Top questions to ask when choosing a school for your dyslexic child
Gemma Doyle, Director of Admissions for Cavendish Education.
Choosing the right school for a dyslexic child can be overwhelming. Here, our Director of Admissions gives advice on some key questions to ask to make sure you choose the right school for your child.
One of the most common dilemmas parents of dyslexic children face is whether they should be in mainstream school with a good learning support department or be in a school with specialist focus on dyslexia. Making the right choice is crucial for a child’s overall happiness which ultimately determines their learning and development. Here are nine questions to ask when you are considering a school:
1. What qualifications do your teaching staff have
It is important that your child is taught by specialist staff who have the right qualifications to teach students with specific learning difficulties, such as PG. Cert. SpLD or a Diploma in Teaching Learners with Dyslexia (Level 5 or Level 7 equivalent).
2. What is your general teaching approach?
Dyslexic children need a multi-sensory teaching approach, such as the use of simple methods developed to ‘hit all senses’ such as allowing time to get up and move about, providing visual prompts, incorporating audio sound bites or letting children touch something or work with their hands. These help children understand and retain information.
3. How experienced are your teachers in specialist teaching?
Specialist teachers will understand the need to teach one or two new points per lesson, followed by continued revisiting and reinforcing to endorse these points. In an ideal world this approach should be embedded throughout all subjects. Dyslexic students often have a reduced working memory capacity so it is important that they are not given too much new information at once and that teachers give key words, scaffolded worksheets and activity timelines to help with learning. Experienced teachers should give pupils time to think about a question before asking for a response, rather than adopting the standard ‘first hand up’ approach.
4. What is your policy on copying from the board?
Copying from the board causes a delay in a dyslexic students’ ability to process what they have just read and it takes them longer to recreate it on their page. It adds visual stress and the copying-down process can result in very few facts actually being absorbed or retained.
5. Do you use handouts?
Dyslexic students rely on handouts, providing them with the information they need to learn. Teachers cannot rely on children taking their own notes in class unless they are confident with assisted technology. Check that handouts are given out at the start of the lesson, to make the content clearer for the student to absorb, and avoiding the stress and distraction of trying to write notes.
6. Do you allow assistive technology?
It might be that your child works really well on a laptop with some assistive technology programmes which helps them produce better quality written work. Ideally, a school will embrace these technologies and have a staff member who has a good understanding of the software and how best to implement it. If they do have technologies, ask them which software packages they use. Tools to help with planning, such as mind mapping software, are very effective in supporting a dyslexic student to map ideas.
7. What classroom tools do you use?
Expensive technologies are not always necessary. Simple adjustments in the classroom can help a dyslexic child; from the use of contrasting colours on posters – yellow and blue are reportedly the best contrast – to the carefully chosen colour of ink in the pens used to record information which help make it easier to read. Many students find black text against white can often cause visual stress. At a number of our schools for example, worksheets/handouts are printed on a softer, buff coloured paper.
Dyslexia-friendly fonts can also help too – such as Comic Sans, which are more akin to printed handwriting, than Times New Roman.
8. What is your process of checking access arrangements?
Dyslexic students are often eligible for additional time in exams or to receive specialist support in the form of a reader or scribe. An application can also be made for the use of laptops, for example. It is important that the school understands the assessment process to ensure that the student is not disadvantaged in written exams.
9. How do you help build self-esteem?
It is important to make sure that dyslexic students feel good about themselves and have an opportunity to shine at school. As they grow in self-confidence, they become more resilient in dealing with the learning challenges they face and take risks in order to learn. This opportunity might be in sport, art, tech or drama.
If you're interested in finding out more about our specialist schools, please fill out our enquiry form.