Dyslexia is the subject of this issue of SENCO Week, which looks at providing support for dyslexic learners, raising awareness of dyslexia amongst teaching staff, and improving pupils’ and parents’ understanding of the challenges the condition posesword-7152631

Help Sheet 13.doc

You will undoubtedly know the basic issues related to dyslexia, but may want to share the main points with colleagues and parents:

  • Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty (SpLD), which mainly affects the development of literacy and language-related skills.
  • SpLD is an umbrella term, which includes developmental coordination disorder (DCD), often also known as dyspraxia; attentional disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); and dyscalculia (also known as specific arithmetic disorder.
  • There can be significant overlap (comorbidity) of these developmental conditions, making it tricky (and often unhelpful) to try to be precise about labels.
  • Research suggests that, in people with dyslexia, the connections between different language areas of the brain do not work as efficiently as they should. However, these differences are not linked to intelligence, and many people with dyslexia have strengths and abilities in tasks that involve creative and visually based thinking.
  • Pupils with dyslexia usually find it difficult to analyse and work with the sounds of spoken words, and many have difficulties with short-term memory, sequencing and organisation. This means that it is more difficult for them to learn how spoken sounds map on to letters, which affects the ability to spell and the ability to decode or ‘sound out’ words. Most dyslexic learners do learn to read, but this often requires a great deal of concentration and effort – even as adults. There may also be continuing difficulties with spelling, writing, memory and organisation.
  • The degree to which dyslexia causes problems, in learning and in everyday life, depends on many factors. These include the severity of the dyslexia, the other strengths and abilities that a person has, and the kind of teaching and support they are given.

As SENCO, your responsibilities regarding pupils with dyslexia can be considered under four headings:

  • Identification – as early as possible. (See the ‘Alpha To Omega’ placement sheets and other free assessment tests from Dyslexia Action.) Share information with all relevant staff.
  • Effective intervention – make sure you have a properly trained teacher in school (possibly shared with another school) or brought in from the LA support service. Look at the Dyslexia Action and BDA websites for information about training. www.bdadyslexia.org.uk
  • Ensuring whole-school awareness and good classroom provision (you might consider going for ‘dyslexia-friendly’ status – details from the BDA).
  • Supporting individual pupils in terms of self-esteem and confidence, teaching them study skills and securing special exam conditions for them as appropriate (eg, at GCSE level, the oral language modifier, or OLM, role has been created to provide a reasonable adjustment in examinations for candidates who require a level of language support beyond that provided by a reader.)

For anything you don’t know, look at the BDA and Dyslexia Action websites given above. In addition, Dyslexic Teaching Today lists a wide range of books and resources with reviews and write ups.

Information for teachers
Busy teachers are less concerned about the ‘whys and wherefores’ of pupils’ difficulties, and more concerned about how to deal with them. Provide them with a checklist of supportive strategies, either as a one-page handout (see the help sheet) or on the school intranet. Back this up with a brief input on a staff training day if possible.

Information for parents
Dyslexia tends to run in families and parents may themselves experience difficulties as outlined above. Often, they will have developed successful coping strategies and passed these on to their children and talking to them about this can be mutually beneficial. As the SENCO, you may be approached by parents for advice on private tuition support and guidance on how they can help at home. There are some dodgy people offering different kinds of support – do caution parents and refer them to the national associations, or perhaps you know of a qualified dyslexia specialist with proven credentials. It’s important though that dyslexic pupils don’t come under too much pressure, and time spent helping parents to understand the difficulties, and see the child’s strengths, can pay dividends. Some SENCOs have produced a booklet for parents, describing the help provided for their children in school and explaining how they can be supported at home, particularly in terms of organisation. Overseeing homework and checking that everything is in the bag for the following day can be a great help. IEPs can usefully include the parent role and targets relevant to home.

Point them to Waterstone’s Guide to Books for Young Dyslexic Readers, available at
Dyslexia Action.

Information for pupils
Children and young people need to understand their dyslexia, so provide them with clear information and positive role models. Involve pupils as much as possible in decisions about IEPs and support in school. Mentors (older, successful dyslexic students can be particularly effective) can provide invaluable practical and moral support.

That’s the Way I Think, by David Grant, gives an insight into dyslexia and is useful reading for secondary pupils (and their parents and teachers). Making Dyslexia Work for You, by Vicki Goodwin and Bonita Thomson, is full of practical strategies for pupils to follow. Support teachers and mentors will also find this a useful resource.

Research published last term by the London University Institute of Education shows that children who receive ‘Reading Recovery’ support through the Every Child a Reader (ECaR) programme are getting higher than average results for their age. In the second evaluation of the programme, researchers found that the same children are roughly one year ahead of children in schools where the programme is not available, and able to write twice as many words. The gender gap that is normally noticeable between low-achieving boys and girls is not evident in schools where ECaR is available.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in September 2008

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.