As a family, we moved 300 miles to Devon find the right school for our children. Lock, stock and barrel. Why? Because all our local schools told us that our children, all dyslexic, would have to do to if they were ever to succeed. They wouldn’t be able to do it; so they were going to fail.
There are many technical ways for a school to become dyslexia friendly. At Kingsley School, a mainstream independent school, the teachers train to use the best teaching techniques and keep up to date with all the latest educational practise research. This is, of course, essential for teaching pupils with special educational needs, but importantly is of benefit to all pupils, including the most able. Schools simply need to work on the assumption that if your child can’t learn the way the school teaches, then the school must change to teach the way your child learns. It’s all about the learning needs of the pupil in front of you, not pre-existing teaching style of the teacher. If a pupil doesn’t learn by copying off the board, then don’t ask them to do it; give them the notes. If a pupil cannot concentrate when a teacher drones on for more than five minutes at a stretch, then the teacher must learn when to shut up! Come on teacher! Do an activity instead. Show a YouTube clip; do some drama, do anything that engages the pupil. If a pupil’s short-term memory is full, then again, give a breathing space to catch up. If you don’t then the pupil will be bored, distracted and start to misbehave.
If a pupil is fidgety, then they are fidgety. So what? Give them a big blob of blue-tack to fidget with. If you don’t then they will fidget with anything to hand, usually something belonging to their neighbour. They are becoming naughty. Whose fault is that?
If a pupil finds school hard, and many do, then provide enrichment that makes something worth sticking around for. Surfing, music, drama, Judo? It does not matter, but something has to be worth getting through the day for.
If your child is absolutely exhausted at the end of the day and can’t face spending hours on another homework. Mum; sign the homework diary to say an attempt was made. It’s not the end of the world. The school will cope. So will your child.
My failing children? From Kingsley School, all went to university.
My belief is that is that schools need to help, wherever they can, to develop the self-confidence of pupils, which will unlock achievements in all spheres of their lives. Schools should have in place a large number of systems, strategies and approaches which are designed to promote self-confidence and self-esteem.
Schools can help dramatically by:
- creating a safe learning environment where pupils take risks in their learning and ask questions, even if they think they might be silly ones
- valuing each pupil for their unique contribution in the classroom and outside the classroom
- fostering an environment where the pupils respect each other and have a sense of pride in their collective achievements
- developing a genuine ethos of praise and encouragement across the school community
- adopting a can-do attitude throughout the school
- creating an atmosphere where making mistakes is okay because they are important part of the learning process
- helping pupils manage their feelings and emotions so they can learn better
- encouraging pupils to nurture their wider interests, perhaps in sport, music, art, and drama so development isn’t just confined to the classroom.
As a Headmaster, when I assess my school, I know that year-in-year-out pupils do better, and often much better, than could be expected. My staff and I are all delighted when our pupils find their passion and are inspired. I am proud of all our students, the high-flyers, the pupils who may have been overlooked in other schools, and those who try their very best every day. Alongside the tremendous academic results, I am most proud that our departing students are polite and well-grounded as well as engaging and confident. In life, I strongly believe, this is just as important as their results.