By Michael Ter-Berg, CEO, Thomson Screening
Vision and hearing are vital for communicating and interacting with others, and even moderate sight or aural deficiencies can impact on educational attainment in any individual. Research suggests that a large proportion of what is commonly categorised as ‘learning difficulties’ might actually stem from undetected hearing or vision impairments. According to findings from the Cooper Institute, a remarkable 60% of individuals identified as ‘problem learners’ could be contending with vision issues. Additionally, studies indicate that as much as 40% of students diagnosed with learning disabilities may have undiagnosed visual impairments.
Equally important are hearing impairments, which should not be disregarded. These conditions have been linked to attention difficulties, diminished academic performance, and behavioural challenges, particularly among boys. The frustration and monotony resulting from hearing difficulties can act as barriers to a child’s overall well-being and academic achievements.
Impact of undiagnosed hearing and/or vision issues
Unidentified hearing and vision issues can often be easily addressed or corrected. For instance, a study conducted by UCLA revealed that a significant proportion (80-90%) of vision problems can be rectified with the simple intervention of eyeglasses. However, without identifying which children are affected, schools cannot implement timely and cost-effective interventions. Children experiencing both hearing and vision difficulties face a higher likelihood of falling short of Key Stage 2 (KS2) targets compared to their peers without impairments, leading to lower overall grades at the GCSE level. Consequently, their opportunities for advancing to further education may diminish, exerting a negative influence on their self-esteem and future career prospects.
The NHS conducts vision and screening, but only at Reception age and coverage can be patchy. Far fewer areas screen for Hearing. And for vision, the main target is just one condition, Lazy Eye (Amblyopia) whereas other conditions, especially short sightedness (myopia) and colour blindness can affect learning outcomes. Both Hearing and Vision changes can occur naturally over time, as children grow. Other causes of change include prolonged exposure to excessive sound or time in front of computer screens.
One significant consequence of the pandemic has been the surge in screen time for leisure and online learning; there has been a very sharp increase in childhood short sightedness as children spent less time outside and more time in front of laptops. Over a relatively short period, myopia has increased by 250%. Parents and educators should be attentive to signs of discomfort and decreased visual acuity in children, as these may indicate underlying vision problems.
Around 8% of boys and 2% of girls have a colour vision impairment. Colour vision is not part of NHS vision screening programmes because there is no treatment for the condition. However, with the knowledge of which children have a colour vision impairment, schools can make very simple and effective adjustments. But schools need the data. The same goes for other undetected vision and hearing conditions.
Checking children for vision and hearing
With software like SchoolScreener for Schools, it is very quick and easy for schools to check children’s hearing and vision. No clinical knowledge is needed, enabling SEN or Support Staff to conduct quick checks after less than 30 minutes online training. Schools also automatically receive the data to be able to plan and support children appropriately. Parents also receive a report suggesting, if necessary, that they take their child for further assessment – for vision to a high street optician, and for hearing to their GP. A full assessment from High Street opticians is free of charge, as are glasses for 5–16-year-olds. The SchoolScreener for Schools software is a variant of SchoolScreener used in the NHS to screen children at Reception in over 5,000 schools.
Alternatively, software providers (such as Thomson Screening, developers of SchoolScreener) can supply DBS/Enhanced Disclosure-compliant staff to carry out checks at KS2 and KS3 on the school’s behalf.
The benefits of reports for schools
Implementing a program of regular checks during Key Stages 2 and 3 equips schools with the knowledge and data to make informed decisions. This approach allows schools to better plan resources, save costs, and make necessary adjustments to support their students during the later stages of Primary and Early Secondary schooling. In essence, data becomes a powerful tool for schools to enhance the educational experience for every child.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Ter-Berg is CEO of Thomson Screening. The company was founded in 2011 by City, University of London to further develop and implement the work of Professor David Thomson, for 25 years head of Department at the University’s Department of Optometry and Dr. Sebastian Hendricks, Consultant at Great Ormond Street Hospital in Paediatric Audiovestibular Medicine.
Thomson Screening’s products address healthcare and education around the world with the software managing over 3 million screenings in schools to date. The software also provides automating data reporting and administration. Users include the NHS and schools in the UK, non-profit organisations in the USA and NGOs in developing countries. https://schoolscreener.com/