How to teach dyslexics


New guidance on the skills and expertise needed to teach dyslexic pupils effectively

There is an ever-increasing focus on schools to push for higher attainment for children with SEN including dyslexia. It is therefore more important than ever for teachers to have the knowledge and skills required to support dyslexic learners. The Literacy and Dyslexia-SpLD Professional Development Framework outlines the levels of knowledge needed for various roles within schools and further/higher education institutions. The six key strands of required skills and knowledge will be explored in this article.

Political background

The Children and Families Bill prepares to make its way through Parliamentary process this year. Although some clauses will alter, there are key themes already in place. Two of these are:

  • more effective school-based support for the lowest achieving 20 per cent, with an emphasis on excellent universal provision
  • increased emphasis on initial teacher education and on-going professional development.

Ofsted has also stated an increased focus on effective teaching of literacy and monitoring the progress of individual children with SEN. With this increase in emphasis, it is essential for teachers’ skills and knowledge to be robust.

The Literacy and Dyslexia-SpLD Professional Development Framework

The Literacy and Dyslexia-SpLD Professional Development Framework is a free online tool that contains a wealth of resources. The Framework was commissioned by the Department for Education and developed by The Dyslexia-SpLD Trust in conjunction with PATOSS and Dyslexia Action and in consultation with a wide number of stakeholders.

It is essentially a road map of knowledge and skills required by teachers of dyslexic learners. Teachers do a self-analysis quiz and they get a printed report of their results and a recommended selection of resources and courses tailored to their needs.

This knowledge map is organised across six strands:

  • Development of Language and Literacy
  • Theories of Dyslexia/SpLD
  • Identifying and Assessing Dyslexia/SpLD
  • Supporting and Teaching Learners with Dyslexia/SpLD
  • Communicating and Working with Others
  • Professional Development and Dyslexia/SpLD.

Each strand is further divided into the following stages and corresponding roles:

Stage 1
Type of support: universal
Professional roles:All staff teaching and supporting learners in all levels of educational setting.

Stage 2
Type of support: Targeted
Professional roles:

  • Practitioners confident with planning, preparing and teaching with a range of targeted specialist and differentiated resources
  • Practitioners in specialist settings

Stage 3
Type of support: targeted strategic
Professional roles:

  • Higher level teaching/special assistant in all settings
  • SEN teacher
  • Teacher in mainstream seeking to specialise in dyslexia/SpLD
  • CPD leader for teaching schools

Stage 4
Type of support: specialist
Professional roles:

  • Dyslexia/SpLD specialist teacher
  • Dyslexia/SpLD advisory teacher
  • Specialist teacher assessor

Stage 5*
Type of support: specialist complex
Professional roles:

  • Specialist teacher assessor
  • Dyslexia/SpLD advisor
  • Dyslexia/SpLD trainer

* Teachers working at this level would be expected to be qualified to undertake full cognitive diagnostic assessments for dyslexia/SpLD.

These stages map onto the types of provision that need to be offered to children with SEN and disabilities as part of the published local offer that local authorities will be providing. A full list of all the strands of knowledge for every stage can be downloaded from the Framework’s website (see Further information, below).
Exploring strands of knowledge

The Universal Level represents the level of knowledge and skills required by all teachers and teaching assistants, so it will be the level used to explore the strands of knowledge in greater detail below.

Strand A: Development of Language and Literacy

This strand includes the following themes:

  • the relationship between language, literacy and learning
  • the relationship between phonological awareness and phonological processing
  • the structure of language
  • the factors that can affect the development of language, literacy and learning
  • the impact of English as an additional language on language and literacy
  • the potential impact of dyslexia/SpLD on numeracy development.

The needs analysis quiz then goes into more specific detail, asking teachers to rate their confidence on statements such as the following:

  • Understand what the terms language, literacy and learning mean.
  • Be aware of syllable counting, rhyming, blending, segmentation and ways in which learners perceive and pronounce the sounds within words.
  • Be aware that there may be influences that impact on the development of the English language for different learners.
  • Be aware of the variety of factors that can affect language and literacy use and development.
  • Be aware of how memory difficulties affect learning (e.g. understand the need for memory prompts and breaking down tasks in to smaller steps).
  • Be aware of the impact of English as an additional language on learning and literacy development.
  • Be aware of the potential impact of dyslexia/SpLD on numeracy development.
  • The Framework will then direct the user to relevant videos, online resources, research and courses according to their requirements. Information on all of the themes is available through the website’s resource base (see Further information, below).

Strand B: Theories of Dyslexia

This strand includes the following themes:

  • current definitions of dyslexia and co-occurring difficulties and the relationship between them
  • the main areas of difficulty in the educational setting for learners with dyslexia/SpLD
  • the different theories of dyslexia
  • the different models of reading development.

Examples of statements for Stage 1 are:

  • Be aware of other difficulties often associated with literacy difficulties.
  • Be aware of the main theories of dyslexia/SpLD.
  • Be aware of how “The Simple View of Reading” provides a framework for understanding literacy learning.
  • Be aware of what is meant by multi-sensory teaching.
  • Be aware of ways to support the development of numeracy for learners with literacy difficulties and dyslexia/SpLD, taking into account possible difficulties with directionality and visual and spatial awareness.

Strand C: Identifying and Assessing Dyslexia/Specific Learning Difficulties

This strand includes the following themes:

  • identify and assess learners with dyslexia/SpLD at a level appropriate to the role of the professional
  • follow agreed procedures in a setting for making referrals
  • devise and implement teaching and support plans to meet the needs of learners identified during the assessment process
  • undertake appropriate arrangements for learners with dyslexia/SpLD entitled to special arrangements for public examinations.

Examples of Stage 1 statements are:

  • Identify when a learner may be experiencing literacy difficulties.
  • Follow a teaching and support plan for a learner with literacy difficulties.
  • Follow arrangements required as a result of special arrangements for public examinations agreed for individual learners and embed this into everyday learning.
  • Use the basic terminology as typically seen in assessments.
  • Follow agreed referral procedures in a setting for learners possibly identified with literacy difficulties and dyslexia/SpLD (e.g. know the first point of contact to share information with about these learners).
  • Know how to find information on the prevalence of literacy difficulties in your setting for those learners with English as an additional language.
  • Monitor the progress of learners with literacy difficulties against specific targets relating to the teaching and support plan.

Strand D: Teaching and Supporting Learners with Dyslexia/Specific Learning Difficulties

This strand includes the following themes:

  • set challenging and appropriate targets in response to a profile of a learner
  • plan and prepare differentiated teaching materials and lessons, including the use of ICT and specialist resources within the context of a dyslexia/SpLD friendly environment
  • undertake to keep informed of current research and developments, including evidence based practice to inform teaching support of learners
  • interpret and implement relevant legislative and policy frameworks relating to dyslexia, SEN and disability.

Typical Stage 1 statements are:

  • Demonstrate high expectations of learners with literacy difficulties (e.g. high expectation of learners can promote self-belief and attainment).
  • Use, under guidance, ICT and multi-sensory teaching programmes to support learners with literacy difficulties.
  • Include features in the teaching and learning environment that do not rely on text.
  • Use teaching strategies designed to support numeracy development for learners with literacy or other difficulties.
  • Find ways to support practice in your setting and the home (e.g. liaise with parents/carers to share information about approaches used in the class and how these can be supported at home).
  • Be aware of good practice which will inform work with learners with literacy difficulties and be aware of the concept of evidence based practice.
  • Design strategies that encourage the learner to reflect upon his/her own performance and discuss the strategies that the learner finds most useful.
  • Be aware of the wider inclusion policy and legislative context in relation to learners with dyslexia/SpLD.
  • Implement agreed reasonable adjustments for learners with dyslexia/SpLD in relation to your organisation’s duties under the Disability Discrimination Act, Equality Act or other legislative requirements.

Strand E: Communicating and Working with Others

Strand E is a good opportunity to show how the statements vary across stages. Stage 1 (Universal) is generally a teaching role, so the statements relate more to the teaching of the dyslexic learner. Stage 3 (Targeted Strategic) tends to be a more managerial role, such as a SENCO, which is reflected in the statements which relate more to the leadership of a team of people.

Examples of statements for both stages are:

Stage 1 (universal)  

  • Support effective multi-agency working and identify ways to help this happen.
  • Support institutional improvement initiatives which contribute to improved outcomes for learners with literacy difficulties.
  • Follow your profession’s ethical code of conduct and how it relates to meeting the needs of learners with literacy difficulties.
  • Acknowledge and respect the views and knowledge of parents and carers in different aspects of your work with learners with literacy difficulties.

Stage 3 (targeted strategic)

  • Manage and lead the development of effective multi-agency working practices for learners with dyslexia/SpLD.
  • Lead and manage institutional improvement initiatives by working closely with leadership teams, taking a leading role in developing, implementing and evaluating policies and practices which contribute to improved outcomes for learners with dyslexia/SpLD.
  • Lead and support others to model appropriate professional and ethical behaviour.
  • Lead and support others to work in a range of ways with the parents, carers, families, peers and friends of learners with dyslexia/SpLD.

Strand F: Professional Development and Dyslexia/SpLD

This strand includes the following themes:

  • actively seek opportunities and challenges for personal learning and development
  • participate in and provide continuous professional development activities.

Stage 1 statements include:

  • Clearly evaluate how your own professional development affects a range of outcomes in your work with learners with literacy difficulties.
  • Demonstrate that your continuing professional development can be achieved through a number of different ways (e.g. reading, talking to colleagues, visiting other schools).

Using the Framework

The Framework is intended to be versatile. For example, training providers writing courses on dyslexia, and initial teacher education providers, are very welcome to use these strands and statements to structure their course content. Teaching schools can also use the Framework across whole-school clusters and for strategic planning in literacy.

The Framework has a number of other features, including videos and facilities for searching, sharing and uploading resources, plus advice on constructing INSET in school. Everything on the site is focused on professional development and providing easy access to up-to-date knowledge for the education workforce.

Further information

Dr Amelia Roberts works with the Dyslexia SpLD Trust as Project Researcher on the Literacy and Dyslexia-SpLD Professional Development Framework. In 2012, she also worked with the Education Select Committee and government policy review groups on SEN policy and The Children and Families Bill. The Framework can be accessed at:

Amelia Roberts
Author: Amelia Roberts

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  1. Thanks Anne. As you’ve probably discovered, if you click on dyslexia in the menu on the left, you will find a lot of articles on dyslexia and related issues.


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