SENCOs will find two recent publications helpful for developing dyslexia-friendly schools – one for adult literacy and numeracy skills, the other from the primary national strategy

Unlike most subject teachers, SENCOs have a commonality of interests across age-related phases of education. Both of the publications reviewed here offer excellent advice and resources for professional development.

A Framework for Understanding Dyslexia

Although designed for teachers working in post-16 education or training, this framework* will help anyone seeking concise information on theories and approaches to dyslexia and dyscalculia. The framework provides:

  • general information on the nature of dyslexia
  • a review of theories about dyslexia
  • an overview of approaches and programmes used by specialists who support dyslexic learners
  • a resources section including detailed information on dyslexia theories and a list of further reading
  • a glossary.

The introduction tackles issues concerning definitions of dyslexia and dyscalculia; their effect on learning how to recognise and assess them and general principles to apply in responding to the needs of learners.

Theories of dyslexia

This section provides an impressive overview of the many different current theories of dyslexia. It offers some theoretical background to enable tutors to understand the nature of the difficulties faced by dyslexic learners and how these might influence approaches to teaching and learning.
Whilst acknowledging that making sense of competing theories is not easy, the framework suggests three levels of description which are useful for a better understanding of dyslexia.

  • Biological (genetics and neurology: including genetic factors, language areas of the brain, difference or dysfunction in the cerebellum affecting speech processing and impairment in the visual system within the brain.
  • Cognitive (information processing): phonological processing deficits, visual and temporal or timing difficulties, lack of ‘automaticity’ in processing information, problems with working memory.
  • Social interactive theory: how society’s reactions to dyslexia make a difference into a disability.

Approaches and programmes used by specialists

This section gives you some background information and understanding about a variety of approaches and programmes identifying ways in which approaches used by specialists could be supported.

Many specialists have developed their own ways of working, drawing eclectically from a number of different approaches or sources. Others follow specific programmes, with or without their own adaptations. The framework emphasises the importance of remembering that no one method appears to be effective with all dyslexic learners, although all methods seem to work for some learners.

There is no generally accepted classification system for the approaches and programmes, but they are presented here in six broad groupings:

  • structured cumulative approaches
  • person-centred approaches
  • physiological approaches
  • approaches using technology
  • approaches used in mathematics
  • approaches used in higher education.


Any SENCO considering further professional development towards a specialist qualification in dyslexia will find this section immensely helpful. It comprises:
Theory tables, which give more detailed information on theories of dyslexia, including:

  • brief descriptions of the theories such as genetic linkage, differences in structure of the brain, cerebellar impairment, phonological processing difficulties
  • details of underpinning research and listings of the main texts
  • key players in the field
  • implications for practice

Further reading split in to three categories:

  • practical guides such as the British Dyslexia Association’s Dyslexia Handbook l theoretical but accessible texts such as Snowling’s Dyslexia: A Cognitive Developmental Perspective
  • academic texts such as Galaburda’s Dyslexia and Development: Neurological Aspects of Extraordinary Brains.

Glossary of terms related to literacy, language and numeracy and to the approaches described in this document.

*A Framework for Understanding Dyslexia ISBN: 1 84478 159 3 Available from DfES Publications, Prolog, PO Box 5050, Sherwood Park, Annesley Nottingham tel: 0845 60 222 60 Online at

Learning and Teaching for Dyslexic Children

This is a CD-ROM* which provides resources for school-based whole-staff professional development as part of the primary national strategy. However, it is likely that with some appropriate adaptation, its contents will be helpful to SENCOs, who provide training for colleagues in other schools and settings. It aims to increase knowledge and understanding of dyslexia and its implications for teaching and learning. The materials will help SENCOs or other training providers to develop the range of strategies to make schools dyslexia friendly.

There are four sessions on access strategies, teaching and learning styles, literacy and mathematics. Each session is supported with presenters’ notes and handouts linked to PowerPoint slides and video clips. The CD-ROM also provides a library of additional information and resources.

It is possible to present some sessions as a series of short professional development meetings, rather than an in-service training day or half-day. Everyone might then try to implement the elements they have added to their planning and meet as a staff group to focus on dyslexia, for people to talk about the work they have undertaken and the impact it has had on children’s learning.

Access strategies

  • To increase our understanding of dyslexia and how it can feel to be a dyslexic learner.
  • To review the way we identify dyslexic learners and assess their learning needs.
  • To develop the range of whole-school strategies we use to enable dyslexic children to succeed.

Teachers need to be very aware that children with special educational needs can often work on the same learning objectives as others in the class, as long as the teacher plans access strategies to overcome a barrier between the child and the learning. Some examples might be:

  • if the barrier to learning is written recording, the child might use ICT or work with a ‘buddy’ who acts as scribe
  • if a barrier to a lesson on problem solving is lack of fluent knowledge of number facts, the child may need to use
    a calculator
  • if the barrier is motor coordination, so that the child has difficulty in drawing shapes or graphs, they may need to use appropriate software that draws shapes and graphs for them.

Teaching styles and approaches

To explore teaching styles which are particularly effective for dyslexic learners:

  • multisensory approaches
  • Mind Mapping
  • explicit teaching of memory skills
  • the use of ICT.

The materials suggest that multisensory learning using all of the senses all of the time may overload children. It does, however, mean using a range of modalities to present information and support independent learning. It also means encouraging children to use multiple modalities when learning something new, not just the one with which they are most comfortable.

Mind Mapping as an example of multisensory teaching using the visual modality. It is a useful tool for all learners, but particularly so for dyslexic children and children learning English as an additional language.

Memory strategies people use, such as making pictures in their heads, writing reminders to themselves or using mnemonics can be helpful for children if teachers and other adults model and make explicit these ways of remembering. Teachers can, for example, ask children to remind them of things in class and engage children in discussion about the best way for them to learn spellings, mathematics facts, history facts, and so on.

ICT can be used to provide visual support for explanations and key vocabulary; images and sound to stimulate writing; a variety of ways for recording work and processing information.

At the end of this session participants are asked to look at the planning for current or future units of work, adding multisensory, Mind Mapping, memory or ICT ideas to their plans.


  • To increase our understanding of dyslexia and how it feels to be a dyslexic reader and writer.
  • To develop a range of strategies to support dyslexic pupils in reading and writing.
  • To increase our understanding of how to teach phonics/spelling to a class in a dyslexia-friendly way.

This session links to different aspects of the National Literacy Strategy in particular the three ‘waves’ of intervention. It concludes with a suggested MOSS audit: (Multi-sensory, Over-learned, Structured, Sequential) learning activities.

This audit should make sure that over time children access a range of different modalities in their learning: say touch, see, hear, feel or do.This will be useful to enable teachers to add additional approaches to their teaching of certain literacy skills. Some of this may be done with the whole class, some in independent work in class or in Wave 3 work. It is important to keep the same approaches for whomever is teaching the child so this audit could act to coordinate approaches. It might be completed by a SENCO or specialist teacher as an aide-memoire for a teaching assistant or teacher working with an individual child.


  • To understand the possible difficulties encountered by dyslexic children in mathematics.
  • To consider a range of multisensory strategies to support dyslexic children in their mathematical learning.

This session focuses on teaching styles and access strategies which support dyslexic learners in mathematics. It draws on strategies such as Mind Mapping already discussed in other sessions and on recent National Numeracy Strategy/Primary National Strategy materials.
As in the literacy session, the focus is on multisensory, quality first teaching for all – Wave 1 in the ‘Waves’ model. For some children this will need to be complemented by additional provision, for example through Springboard interventions or the Primary National Strategy Wave 3.

* Learning and Teaching for Dyslexic Children (DfES 1184/2005 CDI). Available from DfES Publications

tel: 0845 60 222 60

Effective SEN support in mainstream schools

Ofsted has published a course to help schools evaluate the effectiveness of their own support for SEN pupils. Access to these materials is available either through individual school purchase or by accessing the training via licensed providers who deliver the courses according to Ofsted guidelines.

The course is a revised version of training provided for Ofsted inspectors designed to help them in making reliable judgements about the provision for and progress of pupils in mainstream schools with special educational needs.

The course, From Evaluation to Improvement: Judging the Effectiveness of Special Educational Needs Support in Mainstream Schools (SENIMS) ISBN 0113501226 can be purchased from TSO at a cost of £250 including VAT and postage and packaging.

Contact details:
Online: Mail: TSO, PO Box 29, Norwich NR3 1GN Telephone orders/general enquiries: 0870 600 5522.

Fax orders: 0870 600 5533