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Posted on 16th April 2018
A support unit for young people with severe dyslexia is turning lives around.
The Dyslexia Support Unit at Forest Hall School, in Stansted, works with students with low literacy to teach them the skills and strategies to achieve in life.
Students from across Essex – from Halstead and Chelmsford to Waltham Abbey and Epping – attend lessons with three specialist teachers who focus on multi-sensory teaching, while boosting confidence and self-esteem.
Previous students who have joined the unit with low achievement levels have gone on to successful careers, for example as civil engineers, a jockey, leisure centre trainer and theatrical costume designers.
Sue Flood, Head of Unit, said the core message her team gives to students is that having dyslexia should not be a barrier to achieving.
She said: “There is no stigma here to having dyslexia. Students who attend the unit are involved in the main school, they become prefects and sports leaders.”
The unit works with students who have an Education Health Care Plan in place, with dyslexia as their main need.
Forest Hall School, like any other school, has students in mainstream lessons who have dyslexia, but those with severe needs attend the unit for up to six hours each week.
Teaching is very visual, with images and cards used, along with key words, specialist vocabulary and access to IT. Extra thinking time is also given to enable students to process what they are being taught and instructions are given clearly without too many steps given at once. During exams, students are officially entitled to a reader, a scribe and 25 per cent extra time.
Mrs Flood said: “Having dyslexia does not mean you are low ability; you can be very able, just with some difficulties and the need for lots of revision and practise.
“We set up a bespoke programme for each student based on the content of their Education Health Care Plan, which is evaluated termly. A profile is written about each student which outlines to staff what they can do in their lessons to help the students. Those plans always start with the positives; outlining what the student can do.
“These students have often been used to having their parents or a teaching assistant there to help them. To prepare them for life beyond school, we teach them strategies which enable them to be independent. We teach them strategies and encourage the use of technology which will help them. We want students to have the confidence to tell people ‘this is how I learn best’. We see them blossom.”
Year 7 students do not attend modern foreign language lessons, instead they spend that time in the unit, but do have a lesson learning about France and some basic vocabulary. Students also spend part of their English lessons in the unit and, if additional time is needed it is arranged.
Students, who leave the unit at 16, are given help to apply for college places and helped with interview techniques.
While the national average is for schools to help students to make three levels of progress between when they arrive and leave secondary school, the students within the Dyslexia Support Unit usually achieve above the national average.
When Finnbarr Ambrose, of Braintree, joined Forest Hall, his parents feared he would struggle to achieve. Instead, he collected a grade 7 in English Literature and a grade 6 in English Language – grades considered higher than strong passes. He also achieved a grade 5 in maths, plus an A in PE and three B grades for core science, additional science and resistant materials.
Mum Lucy said: “Finnbarr has reached a level in education we thought was beyond him. The unit taught him useful strategies he continues to use in his studies in sixth form and while he still needs additional support, he has learnt to ask for help and advice while still owning his own efforts and goals.
“He has a greater belief in himself thanks to the teaching and encouragement at the unit and understands nothing is out of his reach if it is something he really wants to achieve.”
Mrs Flood said: “We are very proud of the fact students work hard and for their efforts they reach their goals. It’s a team effort; the school and families are on the journey together.”
Other parent comments –
“The welcoming, caring and calm environment in the Dyslexia Support Unit is perfect for Alfie to learn and fulfil his maximum potential. The exceptional experience and understanding the Dyslexia Support Unit staff of what dyslexia means and how to teach students such as Alfie are evidenced in the results he is achieving.”
Chris and Heidi Hammond
“Ben’s confidence has grown since joining Forest Hall School and I know it is mainly down to the unit’s determination.
“For Ben to have been able to take GCSEs in Year 9 and 10 is something we could not have imagined, but he did and we are so proud.”
“I really feel for parents and children coping with dyslexia at secondary school who haven’t got the opportunity to experience the wonderful support and fully integrated programs offered by the Dyslexia Support Unit at Forest Hall School.
“I feel it has been fundamental in my son’s progress and development.”