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Dyslexia, Resources and Qualifications: Experiences of a teacher from inside the classroom

In conversation with Amanda Debrah, English Teacher at Oasis Academy Shirley Park, Croydon, on experiences from the classroom.

Nationwide, educational inequalities remain one of the current most pressing issues. It has never been more apparent that education needs to be fiercely on the agenda of parliamentarians. While a considerable amount of discourse has centred around general educational inequalities for the city-rural divide, a fundamental group of budding pupils is missing in the conversation¾neuro-diverse students.

Chamber’s policy team recently met with English Teacher, Amanda Debrah to discuss the pressing issues facing teachers (in mainstream education) who teach children living with dyslexia and other neurodivergent conditions.

Amanda Debrah Dyslexia Teacher
Amanda Debrah, a teacher at Oasis Academy Shirley Park

A day in the life of a teacher

In a nutshell, Debrah summarised that lesson planning is essential for scaffolding a child’s learning, identifying gaps in attainment and using resources to assist in positive knowledge building. Debrah added that many of the teaching materials provided are centred around teaching children with special educational needs (SEN). Considering the SEND Review, Debrah informed us that it identified many significant holes in curriculum planning, ones that can leave students with dyslexia feeling like they are being left behind. She remarked that this can be exacerbated when a child is being educated in a resource deprived school community.

Debrah informed us that every school will typically have a SEN register and a SEN practitioner – who will monitor the effective implementation of SEN-based lesson plans across subjects. However, this is fiercely dependent on the provision of resources. As such, Debrah highlighted that the lack of fundamental investment of SEN departments in schools means that many teachers are left to deliver a curriculum-inclusive lesson for a class that may have a range of different SEN needs.

Technology, neurodiversity and COVID-19: A teacher’s fight to keep the classroom going

Debrah explained that teaching a neurodiverse classroom presents unique challenges on a day-to-day basis, even more so during Covid. Face masks, social distancing and providing one to one support for all students became an impossible task. Debrah added that one of the key supports that assisted her delivery of classes both in person and online, were technologies such as the Lexia Learning language program software and Blackboard. Debrah expressed that she still felt able to interact with students continuously throughout the lesson, namely her neurodiverse pupils.

Expanding on this point, Debrah noticed that in her classes with specialist-trained TA’s, dyslexic children blossomed. Notably, she witnessed the distinction in attainment for her regular pupils with dyslexia in classes where the provision of a specialist TA could not be afforded. Often, these pupils in classes without additional support would often fall behind in class. Unfortunately, this would regularly be deemed as “ongoing behavioural issues.”

To overcome this, it is more important than ever for the priority of central school budgets to provide one to one support via specialist TAs, the provision of IT programs and the allocation of mandatory training (CPD) for teachers. Debrah stated that CPD¾and other training centred on delivering an inclusive curriculum¾will equip teachers with the tools needed to deliver comprehensive classes for all pupils.

Dyslexia and collaboration between schools

Focusing on the national implementation of the points addressed, it was clear that Debrah strongly supported the dissemination of best practices across school leadership teams for how to provide for dyslexic pupils. In a single borough, one school can thrive in this area, and in another, a school may need additional support. As such, Debrah called for a centralised government system to provide free resources, such as dyslexia-friendly books and projects on delivering lessons for neurodivergent children.

The unheard neurodivergent orators

In the English curriculum, discussion is a form of engagement and increases one’s ability to retain key themes¾namely for an exam. Debrah insisted that the power of this technique cannot be disputed in the classroom. After seeing the remarkable change in her pupils firsthand, Debrah advocated for an expansion to the delivery of how the syllabus should be taught.

By using the knowledge that the students already have, Debrah can “connect the lines of thinking to the questions in the exam paper.” Funded by the Educational Endowment Foundation, Debrah recommended Professor of Education, Neil Mercer’s Oracy Cambridge project. The project focuses on developing oracy toolkits for teachers to incorporate into how they deliver a curriculum. The project expands on enabling teachers to incorporate elements such as physical¾the use of voice and body in lessons¾coupled with incorporating vocabulary, metaphors, humour, imagination and social and emotional wellbeing into spoken word classes. The main aspect of the project is to link language learning with spoken word. In particular Debrah highly recommended the wider use of the speech, language and communication sections of the project, which she stated have been a triumph for the children with SEN in her classroom.

Final thought

Debrah’s message is clear; learning is a mosaic, not a masterpiece signature. Gaining proficiency in any subject takes time, effort and support. For her dyslexic students, she instils that they should not be afraid to ask for the resources they are entitled to or to make mistakes, as this is the best way to learn. She affirmed that dyslexic children, and their parents and careers, should continue to insist on the resources they deserve. Teachers, like Debrah will be alongside them, championing the diversification of the syllabus delivery.

This article was originally published in Chamber UK’s quarterly journal. To receive your free copy, sign up here.

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