Call for children's eye tests to improve literacy

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New guidance on improving children's communication, language and literacy before school, advises early years settings to make sure children receive eye tests.

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The EEF guidance says early years professionals must make sure children given glasses use them

According to the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), around 13 per cent of children in the UK could have undiagnosed eye conditions such as short-sightedness or astigmatism, that hold back the development of their literacy skills.

All babies have eye screening at birth and again at about six weeks of age by a GP or health visitor. In most parts of England, children are offered a screening test to look for reduced vision in one or both eyes during their first year at school.

The 'Preparing for Literacy' guidance draws on evidence from the EEF’s Early Years Teaching and Learning Toolkit and a wide range of existing studies and reviews on literacy development and teaching.

It provides early years professionals with practical ‘dos and don’ts' to ensure all children start school with the foundations they need to read, write and communicate well. Included within the guidance are seven recommendations, each designed to support nurseries and early years settings to provide every child, particularly those from disadvantaged homes, with a ‘high-quality and well-rounded grounding in early literacy’. Previous analysis by the EEF found there is a 4.3-month gap between poorer pupils and their classmates before school starts.

One recommendation is that early years professionals make sure all the children in their care with possible eyesight problems are identified, and that children who are given glasses or other treatments use them.

The report highlights research from 2014 that suggests around 13 per cent of children in the UK could have undiagnosed eye conditions such as short-sightedness or astigmatism, that hold back the development of their literacy skills. While this can affect all children, those from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to go without a diagnosis, according to the EEF.

A second recommendation focuses on the important of high-quality interactions between adults and children to develop their communication and language skills. For example, the report says early years professionals should make sure they talk with children, not just to them, through a wide range of approaches including shared reading and storytelling that teaches them new words.

The other recommendations from the report are:

  • To use a range of different activities, like singing, storytelling and nursery rhymes, to develop children’s early reading and ability to hear and manipulate sounds.
  • Give children a wide range of opportunities to communicate through writing.
  • Develop children’s abilities to manage their own behaviour and aspects of their learning.
  • Support parents to make sure they know how to help their children learn at home.
  • Give children who are falling behind targeted, high-quality support to ensure they catch-up as quickly as possible.

Sir Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), said, ‘Good literacy skills are fundamental – not just for academic success at school, but for fulfilling careers and rewarding lives. Yet more than one in ten children are estimated to have an undiagnosed sight condition that could affect their ability to read and write well.

‘Making sure all young children with possible eyesight problems are identified, and those that are given glasses or other treatments use them is a cheap way of removing this unnecessary barrier to learning. It should be a no-brainer.

‘Our guidance report also includes a number of other recommendations to early years teachers to give young children the best possible chance of developing good language and literacy skills.’

Funding for home learning projects

Meanwhile, the EEF is looking for projects focused on improving children’s home learning environment in the North of England to fund and evaluate. It is part of a project with the Department for Education aimed at closing the ‘word gap’ that exists between disadvantaged children and their peers at age five.

Early years settings, schools and organisations running home learning initiatives in the north of England, which support children’s early language and literacy are able to apply. The EEF is particularly interested in projects that are likely to benefit children from more socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Projects that have some previous evidence of promise and are ready to be evaluated are of most interest, however the EFF said it was also open to earlier stage ideas that would benefit from being piloted and developed.

  • The funding round is open until Friday 27 July. Apply here
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