For dyslexic pupils the future is orange

2nd October 1998 at 01:00
Sarah Cassidy reports on the opening of London's first secondary day school for children with dyslexia

Five children have just entered an orange and purple world that their parents hope will secure them a better future.

The five attend London's first secondary day school for dyslexic children opened last week after years of fundraising by parents.

Nearly Pounds 1 million has been raised towards the ambitious Pounds 1. 7m project with the support of celebrities including Jon Snow, Sir Richard Rogers and Ronnie Corbett and funded by high-flying dyslexics and their families.

The Constable Trust, the charity which has founded The Moat School in south-west London, hopes to make it a dyslexia centre where research, teacher training and education run side by side.

The charity estimates that dyslexia affects one child in ten with one in 25 suffering severe problems. Every aspect of life at The Moat School aims to tackle the problems associated with being dyslexic or "word blind".

Bright oranges and purples adorn the walls and the internal layout will be kept simple - dyslexic children can have poor spatial awareness. The paintwork not only raises the morale of children more used to feeling dispirited at school, but should also help them find their bearings. Dyslexics have strong visual memories and an orange classroom wall should be a valuable trigger.

Ronda Fogel, co-founder of the Constable Trust, said: "Without specialist help many dyslexic children fall rapidly behind their peers. However many have extraordinary talents and creativity. An important goal for the school will be to foster these talents.

"Dyslexia is the hub of their problem but there are many overlapping secondary problems: spacial problems, poor co-ordination, problems understanding and judging distances. Many also have low self-esteem."

The school's famous supporters have already offered to talk to the children about how they overcame dyslexia. Chelsea captain Dennis Wise has even offered to run the school football club.

The Moat School is unique in London by specialising in intensive learning for dyslexic children while enabling them to live at home with their families.

Mrs Fogel said: "We are trying to alleviate the suffering of these children. Up until now the only option at secondary level for kids who couldn't cope in mainstream was a boarding school. But these children particularly need the nurturing of their families.

"Often the boarding school improves them academically but they end up with a range of other problems that perhaps being at home would have helped with. "

Mrs Fogel bitterly regrets having to send her own daughter away to boarding school. "It was a miserable disaster for her and for us. The Moat School comes too late for her but it should transform the chances of many other children. "

The school will eventually take up to 100 dyslexic children and aims to combine the best of all styles of teaching with 10 children in each class. It looks for children with average or above average IQs whose problems processing language give them below average scores in conventional tests.

Of the Moat's first five 11-year-olds, two are statemented pupils funded by their local authorities and three pay Pounds 12,000 a year for a place. The school has children on the waiting list until 2003.

Headteacher Robert Carlysle said: "We are looking for a teaching method which is distinctively our own. The teaching of dyslexics, particularly at secondary level, is changing very rapidly in part because of advances in medical science which enable us to study the workings of the brain.

"We took a deliberate decision to have two qualified teachers in each class and not use classroom assistants, at least for the first year."

Teaching will be linked to techniques of accelerated learning as well as using music, exercise and colours to teach other subjects.

Mr Carlysle believes memory work which teaches children to hook each fact to a specific physical location is particularly successful with dyslexic pupils.

Teaching will also focus on multi-sensory work. Mr Carlysle said: "Learning will be a very tactile experience. In maths we will have block shapes that the children can feel because the gearing of their minds does not allow them to interpret a two-dimensional diagram into a 3D picture."

He added: "Our pupils are all bright sparky individuals but have severe problems with the processing of language. We don't neglect their written work because they will have to try to master the pen and paper despite all the advances in IT. Dyslexia need be no barrier to academic success."

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