Another Dyslexia Awareness Week goes by – we need to change the agenda!
Last week was dyslexia awareness week (DAW) and there was the usual flurry of famous celebrities with dyslexia rolled out; we are told Einstein had it, and we see learners talk about their experiences on the television. All good stuff and, in a way, I commend it. It raises awareness about the identity of being dyslexic and goes beyond school years and the story of Jo Malone, including her struggles and success, and offers real hope to learners failing to master reading, writing and spelling in today’s curriculum. However, times have moved on and we need to take the discussion further.
I thought about this last week as I talked to a mother whose son is struggling at his new secondary school, which he has moved to in Year 9. Sensibly she is giving him time to settle in, time to allow the school to assess him and get to know him but, behind it, she’s anxious. What if they don’t support him? How does she approach them?
Here’s the point. There’s a whole new approach to schooling since the Children and Families Act 2014 and its accompanying code of practice came in and, along with leaders (including governors) and teachers, parents need to know about it. That’s what we should be talking about during DAW – how schools can make a difference to learners who struggle with reading and writing, or in any other way. It’s not about one dyslexia awareness week, it’s about 38 dyslexia awareness weeks!
In a nutshell, here are the main changes of the Children and Families Act in relation to SEND learners.
Teachers are responsible for every child in the class. They have to adapt their teaching, through quality first teaching, to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils. Not the TA. Not the SENCo. The graduated response (GR) is now a requirement, not just a recommended approach. This is a cycle of assess, plan, do and review, and teachers deliver it for all pupils. It is especially relevant when a learner is finding something difficult, for example reading and writing. The teachers assess why a learner is not making expected progress, plan an action – for example a time limited, evidence-based intervention, do it and then review it by evaluating its impact. Look here for the GR at primary and for KS3 look here.
The GR maps progress from universal to specialist, as outlined in the last special educational needs code of practice. It can be a helpful way of thinking about it and lots of schools consider a wave model. It’s worth noting though that it’s the intervention that has the label, not the learner!
Wave 1, or universal provision, is provided by teachers in the classroom to support all of their learners. Many of our free resources on My DfL support them in doing this.
Wave 2, or targeted provision, comes into play when, after assessing, planning, doing and reviewing, learners do not demonstrate sufficient progress – it’s all about the data. The teacher will discuss the issues with the SENCo. More of the same or different interventions might be needed. They could still be in the classroom or they may involve the TA.
Wave 3, or specialist support, if, after support and intervention are provided, in the previous iterations of the graduated response a learner’s lack of progress is persistent, they should be referred to a specialist, for example an educational psychologist or speech and language therapist. Remember though, the teacher is still ultimately responsible for the learner’s progress.
It’s the essence of what we advocate at the Driver Youth Trust and it’s the DNA of Drive for Literacy. To make real change, we have to tackle the system. Yes, we look at individual teacher practice but in order to embed and deliver quality provision, there needs to be an understanding across the school, multi-academy trust or network, that in order to address the needs of SEND learners there needs to be a well-coordinated system to deliver a graduated response. It’s not enough to simply take a learner out of a class every week for 20 minutes, or do an hour a week after school ‘catch up’. We work with schools, supporting leaders and teachers, to make this systemic change. One that understands what literacy difficulties are and sees merit in addressing its impact on educational outcomes for children and young people.
Here’s the questions dyslexia awareness week should raise and deal with, the questions that parents can use with their school:
- What school training does your entire staff have on literacy difficulties?
- What training does your SENCo have?
- Who is the governor in charge of SEND?
- What is the school budget for SEND and how is it being spent?
- What provision do you have for access arrangement assessments?
- How do you use the support of specialists to help identify and support learners?
- How is my child doing? What does the data say? How does this compare with their peers?
- What interventions are you putting in place? Is he/she missing lessons? If so, which ones?
- Who is carrying out the intervention? Are they qualified to do it? Is it happening regularly?
- When will you know it is right to change track?
- How can I support you as the teacher and my child as the learner?
- Are there other ways my child can show you his work instead of by extended writing e.g. by a mind map or flow chart?
- Here are the issues we are having with homework.
- Can I meet with the SENCo to discuss my concerns?
- Does my child get extra time or other additional support for important tests, so he/she can show what he/she understands rather than how well he/she can read and write?
Then, as well as highlighting successful dyslexics who have ‘bucked the system’, we could celebrate a system that, when it works well, includes all pupils and we would be able to see the many good examples of school practice that are out there.