This year, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Dyslexia and Specific Literacy Difficulties is looking at the human, societal and educational impact of dyslexia. In reviewing educational impact, DYT was invited to parliament to provide evidence on teacher training and professional development and here is what we said…

Dyslexia training for new teachers

Each year around 30,000 teachers enter initial teacher training (ITT). There is limited evidence on what they are taught about dyslexia, but we do know many feel it is very important to be trained in this area. We also know from the most recent DfE survey of newly qualified teachers (NQTs) that ‘teaching reading and comprehension in secondary schools’ is one of the areas where NQTs feel least prepared from their training.

SEND and initial teacher training

Whilst there is limited evidence related directly to dyslexia, there is more data available about special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). For example, the 2015 Carter Review of Initial Teacher Training specifically identified SEND as an area of weakness, whilst the 2018 NQT survey found that ‘teaching pupils with SEN’ and ‘assessing the progress of SEN pupils’ are two further areas where NQTs feel under-prepared.

DYT analysis of the 354 inspections of ITT providers over the past 10-years, found that one in seven do not mention SEND. Whilst this does not mean that these providers are not training teachers in this area, it does indicate that they are not being held accountable for doing so. Similarly, a study by UCL reviewed 193 ITT websites to establish how SEND was incorporated into training programmes and found 54 per cent of school-centred initial teacher training (SCITT) courses and 38 per cent of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) do not mention SEND at all. Again, this doesn’t mean supporting learners with SEND isn’t being taught, but it does suggest it is not being valued.

SEND support for early career teachers

Last year, the government announced that, starting in autumn 2021, early career teachers undergoing induction will receive two years of professional development and support underpinned by the Early Career Framework (ECF). But search the current documentation around the ECF framework and you will only find two mentions SEND. Furthermore, these two mentions lay the support for early career teachers firmly at the door of SENCOs.

Yet we know that SENCOs are already incredibly busy people. a survey of the workload of SENCOs, commissioned by the National Education Union and the NASEN, found that 74 per cent of SENCOs say they do not have enough time to ensure that pupils on SEN support are able to access the provision that they need. If the SENCO workforce does not have enough time to support their pupils, it seems likely that it will be a challenge to find additional time to support their colleagues.

SENCO training

To be employed as a SENCO, a teacher must – within two years of appointment to the role – undertake the National Award for SENCO (NASENCO). Yet polling data suggests only half the SENCO workforce currently hold the award. Of the remaining, SENCOs, 17 per cent are currently working toward the Award, but the remaining third of the SENCO workforce do not appear to be planning to qualify.

The National Award itself is also worth looking at. An independent evaluation of the Award commissioned by DfE and conducted by Plymouth University in 2017 found indications that the Award focused on theoretical and/or historical issues rather than on practical information that was immediately applicable to participants’ school settings. As one participant of the research explained ‘it has developed my knowledge about what researchers and psychologists have to say about SEND, but it would have been nice to have more a realistic approach to what being a SENCO means in a school’.

So, where does that leave teachers’ knowledge and confidence?

Data collected for DYT in 2018 found that less than half of teachers report that they feel confident teaching young people with literacy difficulties. More recently, DYT has found that over a quarter of teachers (26 per cent) believe that dyslexia is a useful term but have doubts about its validity. A further three per cent reported that dyslexia is not a useful or valid term.

Doubts are greatest amongst headteachers, 33 per cent of whom have doubts about its validity and nine per cent say that it is neither useful nor valid.

Reasons for hope!

The ITT framework is being reviewed by both Ofsted and DfE, and DYT are meeting with both to ensure that SEND is represented. Similarly, as the ECF detail being developed, DYT are ensuring that we are part of the process. We are delighted to be partnering with TeachFirst to deliver one of the first pilots.

Finally, it is worth remembering that although there are teachers doubting the use or validity of the term dyslexia, more than half the workforce do not share these doubts. The education system can only ever be as good as its teachers, and we have many, many good ones in our system.