One in every ten children is dyslexic and many more struggle with reading and writing. Early intervention and a structured multi-sensory teaching programme can make all the difference. As a qualified teacher and member of the British Dyslexia Association, I have taught countless children to read and will help your child to become a confident and competent reader as well as helping them find ways to improve their writing and spelling.

Contact me today to find out how I can help you and your child.

Wednesday 28 April 2021

Is a dyslexia assessment needed to get help in GCSEs? And other important questions answered.

A lot of people ask me how they can get help for their children in their GCSEs. There is a very clear process but it relies on the school playing their part and on parents understanding the process. So, I've set out some frequently asked questions below, together with some answers.

Should I get my child assessed privately in order to get my child extra time and other access arrangements in exams? 

A private assessment will provide more information about your child's strengths and weaknesses and can act as a catalyst to get the school to address your child's needs. It should encourage the school to make their own assessments and shouldn't be ignored. However, please note, that schools do NOT take private assessment exam recommendations, e.g. for extra time, into account when arranging access arrangements unless the school were involved in the assessment. For this to happen, the assessor needs to contact the school SENCo/ALNCo prior to the assessment taking place. 

What sort of access arrangements are available for GCSE?

Access arrangements include lots of adaptations including exam papers printed on different coloured paper and extra time through to using speech to text software, a computer reader or having a scribe.

Who decides if my child needs access arrangements ? 

Ideally, it should be a decision made by parents, the child and teachers. Regardless of whether a child has been formally assessed, the school will decide if a child needs to be assessed for access arrangements based on their need. The idea of access arrangements is to create a level playing field so that a child is not disadvantaged by their disability. Once a child's needs have been identified, these measures must be put in place in the classroom. The JCQ ( Joint Council of  Qualifications) will then send an assessor to see if your child meets the criterion.

Do I need to pay the JCQ for the assessment?

There is no charge for a JCQ assessment. The assessor may be someone in the school who is suitably qualified.

How can I make sure that my child gets the access arrangements that I think she needs?

The short answer is: you can't. Having dyslexia, even if it has been formally diagnosed, is no guarantee that your child will get any access arrangements put in place. However, exam access arrangements are based on your child's 'normal way of working' in class. So, if they usually have beige paper handouts,  extra time in school exams or a computer reader, then they are likely to get these in the GCSE exams. It is important to get the school to follow these practices early on - ideally from the beginning of Year 10 or even earlier if possible. This means that the school have had a chance to find the right adjustments that work for your child and that they can clearly be described as being your child's 'normal way of working'.

What does 'normal way of working' mean?

Curiously, the JCQ don't expect children to be working in this way in every class and all the time as the phrase might suggest. For example, it might be that your child only uses speech to text software for essay writing. However, it has to be an established way of working that your child does regularly.

My child has been told she doesn't qualify because she has done 'too well' in her tests. What does this mean?

This is a bone of contention amongst many parents of very able children with dyslexia and why some children with dyslexia don't get any access arrangements. The school has to prove that a child is at a disadvantage without access arrangements. This involves looking at what the child's 'normal way of working' is but also involves looking at their standardised test scores. This means that if their writing, processing or reading speed is slower than would be expected for their age then the school can apply but otherwise, they can't apply for exam access arrangements. However, recently, the JCQ has begun accepting the use of a computer reader in exams for children for whom this is their 'normal way of working' - regardless of whether they have below average reading scores.

My child is set to do GCSEs next year and nothing is in place. Is it too late?

No, it's not - but you do need to get in touch with the school as soon as you can and request that they do the standardised tests and discuss what is - or should be - your child's 'normal way of working' in class. You then need to insist that they immediately put these measures in place.

I hope this helps. Essentially, the process of getting access arrangements relies on schools and parents working together. It is, of course, in a school's interest for your child to have all applicable access arrangements put in place; if they do better, it reflects well on the school. 

My tip would be to get everything in place as early as you can. Start by talking to the SEN/ALN co-ordinator. Talk about your child's needs and what they are doing to support your child. Have they done standardised tests? Can they do them? Then monitor the situation. Put things in writing - e-mail is great for keeping a paper trail. And keep reminding them about the need for access arrangements. High school can be a busy place and, sadly, children can slip through the net.

Want to know more? Contact me today to get your child the help and support they need to succeed. 

Monday 30 March 2020

Why the lockdown is a golden opportunity for dyslexic children and parents

Over the last week I've picked up on a lot of anxiety from parents voicing concerns that their children will fall even further behind their peers during the current lock-down. Many parents have already reached breaking point trying to get their children to complete all the schoolwork that well intentioned and hardworking teachers have provided. If this includes you then stop. Take a deep breath. 

First, remember, teachers are not expecting all the children to complete the work. They have provided a lot of tasks because a) that's their job and b) there will be children out there who need the routine and/or academic stimulus to maintain their mental health and well-being. Teachers are aware that most parents aren't teachers, that many parents are still working either as key-workers or from home and that many children will find it hard to accept classroom lessons being delivered by a parent! 

So, what can you do? In all honesty, now is actually a perfect opportunity to support your child in the way you know best. You may not be a qualified teacher but you are, and always will be, your child's first and most influential teacher. Remember all the things you taught them before they went to school? Walking? Talking? Using the toilet? Making friends? The list goes on and on...

Take this time to focus on building your child's self-esteem. Let them concentrate on the things they love and are good at. My pupil's interests range from creating fabulous comic books to baking and sketching to developing an encyclopedic knowledge of Harry Potter! If you can cover some of the school curriculum through their interests then do so. For example, if you have a budding chef in your home then encourage them to record their recipes; write them down or use voice to text software to record their recipes. Maybe compile their own personalised recipe book. Encourage illustrations, research recipes on-line or make videos. 

There are lots of positive role models out there, in all walks of life, like the chef Jamie Oliver, who are dyslexic so maybe take some time to find out more about them. Let your child see that they can be successful and happy too.

Alongside raising self esteem and letting them take the lead on tasks, you can also use this time to teach them useful skills that will help them in the classroom. These could include:

1) Undertaking an on-line phonics program like Nessy or Reading Eggs. Most children, particularly primary aged children love these and make good progress.

2) Getting an on-line specialist tutor (I've moved all my lessons to Skype during the lock-down with very positive results). A different face can make all the difference and a specialist tutor will be able to gauge where your child needs specific support.

3) Buying a teaching manual and working through it. Many children respond well to structured multi-sensory programs like Toe by Toe and Alpha to Omega. You can find these on Amazon or you may be able to order them via your local bookshop if they offer deliveries.

4) Teaching your child to touch-type. The BBC have a good free touch type course called Dance Mat aimed at 7-11 year olds. Ideal if your child struggles with their writing speed or has poor handwriting.

5) Playing games such as Uno and pairs to improve memory. Try brain-training games online. Some children find these help to improve their working memory.

6) If your child struggles with maths then check out books by Ronit Bird, The Dyscalculia Toolkit is my favourite. Playing games on-line like those on Sumdog or Mathletics can also help.

7) Listening to audio-books. These allow your child to enjoy books without the pressure of having to get the words right. Audible are giving away lots of free children's audio books whilst schools here remain closed.

Please don't worry. Teachers know that they will have to support most children to catch up with the curriculum when they return to school. Focus for now on being happy, staying healthy and, if you can, helping your child to learn those key skills that will help them to succeed and to feel better about themselves. 

Above all, stay safe and enjoy each others company. 

Want to know more? Contact me today to get your child the help and support they need to succeed. 

Monday 2 March 2020

Catching them young. How to help your pre-school child.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of doing a drop in session at a toddler play session in Mid Wales. As the toddlers spun around the hall in toy cars and happily played alongside one another, I chatted with parents and carers. Many people had tales to tell of how their dyslexia hadn't been properly addressed by schools. There were some positive outcomes but, sadly, they were largely down to the determination and sheer hard work of the individual rather than down to getting the right support from the education system.

Knowing that dyslexia runs in families, I knew that some of these little ones, playing in the hall, were bound to be dyslexic. I hoped that they would get more support in school than their parents had. School shouldn't be a big struggle for anyone and with the right support children with dyslexia can and do thrive. 

Many parents wondered what they could do to support their young children. Early intervention is key with dyslexia and whilst you can't spot the signs till the age of three or screen till they are four and a half, there is no harm in supporting them in their toddler phase. The truth is, the things you do for children with dyslexia work for all children. There is no downside.

With that in mind, here are some suggestions for things you can do with your pre-school child.
  • Sing nursery rhymes and encourage your child to join in
  • Talk about words that rhyme and clap out the rhythm of your child's name
  • Play sound lotto. Try closing your eyes and identifying the noises around you
  • Sound words out using the letter sounds e.g m-a-n
  • Play I Spy – there are lots of variations e.g I spy something that rhymes with hat/ starts with the same sound as dog/ starts with the sound b
  • Play with foam letters in the bath. Spell out your child's name or names of other family members. Just let them handle and play with the letters
  • Play Kim's game to help improve memory skills – put objects on a tray, cover them with a tea towel then remove an item and ask your child to say what is missing
  • Practice forming letters in sand, using shaving foam,play dough or simply using your finger in the air
  • Use wooden or magnetic letters to help your child to sequence and name letters of the alphabet
Essentially, you want to make letters and words an everyday part of your child's life – constant exposure in a relaxed way can make all the difference. In addition to the suggestions above, just read to your child and fill them with a love for the written word. Listen to audio books in the car or have them on in the background at home. The more familiarity the better. And it is never too early to start!

Want to know more? Contact me today to get your child the help and support they need to succeed. 

Wednesday 22 January 2020

Children with dyslexia don't need to struggle. They just need the right support.

As a new year begins and everything gets back to normal, many children with dyslexia will be back at school and getting used to feeling like failures again. It's sad but true.You see, it's fairly easy for these children during the holidays, easy to let them just get on and enjoy those things they're really good at, whether it's spending hours sketching or drumming, dancing or swimming. I know children who shine at all these things.

The trouble is, school is largely a place of words and numbers where additional skills such as following complex instructions and listening are required. These are things that many dyslexic children struggle with. The result is a child whose self esteem hits rock bottom the moment they walk into the classroom.

Children with dyslexia don't need to struggle to succeed
It doesn't have to be this way. With a few simple adjustments, the classroom can be a dyslexia friendly place. Here are a few easy changes that will cost your school next to nothing to implement:

1) Keep instructions concise; many dyslexics have poor working memory so will forget instructions if they are too long-winded.

2) Print handouts instead of expecting a child to copy from the board; whilst a child with dyslexia is copying from the board, they're not able to listen to what is being said. Also, many dyslexics make mistakes when copying   - which may lead to huge problems later when they try to complete the task.

3) Print handouts on off-white paper. Many dyslexics will find them easier to read.

4) Provide appropriate spellings for tests. Start with the high frequency word list. Give no more than ten words per week and make sure they all correspond to a word family e.g words with 'ay' in.

4) Provide dyslexia friendly reading books. It is really demoralising for a child to be faced with a 'baby' book simply because they struggle with reading. Books produced by companies such as Barrington Stoke match actual age to reading age so that the books interest the child.

5) Allow more time for a dyslexic child to complete their work and never use staying in at playtime as a sanction. They are doing their best.

Many schools will already be implementing these changes for their dyslexic pupils but many more won't be. It's not because they don't care. It's because they don't know. When I trained to teach twenty five years ago, dyslexia was mentioned once in my training. Things have improved a bit since then but remember, a lot of class teachers will have had little or no training on how to support dyslexic pupils.

So what can you do if your child isn't being supported and is feeling that sense of failure?

Well, firstly, does the school recognise that your child is dyslexic? If not then ask the class teacher about screening. Can they screen your child? Many schools will, some won't. If they are not prepared to screen (or if they do and you want a second opinion) then get a private screening done. A screening will highlight your child's dyslexic traits and whilst it is not a formal diagnosis, it is enough to get most children the initial help that they need.

I have had a lot of success screening children here in mid Wales. It makes me so happy when I hear of all the positive changes that have been put in place when parents take my report and recommendations back to school.

Remember as well that the law is on your side; if a school suspects that a child is dyslexic then they have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments in the classroom and to provide appropriate additional support (often referred to as 'interventions').  Depending on the results of a screening, the school may also refer your child to the LEA educational psychologist for a formal assessment.

Finally, if you can afford to, consider employing a specialist tutor. I first became interested in tutoring children with dyslexia after seeing how my friend turned her seven year old daughter's life around by getting her weekly lessons with a specialist tutor. Her daughter is grown up now, at art college in London and is reaching for the stars. Remember, children with dyslexia don't need to struggle. With the right support they will succeed.

Want to know more? Contact me today to get your child the help and support they need to succeed.

Thursday 5 December 2019

How to get schools to listen

"I just can't get them to understand." This is something I hear a lot from parents who have tried to talk to their child's school about their concerns around dyslexia. Schools are busy places and it can be hard sometimes for busy teachers to separate out the 'big' concerns from the 'little' ones. 

So how can you get your voice heard? Well, first, pick your time wisely. First thing in the morning, most teachers are very busy. The sorts of issues they'll need to deal with then are things like what staff are off sick and whether everyone has remembered their P.E kit.

Ask the class teacher if you can have a chat after school then raise your concerns - be sure to take a list. Give concrete examples of where you feel your child is not making adequate progress, e.g perhaps they are still on level 2 reading books whilst their friends are on level 6, and ask the teacher what she is doing to help them make progress. 

Allow the teacher to tell you their take on your child's performance. They may well have already spotted weaknesses and be doing all they can to address them.

Ask about screening. A screening will highlight areas of weakness and dyslexic tendencies. In Wales there is a lot of confusion about whether primary schools will screen. There appears to be no general consensus from the Welsh government or even amongst a lot of the local authorities. I know some schools that screen, if asked, schools that won't and a small number that screen automatically if they have concerns. The class teacher will probably have to consult the SENCO/ALNCO to arrange a screening.

If your school refuses to screen then you can get your own screening test done and take the results into school. When I do a screening, I include a detailed report plus suggestions for reasonable adjustments and specialist support.

Once a screening has been done, and depending on the results, make an appointment with the SENCO. Ask them, in light of the results, what they intend to do to support your child. Can they implement the suggestions in the screening report? Have they got their own ideas? 

Remember, however exasperated you may be with your child's school, try to be positive. Praise and thank the staff for what they have done so far to support your child. Approach the meeting as an opportunity to focus on what you can all do to provide your child with the best support possible.

Many schools, when faced with screening results that confirm that a child has dyslexic traits will put reasonable adjustments in place and offer specialist interventions. For example, additional reading support, use of a computer programme to improve spelling etc.

Some schools won't. And this is when you'll have to quote legislation and take things to a higher level. Dyslexia is covered by the Equality Act, 2010. Schools have a duty to identify, assess and support children with dyslexia. A school must support a child if they know or suspect that a child is dyslexic. So, if they have concerns, it is no defence to say that they haven't screened so don't know. It is also no defence to say that the school doesn't recognise private screening tests or private assessments. In law, they have to do so.

Ask for a meeting with the headteacher as well as the SENCO. Faced with a parent who knows their rights, most schools will either accept the screening that you have had done or will do their own - which is likely to have similar results to yours. Then they have to act. 

Once you have everything in place, make sure that you have regular review dates - in order to check that what the school said was going to happen has been implemented and to check on your child's progress.

Finally, accept that what your school can offer may not be enough. Budget cuts mean many schools hands are tied when it comes to getting adequate funds. Also, despite their best efforts, some schools may simply lack the expertise to adequately cater for your child's needs.

If this is the case then, if you can, find a specialist tutor in your area. I find schools are generally amenable to allowing pupils out to see me in school hours. The phrase to use when asking a headteacher for permission to take your child out for regular lessons is to request that your child leave school to be 'educated off-site'. Remember, you also have a legal duty under the Children Act to ensure that your child receives a suitable education that matches their needs.

If you cannot afford a regular tutor, then you can teach your child yourself. There are many books available with suggestions on ways to support your child or you can invest in apps or software packages such as Nessy. Little and often is the key to ensuring that your child will retain the information and not get fed up.

Essentially, don't give up. Push the school to support as much as they can and then do whatever else you can to give your child the support they need. Remember, dyslexia doesn't go away but it can be overcome. 

Friday 22 November 2019

Do all dyslexic children struggle with reading?

Do all dyslexic children struggle with reading? The simple answer is no. Which may come as a surprise to you, unless you happen to live with a child who appears to be reading perfectly well for their age but whose spelling or handwriting lags behind.

I recently screened a child who was clearly very intelligent. His parents had a feeling that their son was dyslexic. It ran in the family. They knew the signs. The school said that in on-line screening tests that they had done, their son had performed well and that they had no concerns. How can he have a problem? They said, he performs to the average in tests. 

Yet each day, his parents observed, was clearly a struggle for their son who had issues with things like remembering instructions and copying off the board and had poor handwriting and spelling. He was also very good at grasping big concepts, had an excellent vocabulary and an encyclopedic knowledge of things like animals.

I did a more in depth screening and found traits of mild dyslexia. When the parents told the school, they were surprised and struggled to accept the results. They couldn't reconcile the child's reading skills and test results with dyslexia.

I can understand why the school was baffled. But the thing is, if a child of above average intelligence is only performing to an average level in literacy then something is wrong. 

I started looking into the whole issue of exceptionally clever children and dyslexia. Some professors call it 'stealth dyslexia' and it's more common than you'd think. Many children with stealth dyslexia are never identified and it is only as adults, either in higher education or beyond, that people realise that dyslexia is the root cause of lots of things they find difficult.

Children with stealth dyslexia will read well. Particularly to themselves and when words are in context e.g in a story. Some, but not all, may struggle to decipher words out of context e.g unrelated words in a list. But it is with spelling and particularly with handwriting that the problems are most evident. They may also struggle with working memory, with sequencing, with time and with organisational skills.

I suppose what this child's experience has shown me, is that if you have any concerns about your child, then act on them. One thing that I have learnt over the years, as a teacher, tutor and parent is that parent's intuition is usually correct and always worth investigating. 

Next time, I'll explore constructive ways that you can help your school to understand your child's needs and practical ways that you can support them at home. 

In the meantime, if you'd like to know more about stealth dyslexia then click on this link:

If your child is struggling then contact me today to get them the help and support they need to succeed.

Friday 25 October 2019

Schools are failing 80% of dyslexic pupils. Is your child one of them?

At least 8 out of 10 dyslexic pupils aren't being diagnosed or supported by schools. That was the worrying news that I woke up to today. The news is based on a report  published by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Dyslexia and other Specific Learning Differences. The report looked at pupils in England, but I fear a report here in Wales might well reveal similar sobering statistics.

Over the last few years, I have done a number of dyslexia screenings. Many of the parents who come to me have been concerned about their children's progress for some time. In some cases for a number of years. Reasons put forward from the schools as to why these children haven't been screened vary from 'they're not old enough yet' to 'they're not under-performing enough' to, most worryingly, 'we don't have any dyslexia in our school'. 

The situation surrounding dyslexia and schools is frustrating, upsetting and perplexing. It is frustrating for parents who know there is a problem and have to stand back and watch their child fail, upsetting for pupils for whom school is a daily struggle and perplexing because schools and local authorities have a legal duty to try to identify, help and assess children suspected of having dyslexia.

I know that in Wales, there are budget cuts that prevent schools from being able to provide the support that they would like to. At least 10% of all pupils are dyslexic - with an average primary school having around 260 pupils -  that equates to a whole class worth of dyslexic pupils. 

The other issue is a lack of awareness amongst school staff. Even newly qualified teachers still don't learn much about dyslexia when training to teach. Many older teachers will have had no training at all. 

This combination of a lack of money and expertise means that, despite the very best of intentions, many schools continue to fail their dyslexic pupils. 

Another worrying finding in the report, which reflects my experience, is that even though schools are legally obliged to carry out an assessment (if they strongly suspect dyslexia), they frequently don't and those parents that can afford to are having to pay for a private assessment. 

More worrying still is that, even with an assessment, the report found that many schools are failing to provide adequate support and those parents who can afford to are employing tutors, like me, to support their children.

Of course, I see a lot of positives; many of the children that I have screened have taken the report back to school and received additional support. Many have also come to me for lessons which have helped them to reach their potential.

But this doesn't help parents who can't afford extra tuition or private screenings. I keep my prices as low as I can - but I can't reach everyone. That's why I have started doing dyslexia drop in sessions, so that I can at least offer some advice to parents on how best to support their children and advise them on their rights and the school's legal obligations.

If your child is struggling then contact me today to get them the help and support they need to succeed.

Want to find out more? Here's a link to the BBC article: