What does Positive Dyslexia – the theme of this year's dyslexia awareness week – mean to me?
It means a school where those who are dyslexic or those who struggle with literacy (reading, writing, speaking and listening) are accounted for as part of a joined-up system, within the organisation.
To do this requires school leadership – and I include governors in this – that makes a positive decision to see the merit of addressing the needs of these learners. It requires strategic thinking, formed around an evidence-based approach that looks at professional expertise in a school, school data (not only pupil’s results), scientific evidence and takes into account stakeholders’ views – parents, learners and other professional bodies.
Dyslexia as a continuum
Dyslexia affects 10 per cent of our population. That’s three children in every classroom, on average. It’s a continuum condition, so people are affected in varying degrees from those like my son who, at 18, can’t read and write, to those who are really slow at reading and taking in information.
What we do know is that, while people never "get over" their dyslexia, if their issues are addressed early on in their learning, in a systematic and structured way, they learn strategies and their educational outcomes are better. We also know that their problems with literacy are not a reflection of their academic ability.
What do we see in our schools when there is no leadership in relation to those who struggle with literacy?
We see schools where there’s no staff training to support those with dyslexia and when there is, it’s generic and not adapted to the actual needs of the staff or pupils in the school.
Too often we see those with literacy issues being taken out of class, often their favourite subjects, to be given ad hoc interventions, 20 minutes here and there that are always the first to fall by the wayside when there’s pressure on staffing.
It’s a "sticking plaster" approach, not the graduated one that it should be. This leads to "lost" children who lose months, if not years, of their education – and frazzled staff.
What changes can leaders make that would help dyslexic learners?
1. Decide to make special educational needs and disability (SEND) a priority
See the merit in addressing it and make it part of your ethos, approach and systems.
2. Carry out an audit
This must be in relation to your provision for dyslexics and others who struggle with literacy. You can access the Whole School SEND Review for free online.
3. Ensure you have a dedicated governor or trustee
They would have a responsibility for learners with SEND and engage them with the practices in your school.
4. Ringfence SEND funding
We place enormous emphasis on disadvantaged pupils and pupil premium. Rightly so – and we should do the same for those with SEND.
"Ring fence" your SEND funding, see how it’s spent and monitor its impact.
5. Look at workforce development
This must be in a targeted and appropriate way for teachers and Sencos. Consider buying in specialists.
Sarah Driver is a trustee with Driver Youth Trust. She tweets at @SarahDriverDYT