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Problems with reading? Just call in SIDNEY

Sue Palmer discovers a scheme that catches learning difficulties early on - and nips them in the bud

Five years ago two diagnostic tests were launched to pick out children aged four to six whose literacy was not making normal progress. Advisers and psychologists in Hampshire, led by Pauline Bentote and Liz Robinson, were interested but thought it pointless to identify such children without offering a programme to help them. So SIDNEY was born.

SIDNEY - Screening and Intervention for Dyslexia, Notably Early Years - is now undertaken in every school in the county. Every school screens all children at the end of the reception year. For those whose literacy is not making progress, an intervention programme, based on the rapidly-growing body of dyslexia research, is there to help.

Classroom assistants have one day's training then work with the SIDNEY children for 15 minutes a day for a term, usually one-to-one although some schools are trying out small groups. Rather than feel any stigma about the extra attention, five-year-olds revel in it, say their teachers.

One element of the course covers the teaching of the main letter sounds and how to blend them into simple words. A second phonological strand is based on four developmental stages: recognising individual words; then syllables in words; onset and rime (rhyming words); and finally phonemes (individual speech sounds). The scripted plans for each session cover both strands simultaneously.

Results are positive. In a sample of 400 children, 75 per cent caught up and needed no extra support, which boosted their confidence and self-esteem. They learned phonological awareness, how to segment words into sounds and how to blend sounds back into words. Teachers and assistants, too, said the programme enhanced their understanding of literacy development. After-SIDNEY programmes, tailored to individual needs, are now being devised with teachers for the 25 per cent who still struggle.

The two screening tests used in Hampshire's schools are the DEST, Dyslexia Early Screening Test (The Psychological Corporation, 0171 424 4456) and the computerised COPS 1 (Lucid Research, 01482 465589). Hampshire found that although in each class both tests missed one or two children who teachers had picked out as having difficulties, they identified another one or two that teachers had not noticed.

* More information from Pauline Bentote, HavantEducation Office, River Way, Havant, PO9 2EL.Tel: 01705 441442.

SUCCESS STORY

After a year at Wellow primary school near Romsey, Hampshire, the report for Beverley Bysough (above) said: "Doesn't communicate. Can talk but doesn't," and recommended assessment. Now aged eight, she's confident and chatty and abreast of her age group on literacy.

Jane Ferguson, Wellow's special needsco-ordinator, reckons she was saved by SIDNEY.

Not all children have responded as well as Beverley, says Jane Ferguson, but there are enough successes to show that early intervention is a very effective way of targeting scarce resources and saving many children from the anguish of failure

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