Did you know there is probably one colour blind child in every class in your school, or that you may have had a colour blind child in every class you have ever taught?

Steve Biddulph, the world famous family therapist and author of Raising Boys, The Secret of Happy Children and Raising Girls, has a colour vision deficiency. This is what he told us when we asked him for his thoughts about colour blindness in school.

“When I was little I had problems seeing the blackboard. I just thought it was normal and only found I needed glasses when we went for our medicals to emigrate to Australia. It’s the same with colour blindness – which is almost 20 times more common in boys than girls. It’s really important to diagnose this common disorder and take steps to help children deal with it.”

color blindness (also known as color deficiency) happens when someone cannot distinguish between certain colors, usually between greens and reds, and occasionally blues.
One of the very first things we teach young children are the colours of the world around them. They learn that grass is green and the sky is blue, but what if the colours we see and describe aren’t the same for the all of children we are teaching?
For colour normal students and teachers colour can be a useful tool, but for colour blind students it can be a nightmare – undermining confidence and their ability to learn, encouraging basic errors in the simplest work, making them slower to follow instructions and causing frustration and even anger.

When children start school they are asked to pick up the ‘red’ brick and describe the big ‘brown’ dog. We ask them to fill in colouring sheets and sing songs about the colours of the rainbow but if children don’t understand some of what we are saying, they can’t learn to full capacity. This is a problem that can not only undermine their confidence but provide a faulty foundation for future learning.

While colour blind children can learn to identify colours through their hue and saturation they still can’t actually see what everyone else sees. This means that a colour blind pupil in Nursery or entering school in Reception must learn what he is told is the colour of each everyday object he comes across and try to memorise it. He is likely to focus on this ahead of other learning to ensure he doesn’t embarrass himself in front of his new classmates

Why colour matters in school

Color plays a vitally important role in the world in which we live. Color can sway thinking, change actions, and cause reactions. It can irritate or soothe your eyes, raise your blood pressure or suppress your appetite.

Have you  noticed that color influences your mood, but have you stopped and considered how you can use color to enhance learning and influence mood in the classroom or other educational environments? The colors you choose to use in your classroom or center can actually have a major impact on children’s mood and how children learn and absorb information. For example, using yellow in your classroom will encourage children to be creative and will also help you maintain their attention.

As pupils progress through school they are encouraged to interpret coloured maps and graphs; colour is used to highlight information on whiteboards; it is used in the science lab, the art room, in Mathematics, Food Technology, IT, Economics, Business Studies and even in languages, History and English. In sport, colour-blind players might pass a ball to the opposition because they mistake the colour of the team strip or ‘lose’ balls in the grass.

Have you ever seen a little boy competing in your Sports Day obstacle race, for no apparent reason run straight past a beanbag and wondered why on earth he did that? Well now you know!

Color Impact


Creates alertness and excitement.
Encourages creativity.
Increases appetite.
May be disturbing to anxious individuals.


Creates a sense of well-being.
Sky blue is tranquilizing.
Can lower temperature.
Inhibits appetite.


Creates a positive feeling.
Optimum color for maintaining attention.
Encourages creativity.


Increases alertness.


Creates calmness.


Creates calmness.


Promotes a sense of security and relaxation.
Reduces fatigue.


Creates positive feelings.
Helps maintain attention.


How to spot a colour blind student

Key Stage 1

Inappropriate use of colour – commonly purple skies, yellow/green/grey faces, red leaves, brown grass etc.

Reluctance to help when tidying up if boxes are colour coded.
Disruptive behaviour, unwillingness/inability to play board games, matching games, some memory games, sequencing, games in PE.
Copying other children in colour situations where the child might consistently hold back and watch, so he can borrow a colour from a friend routinely after the friend has used it, then copy exactly where that colour went.

Key Stage 2 and above

CVD students can sometimes appear slow, distracted or disruptive – this may be because they need extra time to process information, and can result in them missing some teaching points because they are still trying to understand the previous one. Also look out for:

Inappropriate colour choices when completing worksheets, drawings and diagrams.
Presentation of work which seems ‘boring’ and lacking in colour formatting.
Unexpected poor results from students when using Web-based homework programmes – MyMaths, BBC Bitesize etc.
Holding back in sports e.g. when (i) team colours clash (ii) balls, beanbags, training cones, sports hall line markings etc. ‘disappear’ against their background.
Reluctance to speak in discussions where colour is a main element e.g. maps in Geography, colour propaganda in History etc.
Holding back in (i) Science – chemistry practicals, diagrams/microscope work, light spectrum projects and (ii) in Maths/Economics/Business Studies/Geography due to difficulty interpreting information in coloured pie/bar/line graphs.
Mistakes in use of colour names in language lessons.

If you think a pupil might be colour-blind, refer parents to an optician for a colour vision test.

How to improve your classroom

Label all drawing/art materials – felt tips, paints, pencils etc.
Use secondary labels on colour-code boxes of toys, art materials, beads, books.
Check computer-based teaching aids, web pages, computer settings, worksheets and textbooks.
Use secondary indicators e.g. labels, outlining, underlining, cross-hatching, to differentiate, rather than or in addition to colour.
Use strong contrast on whiteboards – avoiding red, green and pastel highlighting,
Avoid marking in red and green.
Avoid ‘traffic light’ systems without secondary indicators.
In sports and games ensure students can differentiate (i) teams and (ii) equipment against background.
Organise ‘buddies’ for science experiments, art and DT projects etc.
Check classroom equipment – on/off switches, charged/charging indicators etc.
Remember a CVD student may be entitled to a colour ‘reader’ for some external exams

Whatever their age, don’t expect colour-blind pupils to speak up! Would you? Colour-blind teachers themselves often don’t speak out when they can’t access information in school e.g. student tracking charts. Look out for my  article on colours

What has your experience been with colour-blind pupils? Let us know in the comments.

What color makes you happy? What’s your favorite color? Tell us what you think about color.