A mistaken view of learning support

5th April 1996 at 01:00
Charles Weedon of George Watson's College contrasted learning support in state education with that in the private sector by using a quote on "principles" (TESS, February 9). Where is the principle of loyalty to and appreciation of a former employer that gave him the opportunity to grow and develop professionally, pioneering some of the policies and theories he now denigrates, and provided paid secondment to study for his doctorate.

As a contemporary of Dr Weedon, I am saddened and disappointed that he has decided to belittle the endeavours of those still in the state system. I totally refute his patronising and pedantic "could do better" evaluation as I consider we have in our school a deeply committed, highly professional, enthusiastic and responsive staff in a very well-resourced department.

Where is the pupil-centred approach excluded? Some principal teachers, and I cannot say whether Dr Weedon was one, did indeed refuse to extract pupils from mainstream classes, concentrating solely on a curriculum deficit model, but this was a misinterpretation of the policies. We have always acknowledged that a pupil-centred approach provides the best and only way forward.

Where basic skills (including keyboard skills) are deemed necessary, these are provided individually or in small groups. Curricular support is provided through co-operative teaching and consultation with subject teachers takes place. We too "focus . . . on helping the learner to cope with, draw from and respond" to the curriculum and our aim is also to "understand the difficulties of our pupils, and then to share that understanding among subject teachers and support them in doing so".

Perth High has been designated as a resourced location for pupils with specific difficulties (dyslexia) and I challenge anyone to find a better equipped environment, state or private. We have well-informed subject staff who are aware of the needs of dyslexics through staff development and information provided on individual cases by a learning support information pack which is published twice a session.

Our resources of specialist materials for basic needs are extensive and include Reading for Sure, Toe by Toe, Arrow Project, designed to improve literacy skills including reading, Phonic Code Cracker, Cracker Spell, an in-house spelling programme devised with the English department, and Beat Dyslexia, an integrated scheme for handwriting, spelling and reading. The technology on offer includes a wide range of laptops, PCs, multimedia systems, spellmasters, dictaphones, tape recorders, a video presenter.

The school is the first in Scotland to use VoiceText with dyslexic pupils. This voice-activated system writes on screen, and subsequently prints, what is dictated and has been found to be immensely valuable in helping dyslexics who can read but are unable or reluctant to put pen to paper because of spelling and handwriting difficulties. We have a comprehensive and extensive range of software, including Co-writer, Writer's Toolkit, PAL, Publisher, Claris Works and Mavis Beacon, and we are awaiting a delivery of Dyspell.

All these resources, human and material, have been gained by a great deal of endeavour, patience and persistence. Not all the resources have been provided by the region. Some, including VoiceText, are the result of grants from local and national charities and trusts.

But the position we find ourselves in has been achieved with the support and encouragement of Perth High's senior management and members of the directorate, the technical and vocational education initiative and BT Assist, a project to help pupils with specific hearing, visual or other special needs.

Pupils have gained in self-esteem and self-confidence as well as basic skills thereby achieving qualifications and success reflecting their true knowledge and ability.

Elaine Donald is principal teacher learning support at Perth High School. The views expressed are personal.

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