Dyslexia affects an estimated one in ten people. It is the most common learning disability in children, unusual in that it affects children of normal intelligence. But still many teachers do not know much about it.
However, Innovative Practice in Dyslexia: A New Decade?, a conference which is being held by Dyslexia Scotland on September 25 at Heriot-Watt University, could go some way to changing that.
An HMIE report in 2008 found that schools were slow to respond to parents' concerns, despite provision for seeking assessment being provided through additional support for learning guidance.
Last June, the Assessing Dyslexia toolkit was launched by Dyslexia Scotland in association with Edinburgh University. Produced by a specialist working group, managed by Dyslexia Scotland with the support of the Scottish Government, the toolkit aims to help teachers and early-years workers identify dyslexia and literacy problems.
The leader of the development team, Margaret Crombie, says: "It started with a conversation I had with Moira Thompson, from the Dyslexia Scotland south-east branch, who said it was a pity that there was no standardised practice. There was variation in reporting and in definition.
"We realised there was a need to talk teachers through the assessment. There is so much diverse opinion on what dyslexia is, how to identify it, and if it is different from other reading difficulties."
Based on a traffic light system, the toolkit directs teachers to a red, amber or green section, depending on their level of knowledge of dyslexia. It includes sections on what dyslexia is, how to ensure the child's needs are met, and explains the staged process of assessment.
For Dyslexia Scotland, the toolkit meets a need that its helpline has highlighted. "There is a need for a resource for teachers," says chief executive Cathy Magee. "Of all the calls to our helpline, the single most common question is how to get assessed. Parents are frustrated by the lack of awareness among teachers."
A pilot study began in January with the working team taking it out to their own schools and any others they visited during their working week. At Cleppington Primary in Dundee, three of the teachers trialled it.
P1 teacher Lisa Cook found it a very relevant tool. She says: "I had a child last year who looked as if he might have dyslexia. I had to rely heavily on the support for learning teacher. This year, I have used the website. It has helped me flag up issues in the classroom. I look at it first and then relate it to the child."
Support for learning teacher Marie Lockhart was part of the development team. She says: "It is important for parents who are looking for a reason why their child is not progressing. It helps kids who are asking: `why can't I do these things?' It is about monitoring and support. It's not a one-off assessment. It is about looking at all characteristics and putting support in place."
Navigating the website has been straightforward. "I was delighted that it is so easy to use and accessible. It is a one-stop shop, avoiding the need to rake around," says Mrs Lockhart.
One result from the toolkit is that there is now an agreed definition by the Scottish Government cross-party group on a definition of dyslexia, with a full description on the website. "The next step is dissemination and we have four events planned across Scotland. We also hope to use it as a CPD resource," says Dr Crombie.
Feedback from teachers has been overwhelmingly positive. "It is a very comprehensive and practical toolkit and teachers say they have waited years for it," says Ms Magee. "It is a resource teachers say they go back to again and again. Teachers say it should be the responsibility of support for learning. But, with Curriculum for Excellence, all teachers are teachers of literacy. They need as much practical support and help as possible."
Dr Crombie agrees. "We are not expecting teachers to assess dyslexia. But all teachers need details and information about where to go to get assessed. Assessment is a process, not a one-off observation. We want them picked up earlier."
Jackie Cosh firstname.lastname@example.org