New guidance has been published to help improve children’s communication, language and literacy skills before school, which asks early years settings to ensure children receive eye tests.

Independent charity the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has stated that around 13 per cent of children in the UK have eye conditions such as short-sightedness or astigmatism which go undiagnosed. This can cause children to fall behind in their literacy skills.

Currently, all babies receive eye screening at birth and again at six weeks of age.

The ‘Preparing for Literacy’ guidance report draws on a wide range of evidence, including from the EEF’s Early Years Teaching and Learning Toolkit.

The guidance provides ‘do’s and don’ts’ for early years professionals to help ensure that all children start school being able to read, write and communicate well.

Also included in the report are seven recommendations to support nurseries and early years settings to ensure that every child – especially those from disadvantaged homes – have a ‘high-quality and well-rounded grounding in early literacy’.

Previous studies by the EEF found that there is a 4.3-month attainment gap between poorer children and their more affluent peers before school starts.

Those from disadvantaged backgrounds are also more likely to have undiagnosed eye conditions, according to the EEF.

One of the recommendations is that early years staff make sure that children with eyesight problems are identified and that they are using their glasses or other treatments as they’re supposed to.

Another recommendation stresses the importance of high-quality interactions between adults and children to develop communication and language skills. The report says early years professionals should make sure that they talk with children in different ways, such as shared reading.

Encouraging children’s participation in different activities such as singing nursery rhymes and storytelling is also recommended, in order to develop children’s reading skills and their ability to hear.

The guidance also talks about how children can be given support when they are falling behind to ensure they get up to date as quickly as possible.

Chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, Sir Kevan Collins 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-barrier.”

He added: “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.”

The Education Endowment Foundation is also looking to fund projects which are aimed at improving children’s home learning environments in the North of England. It is part of a project with the Department for Education aimed at closing the ‘word gap’ which currently exists between disadvantaged children and their classmates at age five.

Any early years settings, schools and organisations running home learning initiatives in the north of England, and who are supporting children’s early language and literacy, are able to apply. Find out more here.

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