Preferably before they get there!
Choosing a school is like being Goldilocks
Schools come in many categories and a good place to look is the CRESTED list, which gives you information on the level of support at many private schools. It is a question of finding the right school for your child. You may well find that one school is ‘too dyslexic’, one is ‘not dyslexic-friendly enough’ and one is just right!
Be honest with the School
If you know your child has some learning difficulties such as dyslexia and especially if you have an educational psychologist’s report in hand, then be honest with the school you want your child to go to. I know of many parents who try to hide this information as they think it will jeopardize their child’s chances of getting in (particularly relevant to selective schools) This is a great mistake on two fronts:
1) The school feels ‘duped’ and is unlikely to be very accommodating when the learning difficulties come to light (which they will)
2), You have only yourself to blame when/ if there is an unsatisfactory outcome.
In the reverse scenario when you keep the school fully informed, then they have two choices:
- To say that they are not the right school, and if they say this, then believe that they aren’t and you can find better for your child.
- They say that yes, they have everything in place to help your child (see questions to ask!) in which case, you have every comeback and can put the ball in their court, if they fail to do so.
School SEN Policy:
Find out what the school’s policy statement is, concerning learning difficulties. Every school is required to have one and it is good to see what the official policy is. You can also look up the most recent OFSTED report to see how they fared.
It is worth asking the head, straight out, what their view on SpLD/ dyslexia is. One answer I got (from a very well-known school head) was “sink or swim”, suffice to say we did not choose that school!
Try to find out from other parents what their experiences are and ask students already at the school, what actually happens, (even students who have no difficulties will be able to answer this question well)
You need to ask about what happens in the event a child is bullied. What is their anti-bullying policy? (you are looking for a very honest, straight answer here) denial that it happens doesn’t answer the question.
Specific Specialist Support:
You need to find out exactly the provision provided as well as where and when it takes place.
What level of qualification does the SENCO hold?
How many specialist staff are there?
How do they communicate with the classroom teachers about the dyslexic children?
Is it in a tiny room in the backwaters of the school?
Is it all about learning to spell or are very explicit study skills taught (such as how to write an essay, how to revise etc)
If the children are removed from class, during which classes: sport and art? (when they might have a chance to excel?)
Do the children have to take French (the worst option for most dyslexics) or can they use those lessons to have extra support?
If an extra language is required, then can it be Spanish, as this is the most phonetically regular?
In the classroom:
What support is put in place in the regular lessons?
Is there a Teaching Assistant who helps, or is it the teacher?
If it is the teaching assistant what training have they had?
Do the children have to copy off the board?
Are the children allowed any IT software support?
Do children have to read aloud in class?
Are they allowed personal white boards to jot down their information, especially in ‘mental maths’ (where their working memory can not hold on to the information, in order to work on it, even if they are able to work out the problem)
Who uses laptops for everyday work?
What technical support is given to these children?
Are all the children taught to touch-type as a matter of course?
What level of support is given in terms of accommodations of the output for their work/homework? (eg. can they present a story recorded instead of written, can they have atime limit to their homework?)
What level of understanding do the regular classroom teachers have?
Are they all trained in recognizing and providing interventions for children with SpLD?
What amount of ongoing SEN CPD do the teachers receive?
Are your classroom teachers sent to conferences on SpLD?
Gifted and Dyslexic:
If a child is gifted but dyslexic, what provisions are put in place to make sure that the child is fully stretched while having their weaknesses remediated?
You will then have to make a judgement (a gut reaction is often best) as to whether the school just ‘talks the talk, or walks the walk’.
One always tries to do one’s best, but sometimes, even with the most thorough investigations, one can still get it wrong.
In consultation with your child, especially at senior level, if they really are unhappy (an unhappy child does not learn) or they are not being well-provided for, do not be afraid to do your homework again and change the child’s school.
One great aspect of an English education is that there are several very logical exit points: 11+. 13+, GCSE, and A Level.
A word of warning: do not just change for the sake of it. Be pretty sure it is a better option and involve the child so they take some ‘ownership’ of the decision.