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A revolution in teaching promises the solution to dyslexia

13-11-2007

Independent

A ground-breaking project which has had extraordinary success in helping hundreds of dyslexic children and others struggling to read and write at primary school is poised for a major expansion across Britain.

Springboard for Children, an education charity which now has the enthusiastic backing of the British Dyslexia Association, has achieved a 90 per cent success rate in returning children with severe literacy problems to mainstream classrooms. The revolutionary scheme is being used in a dozen schools in Manchester and London, and the plan is now to set the scheme up in 10 other inner-city areas - bringing a lifeline to around 10,000 children suffering from dyslexia and other difficulties with reading and writing.

Experts say there would be no shortage of volunteers for the programme, with estimates putting the number of dyslexic pupils in state schools at more than 300,000. In addition, national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds show around 120,000 youngsters a year leave primary school failing to reach the required standard in English. A recent survey by the National Union of Teachers showed the majority of teachers (77 per cent) believe they are not well enough trained to teach dyslexic pupils.

The secret of the scheme's success is getting immediate help to youngsters once a reading problem is identified in their first term in primary school. Pupils helped by the unit are normally selected by their schools by the end of their first term.

Dyslexia is thought to be neurological in origin although there is also growing evidence of a genetic link. Tens of thousands of parents have only realised that their child may suffer from the condition when he or she falls behind in school. The Springboard project, which has also transformed the reading and writing skills of non-dyslexic children suffering severe literacy problems, relies on intense one-on-one tuition for up to two years, during which a host of innovative techniques are employed to improve the child's skills.

Volunteers are recruited to read and work with the children. Springboard also uses a mixture of games and quizzes as well as reading to children to encourage a love of learning among the pupils it helps.

In one session, children take part in a card game - matching up the names of animals and objects on a dozen cards with those on a tray. If they get them all right, the tray flips over to form a perfect pattern.

It works because pupils like eight-year-old Rachel Lomas, who has dyslexia, finally get a sense of joy from reading if they succeed in making the pattern after years of frustration and anguish in the classroom, experiencing at last a sense of progress.

The most startling success has been achieved in Oliver Goldsmith primary school in Peckham, south London - which serves one of the most deprived inner city areas in the country - and was once on the "hit list" of failing schools compiled by Ofsted, the education watchdog.

The scheme was launched by a local resident, Jane Hastings, who had become concerned about literacy problems in the area and volunteered to teach at the school. The school's pupils come mainly from a tough council estate nearby.

The school, which has 530 pupils, was in "special measures" - the phrase used to describe those that have failed their inspection, but has now been taken off the list. In their latest report on Oliver Goldsmith, inspectors concluded: "The school has improved considerably since the last inspection."

One of the reasons for the success story has been the setting up of the Springboard unit in the school - which now provides a guaranteed 70 hours of one-to-one reading a year for 75 pupils singled out by the school as being in need of special help.

Inspectors said of the unit: "Pupils respond well to the support given by the Springboard charity which provides help in English and enjoy working in classes and individually."

Mark Parsons, the school's headteacher, said: "It has made a significant contribution to enabling us to improve educational standards and come off special measures." Volunteers on the project now receive extensive training and it is assisted by the British Dyslexia Association.

Springboard for Children is now launching a fund-raising drive to spread its work to other inner city schools - called the "10/10" campaign because it aims to start the project in 10 more cities within the next 10 years.

Brian Basham, a former journalist and management PR consultant who has worked to improve resources for dyslexic pupils for years, is spearheading the funding drive. He himself suffered from dyslexia while at school - a condition which many teachers did not recognise at that time. He is planning to approach leading city institutions for financial support within the next few months.

Springboard already receives financial aid from a variety of trusts and charities - including some set up by businesses including HSBC in the Community and the Company of Actuaries Charitable Trust Fund.

In a document outlining its plans for expansion, the charity says: "Children develop peer group awareness at around age eight. It then becomes progressively more difficult for them to learn almost anything that will help them make their way in the world and hugely more expensive to provide teaching and support."

The end result of failure, Springboard for Children argues, can be seen in prisons where 70 per cent of offenders are functionally illiterate. Children who are functionally illiterate, it adds "stand a great risk of failing to gain decent employment and of drifting into a life of poverty, anger against their lot in life, addiction, crime, imprisonment and social alienation".

According to Janet Bristow, education director of the charity, referrals can be made for a number of reasons. "Most of our schools have seen improved standards," she said. "Ten years ago it was just in three schools. Now it is in 12.

"Children come and ask us if they can join. There is no social stigma attached to coming to the unit - as might have been the case in the past with some provision for those struggling to read".

The scheme that strips away fear and stigma

Eight-year-old Rachel Lomas's natural inclination is to read and write words backwards - a symptom of her dyslexia.

She was selected for the Springboard unit at her school, Oliver Goldsmiths primary in Peckham, south London, for specialist help.

Rachel is slightly older than the average pupil at the unit - but her tutor, Claire Collins, is in no doubt that it has been able to help her to catch up on her reading and writing skills.

She receives two hours of one-to-one tuition a week. She most enjoys the use of games to stimulate her interest in learning.

She is given 12 cards with the names of animals or objects which she then has to marry with 12 different images on a tray - and is asked by her tutor to spell out the name of the image that she is placing on the tray.

If she gets all 12 correct, she can flip the tray over and find a perfect pattern has been formed. If any of her answers are incorrect, then she can try again until she does form the perfect pattern.

The scheme strips away the fear and stigma, to the extent that children at the unit are proud enough of their achievements to have their photographs taken while learning in it.

 

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