If there's one thing we love at SNJ, it's hearing about parents who've faced challenges with their children's health or education, met those challenges and gone on to use the skills they learned to help many, many others. In fact, it's one of the few things that can bring a tear to my cynical eyes; that in the end those who make the biggest difference are the ones who've lived it themselves.
Today's story is an example of this. Sarah Driver is a mum of four, three of whom are dyslexic who started a charity, The Driver Youth Trust, a charity dedicated to improving the life chances of children and young people with a focus on those who struggle with literacy, particularly children with dyslexia. They are also part of The Dyslexia SpLD Trust.
This week (12.11.14) Sarah will host an event at The Royal Festival Hall, London, to highlight "Drive for Literacy". It's the result of much hard work in partnership with ARK schools that aims to ensure that all pupils who find it hard to read and write can succeed academically despite their SEN. The event will see the launch of a new internet based resource with short informative films for whole school teams about the impact of literacy difficulties, such as dyslexia, and practical ways to address them.
They are holding an event on the 12th November from 6.30pm-9.30pm at The Royal Festival Hall called: Drive for Literacy: Torri’s Day.
Sarah Driver has written an exclusive article for us about her journey.
Last week, during Dyslexia Awareness Week, I launched a website driveforliteracy.co.uk that is the culmination of five years' work and over 20 years experience as a mother of three dyslexic children. It’s a free resource for teachers, parents and pupils and will really make a difference to the way young dyslexics and those who struggle with literacy, experience school life. With 10% of the population estimated to have dyslexia that’s three children, on average, in every classroom.
As a young mother, never having been through the system of learning keywords and reading schemes, I never really noticed that my eldest son, Brook, was struggling. I had nothing to compare him to. It was only in about year 4 when he was finding spelling really difficult that I found myself (I confess!) looking in his visiting friends’ book bags and discovering he was way behind. The school had raised no concerns and all I can remember their response being was, “Oh, he’s a boy. Boys don’t like reading!”
I was more aware second time around with my daughter Millie who, though capable and organized, never read a book and did everything she could to avoid doing any extended writing. When I talked to her teacher, she seemed bemused at my worries. “But she’s ever so good, Mrs Driver. I let her take the register to the school office every day.” That may be so, I'd replied, but she still can’t read!
It was only when she sat and failed her 11 plus at two schools that I began to worry. Why was it that my bright, articulate daughter wasn’t succeeding? We were lucky because Wimbledon High School, a GDST school, not only set a separate task for applicants to do that tested their spatial awareness and ability to think ‘out of the box’, but also tested her reasoning skills. In their words, she was as low as she could be with English, but “off the Richter scale” in her reasoning.
My third child, Faye, is not dyslexic, much to her disgust. “You haven’t even had me tested” she used to say indignantly when she was young, but I didn’t need to. This was my first experience of a child who didn’t find reading and writing, beyond the initial task of learning, hard at all. I couldn’t believe the difference!
All of this left me well placed to deal with Archie when, aged five in year 1, his newly qualified teacher told me he was having to get cross with him because he wouldn’t write. When I questioned further about behaviour, contribution to class and ability to come up with ideas, I was told, “Oh, there’s no problem there”. I had to point out that it wasn’t that he wouldn’t write, but that he couldn’t write. There began my journey that led to the Drive for Literacy programme.
I was determined that no other child would go through what my children had – being in a class with teachers who simply didn’t understand their problems. Defensive teachers who thought I was challenging their ability to teach. Lovely teachers who wanted to help, but simply didn’t have the training to do so. Even more shocking, SENCos (Special Needs Co-ordinators), the very people children who struggling are sent to, often having no training whatsoever! In recent years that has changed and training is compulsory, but the quality of it is patchy and much of it is a form-filling process. (Note, there are some brilliant SENCos out there, it’s just not consistent).
So what I’ve done is work with academy chain Ark schools to devise a programme that exists within the whole school. It isn't about taking a child out of a class, often their favourite lesson, and catching up with a teaching assistant or parent for 20 minutes. It’s about having a whole school approach, where the senior leadership team sees the merit in their staff understanding what dyslexia is and what they can do about it.
All children in year one are screened and those who indicate a literacy difficulty, like dyslexia, have a series of appropriate interventions put in place. Discussions take place with parents, explaining how they can best support their children and work is done on self-esteem and confidence, because as parents, we all know the disastrous effects it can have on a child (and indeed an adult’s) life when they think they are no good at anything.
Believe me, if you can’t keep up with the level of reading and writing of your peers in a busy classroom, if you can’t read aloud, if you can’t copy quickly enough from the blackboard, if doing a homework that takes others 15 minutes, but you nearly an hour, your sense of self-worth quickly disappears.
Now we’ve put the programme, Drive for Literacy, onto a free website full of resources so that other schools can replicate what we are doing. Included is a series of short films covering the following:
- Dyslexia – How does it feel?
- Identify – What are the signs?
- Teach – How do I adapt my teaching?
- Whole School – What are the benefits for my school?
- Parents – What can I do to support my child?
You will find this relevant if:
- you have a dyslexic child and want to know more,
- you are a teacher who wants to make a difference,
- you are a member of the senior leadership team in a school and want your results to improve, or
- if you are dyslexic and want to understand more and get some tools to help you learn.
Don’t take my word for it, take a look yourself at www.driveforliteracy.co.uk and start making a difference.
Sarah Driver - Trustee
Driver Youth Trust