New dyslexia group says many more specialist staff are needed

20th March 2009 at 00:00
Its research shows intervention for a few weeks costs little but makes a dramatic difference to pupils

Charities have joined forces to form a new lobbying group that will campaign for more staff specialising in handling pupils with specific learning difficulties.

The Dyslexia-SpLD Trust, launched this month, is a consortium of organisations involved in promoting better practice and provision for individuals with dyslexia and specific learning difficulties. It has commissioned research that found spending just Pounds 588 on specialist teaching for underachieving children can massively boost their results in just a few weeks and uncover "hidden" special needs.

Many pupils get poor exam results because they are progressing through the school system with undiagnosed dyslexia, according to the study, called No to Failure.

The organisations involved - the British Dyslexia Association, Dyslexia Action, Patoss and Xtraordinary People - say the results of No to Failure show the urgent need for a specialist, trained member of staff in every school, as well as training for all staff.

Trust members are collecting case studies for a new database, to become a resource for teachers. No to Failure, which details good practice around the country, will be used by Sir Jim Rose in his study of dyslexia in schools as part of his review of the primary curriculum.

The trust wants schools to review their work with dyslexic pupils. Independent schoolteachers who are specialists in that area will be encouraged to develop new training and support opportunities for their colleagues in mainstream schools.

No to Failure reveals that more than half the children who didn't reach their Sats target were found to be at risk of having special educational needs; 21 per cent are at risk of having dyslexia or a specific learning difficulty.

Trials costing Pounds 1 million in Cornwall, Southwark and Calderdale have allowed pupils to make speedy progress in spelling and reading. No to Failure was funded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families. The charities are now calling for the project to be extended throughout England.

The project started with local training for teachers. They then screened 1,164 pupils in Years 3 and 7 in 20 schools. More than half of the younger children and 44 per cent of the older group then made good progress in literacy work over the 20 weeks of the programme.

Year 3 pupils who took part in the study showed an average improvement in their reading age of eight months, while younger children showed an improvement of five months.

Dr Chris Singleton, an educational psychologist from Hull University who examined the results, said he was "astonished" by the level of undiagnosed dyslexia in all the pilot schools. "After the specialist teaching, while their work didn't get up to the normal range, they displayed a marked improvement and I believe helping children in this way is hugely cost effective," he said.

Speaking at the launch of No to Failure in Westminster this week, Lynn Greenwold, chair of the research project, called on local authorities to do more to train teachers. "At the moment each area has different approaches," she said, "and we want to demonstrate the strong impact of having a specialist member of staff."

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