Choosing a School for Your Dyslexic Child

Dyslexia is one of the most common types of learning difficulties in children. While it can be challenging, there are schools across the UK offering the support and teaching strategies needed to help your child reach their full potential.
Choosing a School for Your Dyslexic Child
By Carli Allan
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Choosing the right school for your child is one of the biggest decisions you will make as a parent – and if your child has additional educational needs such as dyslexia, then it can feel even more overwhelming. As well as considering curriculum, facilities, cost, academic results and pastoral care, can the school meet the needs of your child?

If you want to keep your child in mainstream education, either at a local or independent school, then you need to be sure that they are fully supported and offered specialist support. It can make all the difference between your child thriving academically, enjoying school and having that sense of belonging or struggling, feeling anxious and isolated.

In the UK, 10% of the population are believed to be dyslexic, a learning difficulty that primarily affects reading and writing skills. If your child is struggling with spelling, writing, reading and numeracy, there are general signs to look out for at foundation, primary, secondary adulthood, which can be viewed at the British Dyslexia Association (BDA).

While dyslexia may often be identified in primary school, the BDA says that “some people’s coping strategies are so good that the dyslexic difficulties don’t become apparent until much later, perhaps at secondary school or even in university or the workplace”. There's no cure for dyslexia but being taught in a different way at school can really help.

The key message to all families is that there is no shame in being dyslexic and, while dyslexic children may struggle with reading, writing, and spelling, they often excel in other areas such as the creative arts. It’s all about finding the right school that can help your dyslexic child to achieve their potential in all areas, including academic results.

So where do you start? WhichSchoolAdvisor talks to Helen Goodsall, Knowledge & Information Manager at the BDA, to help parents take those all-important first steps to finding the right school for their dyslexic child.

What should I do if I suspect that my child is dyslexic?

If you suspect that your child may be dyslexic, start by talking to the school about your concerns; in primary school, start with your child’s class teacher, in secondary go to the head of year or a Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo). The school may then carry out screening tests to assess your child’s strengths and weaknesses, and can then offer support in the classroom based on the results.

For a formal diagnosis of dyslexia, your child will need to have a diagnostic assessment from a qualified assessor; this can be requested by your school, or arranged and paid for privately. Your child does not need a confirmed diagnosis of dyslexia to receive support at school.

To help you further, the BDA helpline offers free advice and signposting for parents who have a concern, or suspect their child may be dyslexic, and there are local dyslexic support groups in most areas for parents.

What is the best school for a child with dyslexia - specialist, state or independent?

Depending on the individual needs of your child, you have a choice of schools offering varying levels of specialist provision for dyslexics. A specialist independent dyslexic school such as Appleford School, Frewen College and Fairley House should be considered if your child has moderate to severe dyslexia. Alternatively, you should be looking for a mainstream school in the independent or state sector that offers learning support and a high commitment to dyslexic learners; ultimately, you’re looking for a school where SEN support is integrated into teaching rather than being an add-on.

Helen advises:

“There are good schools in state, special and independent sectors – but it is important for parents to research individual schools to ensure that they can support the needs of their individual child.”

Some schools are registered with the Council for the Registration of Schools Teaching Dyslexic Pupils (CRESTED), which recognises that a school has dyslexia-friendly practices in place. The majority of schools on the register are mainstream schools that offer specialist help for children with Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD), including dyslexia. While the CRESTED website can be a good starting point for finding a school, there are other schools with good provision that are not CRESTED-accredited.

How do I choose the right school for my dyslexic child?

While choosing the right school for a dyslexic child will depend upon the child’s individual needs, it’s important to understand the programmes and support that a school can potentially offer to your child.

Helen guides parents through the process of selecting a school with the following steps:

  • Does the school have a strong understanding and awareness of dyslexia; visit the school’s website for information on their Special Educational Needs (SEN) or Learning Support department and what support is available.
  • Do the schools offer a wide curriculum with opportunities to study a range of academic and creative subjects? Dyslexic children are often creative and enjoy music, art, drama, dance and sport; it is important for maintaining self-esteem that children can celebrate success in these areas, especially if they are finding core academic subjects difficult.
  • Do the Headteacher, Senior Leadership Team and Governors appear to be aware and supportive of dyslexia?
  • Are there opportunities to study vocational or assessment-based qualifications such as BTEC in addition to range of GCSE subjects?
  • Are students streamed for individual subjects? Many schools stream classes based solely on literacy skills and this can be frustrating for dyslexic students who are very able academically but need targeted extra support with literacy. For example, a dyslexic child who has literacy difficulties may be in a lower set for English, but should be placed in a higher set for maths and or science-based subjects if they excel in these areas

Once you’ve made your shortlist, arrange that all-important tour of each school and its facilities. This is your opportunity to ask some key questions about the provision for dyslexic students, which Helen lists below:

  • How does the school support dyslexic students across the curriculum?
  • Are dyslexic children supported in class, or are they taken out of lessons for individualised tuition?
  • What qualifications do your teaching staff have? Do any staff have specialist qualifications for supporting Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD), often referred to as PG. Cert. SpLD or a Diploma in Teaching Learners with Dyslexia (Level 5 or Level 7 equivalent)?
  • Can I arrange to meet the SENCo (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) at the school?
  • Are dyslexic children encouraged to use laptops and assistive technology? Speech recognition software and text-to-speech functions, for example, can be useful for children with dyslexia because their verbal skills are often better than their writing.
  • Are members of staff (especially those teaching literacy) trained in how to identify and support dyslexic children?
  • Does the school recognise, encourage and celebrate non-academic success in areas such as sports, music, arts and drama?
  • Does the school offer a wide range of extra-curricular activities?

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