Through the Looking Glass, written by our Director, Christopher Rossiter, examines the recent reports on literacy that inform the education agenda and asks – is universal provision what it seems? We look at what we mean by literacy, by being ‘disadvantaged’ and ask where those learners with SEND, most of them in mainstream school settings, fit into the picture. Are the conventional assumptions accurate, or is the ‘Looking Glass’ world very different?
All the reports we analysed are well-intentioned and aimed at raising literacy standards. However, if we are not precise with our language, if we don’t examine the nuances and complexities behind the definitions we use and if we don’t include children and young people with SEND in our aspirations, we will not raise general literacy standards. In addition, we will not use the limited funds available wisely, and most importantly, we will fail those learners with SEND who are capable of great success even though their reading and writing skills may not be comparable to those of their peers.
Our aim is always to be practical. Therefore we have made a series of recommendations that we believe, if followed, will make real changes to the literacy landscape and to those learners with SEND, particularly those with literacy difficulties. We pride ourselves on being collaborative and so we welcome the views and opinions of others on the issues we have raised.
An analysis of the text in 21 strategies, policies and initiatives from some of the leading educational and policy organisations in the country identified the following key themes:
Influencers and policy makers
1. Publish a national literacy strategy that reviews current and proposed strategies for literacy and ensures that they set goals that relate to the needs of all learners (including SEND), and address the requirements for those who may not be able to reach SAT or GCSE standards for literacy.
2. Review the role of the SENCo to ensure that the current roles and responsibilities actually deliver evidence-based practice
for SEND learners.
3. Ensure that any government strategy on literacy is coherent with the SEND Code of Practice and vice versa.
4. When funding or considering commissioning research, ask whether the work includes SEND learners who are likely to need
5. When funding literacy initiatives, include specific funding criteria that will encourage bids from those looking at truly universal approaches and approaches that make best use of specialists.
6. Review the number and availability of SEND specialists in the system and how these are being used.
7. Develop a strategy to ensure specialists are available and embedded across the school system, including mainstream settings.
8. Ensure that SEND and literacy strategies work harmoniously, with a particular focus on how learners, who may never reach ‘mandated’ standards in literacy, are supported.
9. Consider how funding could be used to boost the number of specialists across a cluster of schools.
10. Increase targeted sharing of effective practice in relation to literacy between for example, SENCos, faculty and subject leaders across curricula and educational settings.
The Driver Youth Trust commissioned this report to understand the extent to which teacher trainees received training on Special Educational Needs and Disability, particularly dyslexia. The study found that while teachers overwhelmingly thought it important they received training to help teach children with dyslexia, over half revealed they had received no specific training at all. For nine out of ten teachers surveyed, initial training on dyslexia amounted to less than half a day.
Yet giving teachers the skills to help those with dyslexia would benefit all children. Teachers are given a clearer understanding of the process of learning to read and write, and the techniques to support learning right across the classroom. This report sets out a series of measures which would help tackle the gaps in training and provision. They include providing training for all teachers on special educational needs including dyslexia and ensuring that local authorities identify and support children with the disability from the earliest possible opportunity.
Putting them in place would have not just a life-long impact on individual lives, but also on the strength of our economy and society. When three children in every classroom have dyslexia, we cannot afford to wait any longer for action.
Teachers are not currently getting the training they need to support children who struggle to read and write:
Teachers got even less training in how to identify and support children who are dyslexic:
Driver Youth Trust (DYT) commissioned LKMco to undertake research into the impact the Children and Families Act (2014) has had on those with SEND in the education system, one year on.
Our aim is to improve young people’s opportunities for success in life, recognising that literacy is a key element to this. Having the ability to read and write fluently is not only essential from a personal point of view, but has wide-reaching social and economic effects. The new Act, therefore, presented both an opportunity for us to reflect on the education and SEND landscape and current practice, and a challenge as to how best to respond to developments that have taken place under this new regime.
Intense reform has taken place in the education system over the last five years. Some of these reforms have explicitly focused on special educational needs and disability (SEND) while others have been broader but have nonetheless had a profound effect on these children and young people.
Many examples of high-quality provision have emerged in response. These are often driven by strong partnerships, well-managed change and skilled, impassioned leadership. However, at present provision is ‘fragmented’ leading to difficulties in sharing information and knowledge. As a result, many children and young people do not receive the support they deserve and gaps in the system lead to wasted resources as well
as disconnected or duplicated services. Ultimately students, parents, schools and sector organisations are finding it difficult to navigate the new system and this is standing in the way of the reforms’ success.
We find that key causes of fragmentation are:
To policy-makers and regulators:
To Local Authorities that:
The Joining the Dots report is so important in establishing whether or not the reforms that were made are having the desired impact on the ground.
All policy is made with the best of intentions, but it is vital that the people who are affected most by any changes have a chance to make their voices heard about the successes and failures that they have experienced.
I really hope the Government look at the recommendations made very closely, as it is only through working with the sector that we can make the progress that we all want to see.Sharon Hodgson MP, Shadow Children’s Minister