacy gap and foster a love of learning.”

The Glasses in Classes project was developed by the Centre for Applied Education Research (CAER), a partnership by Bradford Opportunity Area, the Department for Education, Bradford Teaching Hospital NHS Trust, the Universities of Leeds, Bradford and York, the City of Bradford Metropolitan Council, and the Educational Endowment Foundation.

CAER programme director, Professor Mark Mon-Williams, from Leeds’ School of Psychology, commented that the connections between health and education, as well as stakeholders from school leaders to regional universities and the DfE, “shows the immense potential to level up opportunities for children through whole system working.”