The Wordsley School is a mixed comprehensive with over 700 pupils near the town of Stourbridge in the West Midlands. In its last Ofsted report it was described as having a mixed catchment area including wards with very high social deprivation. The number of pupils eligible for free school meals is high.
It is a small mixed comprehensive school and since September 2005 it has had specialist college status for both business enterprise and music. In the context of special educational needs there are 24 pupils with statements, 64 pupils at School Action Plus and 84 at School Action. Within the school, inclusion has been helped by links to subject departments through my work as a key skills teacher and the school's pastoral unit.
As SENCO, I am a member of the senior management group and work in liaison with the local authority educational psychology, learning support, speech therapy and social services. In school, I have the help of two teachers and 10 teaching assistants who amongst other duties work to support children with learning difficulties and disabilities.
Why we started screening
Like most secondary schools we have always had a number of pupils for whom difficulties in reading, writing and spelling present problems in accessing the mainstream curriculum. Introducing a screening test for dyslexia has proved successful in tackling this problem. Individual pupils have been helped to improve their skills and gain insight into their strengths and weaknesses. Teachers are more aware of their pupils specific learning difficulties and parents are very supportive of the programme.
I am sure that most secondary SENCOs will be familiar with the concerns which staff express about pupils who seem bright but have an apparent gap between their oral grasp of subjects and the reading and writing skills demanded in coursework. Very often these are children who appear to have managed adequately if not well in the primary school but who struggle in coping with the increased language demands of the curriculum at secondary level.
It was in response to finding ways to help these children, as well as those with more evident literacy problems that I decided to find an appropriate screening device to identify pupils who needed early intervention if this gap between understanding and written work was not to widen.
We use Dyslexia Screener (developed and published by GL Assessment. ). There may well be alternative tests which other SENCOs find as good or even better but this one has suited us because it is easy to administer and rapidly enables the identification of individual needs and appropriate forms of early intervention.
Pupils take the test individually using a computer and wearing headphones. It takes about half-an-hour while they respond to questions by clicking on the mouse. Their results are then summarised and a profile produced which indicates whether or not a pupil is showing signs of being mildly, moderately or severely dyslexic.
As its authors note in the manual, the Screener is intended to give ‘a clear expression of the likely presence and degree of dyslexia' but this is only ‘a provisional indication - and a more authoritative clinical decision may be sought when needed.' Typically a profile of someone with a ‘severely dyslexic' profile will recommend a full individual psychological assessment, specialist tuition and sustained discussion with parents. For others further investigation may be considered but initial intervention will involve teaching using ‘structured, multi-sensory, cumulative methods ‘
In our experience, the main benefit of the screening process has not been the diagnostic element in itself, so much as the consequential follow-up. Screening gives us the ability to identify children who need help and suggests appropriate ways to support them. For pupils with mild problems this takes the form of teachers and teaching assistants supporting them on the school's own HARP (higher accelerated reading programme ) or in withdrawal groups working on reading and phonics incorporating the PAT (Phonic Awareness Training) programme, Code Cracker and Word Attack.
For children whose profile indicates more serious difficulties, the local authority Learning Support Service helps identify appropriate targets and materials. For pupils whose profile indicates specific learning difficulties there is weekly support for pupils who require individual tuition from a specialist teacher with the British Dyslexia Association ‘Approved Teacher' status.
Back on track
I have certainly found that this system has relieved a lot of personal pressure on me as SENCO. It is really encouraging to see how many pupils are able to get back ‘on track' given early and rapid support. Even if their problems are not completely solved there is a positive feeling that something is being done to help them. Teaching staff are more aware of individual needs and parents are pleased that their child's difficulties are being acknowledged and action is being taken to help them.
Using a screening process has provided clear, concise information and proved user-friendly. While I would emphasise again that I am not claiming that it is unique, for our school, Dyslexia Screener has proved very useful indeed.
Cheryl Lawrie is SENCO at Wordsley School. Dyslexia Screener details are available online.