Patricia Pieri, Assistant Head (Student Support) and head of the SEND department at Portland Place School, explains how to select the most suitable mainstream, independent school for your dyslexic child.
Selecting the right school for your child is a decision that is not taken lightly and for many can present a daunting process, particularly if your child has additional educational needs such as dyslexia. Location, facilities, class sizes and academic results are some of the many aspects that as parents you will be considering and if you’re seeking adequate provisions for the needs of your child, while keeping them in mainstream education, this adds another crucial factor to deliberate.
First and foremost, it is important to have a thorough understanding of your child’s diagnosis and what this means for their education. Consult the educational psychologist if it is helpful. Through your own awareness, you will know what to seek in a school and ensure that that it will support your child’s learning and happiness.
Start at the top and take the application process into consideration. How aware is the school from the first instance of your child’s needs? In my opinion it is imperative that any child with an identified need should be treated on a case-by-case basis. At Portland Place School for example, prior to interview, the child’s paperwork will be analysed to determine the most suitable application procedure. At this stage from the first point of contact, I would encourage parents to share as much information as possible with the school regarding their child, the more we know as educators, the more support that we are able to provide. Awareness is key.
We are non-selective at Portland Place School however, we do invite potential students for interview. In my view, for those who have dyslexia, written work is not always a true reflection of their ability and they cannot be assessed on this alone. It is often found that dyslexic pupils perform better verbally and it is important that as a school we make accommodations for this within the application process.
Your child should feel comfortable when attending an interview or entry assessment. I believe that when entering a school for interview, the environment should be similar to one that your child is familiar with, and as educators we need to engage with your child in a way that makes them feel at ease to share what they view as their own strengths and weaknesses.
Although the application procedure for a school will provide a great insight into its suitability, it is critical to find out its approach to supporting children with additional needs, and identify the provisions available.
Particularly in secondary schools, it is not easy to supply extra support to those with additional needs, while keeping them integrated with the class. Our ethos at Portland Place School is to foster inclusion and so, we believe in the importance of providing opportunities outside of the timetable. It is also encouraging for parents to know that their child is not treated differently to other children, which is why we seek to raise awareness amongst the student body, celebrating and embracing neurodiversity to remove the stigma.
I would encourage any parent or guardian to determine how the progress of their child will be measured and what internal systems are in place. Within a school, all staff members should have access to the needs and aims for each individual, not only so they are aware and understand their learning style, but to ensure that they are developing academically and achieving the best of their ability. Investigate how well informed the teaching staff are, it’s one thing for them to be equipped with information about your child’s strengths and weaknesses but, they should also be aware of how to act on this and educate them accordingly. At Portland Place School for instance, we have an in-house CPD programme for all staff members, which focuses on creating first class teaching and educating those with additional needs.
There is a plethora of systems that can be put into place to assist your child, dependent on the level of their needs. However, in my opinion, reading support should be a significant focus. It is a key skill that we, as educators, need to develop in pupils who are diagnosed with dyslexia, and something that at Portland Place School we place great emphasis on. Children need to be able to read effectively to enhance their learning across the curriculum, which is why we offer morning sessions on phonetic reading to supplement their wider subject base.
Although we believe it is important for children with dyslexia to remain integrated with the class, their level of need should be observed at different stages of their educational journey. If it would be beneficial to remove them from the curriculum in part, extra support can be provided through regular sessions with platforms such as Learning Lab, which can be accommodated in lesson time for subjects that would be less valuable for their learning like MFL.
Finding a school where your child can learn their talents and abilities in a supportive atmosphere, working alongside their peers, can enable them to thrive both socially and academically.