Melanie Smith pleads for more access to dyslexia specialists in schools.

Ten year-old Emily struggles with anxiety and worries about school. Despite her diligence, she has difficulty reading and writing. When her classmates whisper, her fragile confidence withers away. While her teacher wants to help, the constraints of a busy classroom make it challenging. Emily’s daily struggle mirrors that of countless students nationwide, hoping for change.

The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) reports that roughly 10% of the UK population has dyslexia, which means that around three students in every classroom could be affected. Alarmingly, recent data reveals that 41% of Year 6 students did not meet English standards in the past two years. The Made by Dyslexia 2022 survey, highlights dyslexia is linked to school failure and estimates that 80% of students leave school unidentified. This stresses the urgent need to re-evaluate the literacy support for students, especially in primary schools.

The Rose Review aimed to improve early reading instruction in primary schools. It proposed incorporating dyslexia specialist teachers into schools trained to identify and support students facing dyslexia and literacy challenges. As a former SENCo, I wholeheartedly embraced this initiative, completing postgraduate courses in dyslexia and dyscalculia so I had the skills to support struggling students.

A 2020 report by Driver Youth Trust, titled Hide and Seek: where are all the specialists? revealed that despite training approximately 3,500 dyslexia specialists since the Rose Review, a mere 25% of schools and 4% of state schools use their expertise. Specialist support is available but is not being accessed by schools.

This situation is disheartening because dyslexia specialists excel in literacy and phonics, offering expertise in customising effective interventions. They play a pivotal role in early intervention and supporting students like Emily before their confidence is shaken. With tailored support and research-based methods, they strengthen literacy skills, improve self-esteem and the overall well-being of students. Specialists also assist teachers in adapting methods to meet diverse learning needs, fostering inclusive classrooms where students like Emily feel supported rather than intimidated.

It is my strong conviction that access to this invaluable support should be available in every school. Driver Youth Trust advocates for accessibility to specialist teachers in schools, proposing that specialists not only aid students but also closely collaborate with teachers in the classroom. Such collaboration allows educators to observe and assimilate effective techniques into their teaching. For instance, witnessing specialists employ multi-sensory teaching techniques and memory-enhancing strategies can empower teachers to refine their approaches and design lessons to accommodate diverse learning styles. Specialist teachers can further provide targeted assistance to students identified as ‘at risk’ based on their Phonics Screening test results. This aligns with the early intervention goal outlined in the Rose Review and will enhance students’ reading and literacy skills while preserving students’ well-being.

Specialists can collaborate further by delivering workshops for both teachers and parents, offering invaluable insights into flexible learning environments, supportive technology and strategies to establish inclusive classrooms and extend support beyond the classroom. For instance, these workshops can introduce interactive activities that invigorate lessons and promote alternative modes of expression, enabling students like Emily to choose methods that align with their strengths to demonstrate understanding. Parental involvement is crucial for academic and emotional success. Workshops empower parents with strategies to support their children’s learning at home and further improve progress. Rigorous assessments allow schools to gauge the effectiveness of interventions and specialist support.

Given the substantial number of students facing literacy challenges, it is evident that change is a priority. While the Rose Review laid the foundation, the vision of a seamless, collaborative approach where specialist teachers integrate into a whole-school strategy remains unfulfilled. To enhance the quality of literacy education in our schools, proactive measures are needed. By fostering dedicated collaboration with specialists, advocating for increased support, and prioritising the needs of every student, we could work towards a future where every student, regardless of their challenges, excels academically. Every Emily deserves a chance to shine.

Melanie Smith
Author: Melanie Smith

Melanie Smith
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Melanie Smith is an experienced Level 7 specialist teacher and the founder of DD Focus, providers of one-one and group tuition and diagnostic assessments for dyslexia and dyscalculia.

Facebook: @dyslexia_focus


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