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Dyslexia and Teacher Training: Improving the Culture for Pupils

Chaired by former Health and Social Care Secretary, Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP, the second inquiry session of the Dyslexia Commission focused on reform to teacher training and the culture in schools for pupils with dyslexia in the UK. This session brought together the recommendations of leaders in education, SEND, local/regional authorities and civil society.

Holistic Response

The session made readily apparent the need for reform along every stage of the support process for children with dyslexia. Head of Education at Scanning Pens, Julia Clouter highlighted the issues in teacher awareness of SEND, early intervention provisions, support available once children had been identified and continual review of the development of these children.

“I absolutely agree with everybody that it has to be a mandatory thing that everybody, before they set foot in a classroom has training on all of the neurodiversity areas.”

Kelly Parkin

Seeking to avoid a siloed approach by focusing solely on early intervention, Specialist Advisory Teacher at Wiltshire County Council, Alison Szalay highlighted that while screening is an important step, it is not the end for supporting children. Citing a project across Wiltshire schools to become more inclusive, Ms Szalay highlighted that thinking beyond screening was essential to impact positive outcomes.

A key recommendation was the focus for schools to become dyslexia friendly, either through formal British Dyslexia Association (BDA) quality mark accreditation2, or in a general principle commitment to high quality inclusive practice across the range of ability and need. This can be achieved by increasing the understanding of dyslexia, allowing students to access all aspects of the curriculum, monitor the on-going progress of these students, aiding parents and carers and crucially helping students gain a deeper understanding of their own learning to better assist themselves. Furthermore, with the support of Dr Helen Ross, Chair of the Wilstshire Dyslexia Association, the progress and pupil outcomes will be evaluated.

“It is taking those underlying principles that underpin dyslexia friendly schools, essentially effective, good practice that I do believe needs to be the way forward.”

Alison Szalay

Stigma

Ms Clouter advocated for embedding additional learning support into mainstream teaching. A toolbox approach to enable diagnosed and undiagnosed children to self-select resources within a classroom would here help each child find the learning style that supports them most effectively.

On the topic of stigma, Specialist Teacher at Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, Kelly Parkin raised a crucial point from her own work with students facing exclusions, that supporting children before their self-esteem dropped was crucial to their development. It was noted that these toolbox approaches should be embedded in the earliest phase of schooling to tackle the stigma faced by children with Dyslexia. Furthermore, by encouraging all students to access these resources, children with Dyslexia are less likely to be ostracized by their difference.

Empowering Teachers

Considering the issue of funding and connectivity, Ms Clouter highlighted these resources did not necessarily need to be high-tech, or rely on connectivity, but it was crucial that teachers were aware of the resources available to them and how to implement them. This would allow tools to be used more universally across the country and for children facing digital exclusion. Kelly Parkin echoed this point, that training for teachers should empower them with the knowledge of each tool and how it can be used to best support different needs.

Panellists also highlighted the gap between the resources available to teachers and the ability and knowledge to access them. On this point, Ms Clouter highlighted the extensive and high quality Continuing Professional Development resources available, with examples cited including assistive tech companies, the BDA and other organisations. Encouraging more teachers to access the available resources and connect them with teacher training providers can join the dots between high quality resources and teachers eager to develop their understanding.

Tensions in Training

There were clear tensions between the hopes of what teacher training could achieve and what it achieves in practice. This was outlined by Executive Dean, Faculty of Education at Newman University, Tricia Sterling who highlighted that while there was a possibility to include this in-depth learning opportunity within the full training course, this did not seem possible within the nine-month post-graduate course.

Unfortunately, within the Initial Teacher Training criteria[1], two thirds of the training took place within schools. This leaves an immense amount of pressure for schools to provide the training that teachers desperately need to understand children and development. Working within the limited time restraints in university, Ms Stirling mentioned an example of best practice within Newman University, where they have established pre-course modules on child development and SEND needs to ensure their students are trained on more than how to manage a classroom.

As the panel turned to ways of improving the situation, an important question that arose from Kate Ross, class teacher at Church Preen Primary School, was how teachers can be better prepared to deliver the national curriculum in a meaningful way that ensures that dyslexic children can reach the same Age-Related Expectations as their peers. Ms. Szalay offered five key areas to consider improving this:

  1. For pupils to excel, teachers need to have a higher level of awareness of pupils, their strengths, interests and what they want to improve.
  2. Differentiated learning for students who have varied requirements, teaching needs to be relevant and at an appropriate level for that pupil, whilst also challenging the individual.
  3. Minimising barriers to accessing the curriculum, with an increased focus on independence.
  4. Additional targeted intervention to help pupils accelerate their learning, as evidenced by the Greg Brooks documents[2] and Education Endowment Foundation[3] documents.
  5. Assessment and measuring students against age-related expectations or other assessments are not the only indication of progress.

“We need to be really careful that we try to help people’s access assessments, but also that we don’t disadvantage them by the type of assessments that we use.

Alison Szalay

Ms. Szalay placed a real emphasis on centering the pupil in the direction of their learning and encouraged teachers to consider the hopes and aims of children with dyslexia to provide personalised support to assist these children in achieving their goals.

Final Thought

There is no doubt that awareness of SEND and specifically dyslexia has improved in schools over the last twenty years. However, the second session of the Dyslexia Commission highlighted a range of solutions that could see early improvements for children accessing support for their dyslexia in schools.

Alongside the issues of variance in service provision exposed in the earlier session, barriers to educational attainment must be reduced. To do this, a one size fits all approach does not achieve the desired outcomes and therefore targeted and individualised interventions are more appropriate.

To achieve this there is a need to reform the culture within the education system – from the top down. The new Schools Bill and SEND Review will hopefully help to change this in partnership with SEND teaching professionals. There is a long way to go, however there is strong appetite in the teaching profession for change to make a difference to pupils across the system.

To find out more about the Commission and to get involved, please contact Policy and Research Analyst Hal Arnold Forster or visit: https://chamberuk.com/dyslexia-commission/ 


[1] Initial teacher training (ITT): criteria and supporting advice – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

[2] What-works-for-children-and-young-people-with-literacy-difficulties-5th-edition.pdf (helenarkell.org.uk)

[3] Education Endowment Foundation | EEF

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