Andrea Welter on why literacy catch-up programmes need to prioritise children with SEND.
Learning gaps between children with SEN and their peers have significantly widened over the last couple of years – and the greatest negative impact has been for the youngest pupils.
According to a new report published by Juniper Education, the reading attainment gap between Year 2 pupils with SEN has grown from 29 percentage points in autumn 2019 to a shocking 45 points two years later.
These figures will be a difficult read for SENCOs and support staff, but the data is likely to confirm what many already know. Lockdowns have put children with special needs at much greater risk of falling behind what they are capable of.
The report underlines the urgent need for literacy to be placed at the very heart of the targeted catch-up strategies schools are shaping to support pupils with SEN.
Literacy – the foundation for all learning
It has never been more important for schools to identify and implement effective interventions to eliminate lost learning and help ensure children with SEN get the support they need to fully access the curriculum. Literacy skills are the bedrock needed to prevent children with conditions such as dyslexia from falling behind.
When a child has a good level of reading ability, they are in a much stronger position to be able to join in with a class science challenge, source information for a history project about the Queen’s coronation and retain the names of rock formations in geography.
A focus on strengthening literacy skills will encourage a child with autism or Williams syndrome to pick up a book they’re not familiar with or read for the pure joy of it too. It’s what all those who support children with SEN want for their pupils.
Without a firm grasp of reading, a child could potentially be on the back foot right the way through their schooling. That’s why literacy catch-up programmes must to be tailored to the individual learning needs of each pupil.
Uncovering the issues
One of the key tasks for schools is to identify reading difficulties but this is not always as straightforward as it may sound.
The challenges children with additional needs face are often difficult to spot in the typical routine of the school day. Many pupils develop coping strategies over time too, which can be complicated to unpick.
At Pheasey Park, we use an innovative piece of software to help us with this. It’s an eye-tracking tool from Lexplore Analytics which follows a child’s eye movements as they read and automatically analyses how long their eyes rest on one word. It tracks how quickly the eyes move forwards and backwards across a series of words and offers very detailed information on specific reading difficulties, including the early signs of dyslexia.
The results help us to design interventions that make a real difference to the children we support. We even use the technology to measure the impact of the interventions we put in place for each child, allowing us to make adjustments over time to ensure they are getting the help they need to progress.
Considering the pastoral impact
Reading difficulties not only affect children’s academic achievement. They can also have a negative impact on a pupils’ emotional wellbeing. So, a successful catch-up programme for literacy should always support the pastoral aspects of the learning recovery journey.
While it’s important to understand where pupils are in their learning and monitor the progress they are making, schools need to find ways to assess children without piling on the pressure and technology can help here too.
An on-screen activity or digital quiz is often enjoyable for a child to do. When assessment is fun, there is no ‘fear of the big test’ that could potentially spark anxiety and skew the results. The child may not even be aware they are being assessed, which will provide a much more accurate picture of their reading ability.
In our school, some of the screening technology we use is so enjoyable, our pupils have been known to ask us if they can repeat the testing process more than once. Technology-based testing can also save time for teachers as results come through very quickly allowing more time to be devoted to planning and delivering activities that help each child to continue making progress.
As a SENCo, you know which children will respond more positively to a classroom-based literacy catch-up programme, an afterschool reading club or a scheme that delivers more help at home.
With the right tools and information, we can ensure every pupil gets the support they need to thrive on their own pathway to learning success.
Andrea Welter is an assistant head teacher from Pheasey Park Farm Primary School and Early Years which is part of the Elston Hall Learning Trust.