New guidance to improve vision screening for young children

The new guidance ensures sight tests are carried out consistently across schools in England

Public Health England (PHE) has today (24 October 2017) published new child vision screening materials and guidance to help improve consistency and quality of sight tests for children in schools during their early years.

There are almost 25,000 blind and partially sighted children in the UK - around 2 in every 1,000 children. Vision screening is an important way to identify problems as early as possible, helping to prevent young children from completely or partially losing their sight.

Early detection of reduced vision means that effective treatment, such as glasses or patching, can be quickly offered. The tests are carried out in schools to help maximise screening coverage of 4 to 5-year-olds.

Vision screening for 4 to 5-year-olds is part of the healthy child programme, and the new materials will summarise best practice for commissioners and those who carry out the tests, including school nurses, to ensure screening is of a consistent high-quality across schools.

The materials were developed by an expert advisory group, including PHE, and are all evidence based. They include a leaflet for parents, which clearly explains:

• the importance of vision screening
• how the test is carried out
• what support is offered if there is a problem

There is also guidance for vision screeners, outlining the expected requirements to ensure they carry out safe and effective tests.

Dr Anne Mackie, PHE’s Director of Screening, who chaired the expert advisory group to develop the new materials, launched the resources during her speech today at the Westminster Health Forum Seminar in London, which focused on eye care services and treating visual impairment.

Dr Anne Mackie said:

"There are almost 25,000 blind and partially sighted children in the UK - 2 in every 1,000 children, which is why it is essential that all young children have their vision tested.

"A child’s eyes are in constant use in the classroom and at play. If they have any undetected problems with their vision, their education and participation in activities and sports can suffer.

"The child vision screening programme is the only chance for all children to get their vision tested formally so that problems can be identified and tackled quickly at the start of their school life – helping ensure they can reach their full potential.

"These new resources will help ensure high-quality, local vision screening services in schools across England."

The UK National Screening Committee has recommended vision screening on a number of occasions, most recently in 2013.