SPOTLIGHT ON SEND Let’s make 2021 the

year of dyslexia! In her regular column for Education Today this month, independent Specialist Teacher and Assessor JOANNE GLADDERS begins a year- long examination of what it means for a student to have Specific Learning Difficulties Dyslexia.

Happy New Year! This year I thought I would focus on the definition of Specific Learning Difficulties Dyslexia and each month focus on a part of the definition, unpick what it actually means and how that might have implications for a young person within their learning. There is a range of definitions that are available for Assessors to select

from when mapping their assessment findings to a conclusive diagnosis. The most common definition is the one from Sir Jim Rose following his review in 2008 and his independent report “Identifying and Teaching Children and Young People with Dyslexia and Literacy Difficulties” that was presented to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families in 2009. The definition is as follows: “Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that

primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling. Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed. “Dyslexia occurs across the range of intellectual abilities. It is best

thought of as a continuum, not a distinct category, and there are no clear cut-off points. “Co-occurring difficulties may be seen in aspects of language, motor

co-ordination, mental calculation, concentration and personal organisation, but these are not, by themselves, markers of dyslexia. “A good indication of the severity and persistence of dyslexic

difficulties can be gained by examining how the individual responds or has responded to well-founded intervention.” In addition to this definition the British Dyslexia Association also added: “The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) acknowledges the visual and

auditory processing difficulties that some individuals with dyslexia can experience, and points out that dyslexic readers can show a combination of abilities and difficulties that affect the learning process. Some also have strengths in other areas, such as design, problem solving, creative skills, interactive skills and oral skills.” Dr Gavin Reid, who has written many books on the subject of

Dyslexia and is firmly at the forefront of this field, puts forward the following definition: “Dyslexia is a processing difference, often characterized by difficulties in

literacy acquisition affecting reading, writing and spelling. It can also have an impact on cognitive processes such as memory, speed of processing, time management, co-ordination and automaticity. There may be visual and/or phonological difficulties and there is usually some discrepancies in educational performances. “There will individual differences and individual variation and it is

therefore important to consider learning styles and the learning and work context when planning intervention and accommodations” (Reid, 2008). There are lots of overlaps within the definitions but each one has a

different emphasis. Also, there are lots of checklists available to help identify learners with characteristics of Dyslexia. On top of that there are oodles of resources to support learning within the classroom. The key for me is presenting learning in as many different ways as possible, encompassing multi-sensory learning to ensure that all learners have access to good quality learning and teaching. My challenge to you throughout 2021 is to develop your

understanding of Specific Learning Difficulty Dyslexia and consider the challenges this presents to your learners.

January 2021

Accessing outside specialist support during the pandemic

In her regular column for Education Today this month, KATE SARGINSON, Deputy Headteacher and SENCO, examines the challenges for schools of maintaining access to outside specialist support and agencies during lockdown.

Outside specialist support and intervention can be difficult to access at the best of times, with often stringent criteria and convoluted referral processes. The quality and frequency of input can vary widely. Some local authority provision has been subject to budget cuts, with many positions decreased and waiting lists increased. Growing needs have placed services, particularly in mental health, under unbearable pressure, and they are simply unable to meet demand. The pandemic has further exacerbated these problems. Children and young people are having to wait even longer for the assessments, diagnosis and help they need, potentially worsening their difficulties and adding stress and pressure to their families. So many of the processes that were already slow have drawn to a complete halt. Schools are left with little or no options to access external support.

The pandemic has also meant that many specialists are not permitted to come into school buildings at all and are continuing to work remotely. Technology has come to the fore during the lockdown and school closures, and a lot of time and expense has been saved from having to travel to attend meetings. Consultations involving multiple agencies can take place more easily, subject to a strong internet connection (and competent device operators!). As well as facilitating discussions between professionals, technology can also be used as a means to continue to deliver services directly to children and young people. Many children are comfortable using devices and are used to communicating using screens. Speech and language therapy and counselling, for example, has been provided online. The increased use of ICT could become a more cost effective means of delivering support in the long term.

Where specialists are visiting schools, they are subject to comprehensive risk assessments. Observing social distancing and wearing PPE is an integral part of this. This might prove intimidating for children, particularly on the first or initial meetings if someone’s face is covered, or their appearance seems medicalised with the use of plastic aprons, gloves and goggles. It could well be challenging for a child to relax in the company of such an unusually attired professional, thereby the well-being of the child and consequently affecting the reliability of the findings during assessments for example, and the overall success of the support.

The local offer is being compromised by Covid, and stipulated provisions in Education and Health Care Plans are impossible to fully deliver on. Schools are being asked to support and manage an ever increasing range of special educational and mental health needs from within their own expertise and resources. Many teachers are highly skilled and professionally driven, but there are limits to their knowledge – even the most experienced SENCO is unlikely to possess the wide range of specialisms required to truly understand and meet every complex difficulty. It is unrealistic to expect schools to be able to meet every need in house. The lag in support for SEND is adding to the burden on school staff who are already managing so much. Schools will continue to do the best they can to minimise the impact an interruption to specialist services has on their pupils, but increased support is needed now more than ever. 19

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