Give young children eye tests to improve their literacy, as one in ten may have undiagnosed conditions

Preparing for Literacy, published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) today, reviews the best available research to offer early years professionals practical “do’s and don’ts” to make sure all children start school with the foundations they need to read, write and communicate well.

According to the report, around 13 per cent of children in the UK could have undiagnosed eye conditions - like short-sightedness, or astigmatism - that hold back the development of their literacy skills. For example, it is more difficult to learn to read if you can’t see well enough to discriminate the different in how letters look, or see what the teacher is pointing to. While these issues can affect all children, those from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to go without a diagnosis.

The report is urging early years professionals to make sure that all their children with possible eyesight problems are identified, and that settings ensure that children who are given glasses or other treatments use them. It notes that not being able to see well is an unnecessary barrier to making sure that all young children can access high-quality learning experiences at nursery and in reception.

The seven recommendations in today’s guidance report are each designed to support nurseries and early years settings to provide every child – but particularly those from disadvantaged homes - with a high-quality and well-rounded grounding in early literacy. Previous analysis by the EEF found there was already a 4.3 month gap between poorer pupils and their classmates before school starts.

A second recommendation focuses on the importance of high-quality interactions between adults and children to develop their communication and language skills. For example, 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.

Another recommendation suggests using a range of different activities – like singing, storytelling and nursery rhymes – to develop children’s early reading and ability to hear and manipulate sounds.

The other four recommendations are:

  • 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, said:

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.

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Notes to editors

  1. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is a grant-making charity set up in 2011 by the Sutton Trust as lead foundation in partnership with Impetus Trust (now part of Impetus–The Private Equity Foundation), with a £125m founding grant from the Department for Education. The EEF is dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement. Since its launch the EEF has awarded £92million to test the impact of 152 projects reaching over 9,900 schools, nurseries and colleges across England. The EEF and Sutton Trust are, together, the government-designated What Works Centre for Education.
  2. The full report will be available here, from 0001 on Friday.
  3. The NHS funds eye examinations and glasses for children and the UK National Screening Committee recommends that all children aged four should be screened for eye conditions. However, the report notes that these services vary by local area and many parents don’t take identified children to attend have a full check-up. Even in areas that do provide some screening service, it may not be comprehensive enough to identify all possible issues.
  4. The Department for Education recently announced a £5m home learning environment fund, run by the EEF, to give families extra support to help with children’s early language and communication skills. The funding round is open until the end of July. More information and details on how to apply can be found here.
  5. This guidance report draws on the best available evidence regarding the teaching of communication, language and literacy to children in the early years.
  • The primary source of evidence for the recommendations is the Early Years Teaching and Learning Toolkit, which is a synthesis of international research evidence developed by Professor Steve Higgins and colleagues at the University of Durham with the support of the Sutton Trust and the EEF.
  • However, the report also draws on a wide range of evidence from other studies and reviews regarding literacy development and teaching. The emphasis is on rigorous evaluations that provide reliable evidence of an impact on pupil learning outcomes. The intention is to provide a reliable foundation of what is effective, based on robust evidence.
  • The report was developed over several stages. The initial stage produced a scoping document that set out the headline recommendations and supporting evidence. This was then revised with support and feedback from an advisory panel of teachers and researchers.