Head to Head

Seeing clearly?

Poor eyesight may explain underperformance

The Macular Society, a national sight loss charity, is raising awareness of undiagnosed sight loss as a reason for underperformance in the classroom, and has produced resources to make lessons accessible for visually impaired (VI) students.
There are thousands of VI children across the UK. While many simply need prescription glasses, others have genetic conditions that glasses cannot correct. Initially children may not know there is something wrong with their sight and so adapt as best they can. Problems can occur at any age, so even if a child has been screened before, it may be appropriate to recommend that parents/carers book a free sight test. If the optometrist suspects there is a problem they will refer the child to a hospital eye clinic.

Teachers should look out for these five key signs.
•    Reluctance to join in.
•    Headaches.
•    Unusual head posture.
•    Intolerance to bright light.
•    Reading difficulties.
Delays in identifying a visual impairment and providing the right support can lead to disengagement and behavioural issues - so a sight test can be the first step towards successful independent learning and happier, less isolated children.

Children who are diagnosed VI are referred to support services which help teachers make lessons accessible. However, there can be delays receiving support. Jacky Foyle is a teacher advisor for Dorset Vision Support Service and works closely with newly diagnosed children, schools and parents. Jacky said often schools make adaptations before she visits, but these may not always be helpful. She said: “Sometimes schools produce materials on larger paper, instead of increasing font size. With some conditions this can actually make it harder to read. This can also make children feel different when all they want is to be like everyone else.”

Macular Society trustee Toby Evans was 11 when he first noticed changes to his vision, and was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Macular Dystrophy a few years later. He said he struggled to accept his condition. “I didn’t tell anyone at school, that was my way of coping. I didn’t want to advertise any weakness. Every child is different, some want to keep it quiet and some want to make a big fuss. But all children need support in that situation.”
Talking about what would have helped at school, he said: “It’s about education for teachers. They need to know how to help, like encouraging you to sit at the front of the class and reading things out. It’s important they understand different needs without making a fuss. No one wants to feel like they are different.” He added: “The main thing is to be flexible.”

Download resources to make a range of subjects more accessible for VI students: www.macularsociety.org/teachin...

The Macular Society Helpline (0300 3030 111) can put families in contact with each other to offer peer support, and provide counselling for parents struggling with their child’s diagnosis.