All schools are equal but some are more equal than others

I recently attended the Festival of Education at Wellington College and heard Amanda Spielman give a keynote.

I wrote this for The Driver Youth Trust.

Amanda Spielman, OFSTED’s new leader gave a rousing talk at the Festival of Education last week. She listed ways in which schools were gaming the system:  allowing students with EAL to take a GCSE in their first language rather than French, putting learners through the computer driving course to bump up league tables and teaching exam content five years before year 11 GCSEs. What she said made sense; let’s think of the students more and fixing the data less. Let’s give children a broad and balanced curriculum, rich in knowledge rather than one narrowly focussing on skills required to pass exams. Teachers across the country will be cheering her along every step of the way.

Amanda Spielman set out her stall and I was on the whole nodding in agreement.  Until she delved into the realm of SEND, that is. She said,

‘If you are putting more resources into providing exam scribes than in teaching your strugglers to read and write…you are probably doing your child a disservice’.

This was an attack on SEND teachers across the country showing a lack of knowledge in how schools run. Firstly, literacy teaching and scribes go hand in hand. A child who is struggling to read and write will have many interventions thrown at them through their school life but also, if they haven’t reached a standardised score of 85 by the time they are taking exams, then arrangements must be provided. This is stated in law under the Equality Act (2010).

By resources, I assume Spielman means training and TAs.  TAs are deployed to scribe for learners when they cannot show their knowledge to the best of their ability, not at the same time as teaching them to read and write but in tandem. By year 11, scribes are used for GCSEs and TAs are given a memory aid and brief training to ensure they are familiar with the rules.

Examples of students who require scribes (names have been changed):

Timothy has cerebral palsy. While he can read and spell in the above average range Timothy does not have the stamina or speed to write for lengthy periods. Timothy is doing A’Levels.  During his GCSEs he became frustrated with his scribes as they couldn’t write fast enough for him. The school provided and trained him in speech recognition software so he could scribe for himself. It was a perfect fit for Timothy and he got the grades required for university where he will continue to scribe using Dragon Naturally Speaking (if Timothy was doing his GCSEs he would now lose spelling marks for using a scribe despite the fact he can spell perfectly well).

Sandra is from a large family, all of whom have a range of special educational needs. Sandra says ‘I’m the lucky one, I just have dyslexia.’ It is severe however, and despite many interventions and specialist 1:1 instruction, Sandra’s literacy has improved but in no way reflects her attainment levels. Her spelling and decoding scores are within the lowest 10% of the population.  Sandra is predicted Cs and Bs in her GCSEs however and uses a reader and a scribe. She will lose spelling marks in her GCSEs for having a scribe.

Lee is a looked after child. His literacy scores are low enough to require both a reader and a scribe. He came to the school following a very troubled background and remembers more swings in back gardens than he does schools. Moved from local authority to local authority, care home to care home, the gaps in his schooling are huge. There is no diagnosis of dyslexia, lack of education is thought the cause. The school put in literacy 1:1 sessions for him but the lack of time from when he began this school to his GCSEs still mean that while he has made massive progress, he is eligible for a reader and a scribe. Lee will lose SPAG marks in his GCSEs.

To blame the school system for what is a legal requirement for learners with SEND is irritating. There are so many, more pressing injustices to highlight. Earlier in the day, I listened to Vic Goddard giving a talk on ‘The Inclusive School’. He told us the school down the road has an unofficial, ‘no SEND policy’ and encourages parents of children with SEND to go to Vic’s school instead where they ‘can better meet your child’s needs’. Let’s guess which school got the ‘outstanding’ grade shall we?

I heard NASEN’s CEO, Dr Adam Boddison, tell of a school who got an ‘outstanding’ judgement despite not having a SENCO (a legal requirement).  OFSTED knew this. He showed us damning figures on permanent exclusions of learners with SEND; home education for students with SEND is on the rise. The alarming picture shows that students with learning difficulties are not managing in the mainstream and schools such as Passmore’s get no acknowledgement for embracing these children.

The system is failing many learners with SEND in mainstream schools and there is no accountability. When Amanda Spielman spoke so eloquently of gaming in schools but ignored our SEND students, other than to take away their reasonable adjustments which are there by law, I can’t help feeling this neglected sector of society, those with the least resources available to them, are again hidden from policy maker’s eyes (highlighted in DYT’s  ‘Through the Looking Glass’ report). Something which gets in the way of ‘standards’ and platitudes. It is much easier for the narrative to be ‘teach the SEND out of them and cure them with literacy lessons’. SEND students are not going anywhere, we need to stop ignoring them and give them the tools to succeed. OFSTED must give schools incentives to value all learners and reward those who do inclusion well, not punish them or criticise them for giving children scribes.

If teachers feel embattled, as Hugh Dennis acknowledged when opening the Festival, then mainstream SEND ones are lying half dead in the bunkers. Told SEND doesn’t exist, expected to show impossible progress or accused of ‘dysteachia’ (the term coined by a few private tutors to explain why some students can’t read and write); it is always the teachers’ fault.

Let’s give ALL children a broad and balanced curriculum, rich in knowledge rather than one narrowly focussed on skills required to pass exams. But let’s not forget that OFSTED played a part in creating this culture. Like Benjamin in Animal Farm, I am sceptical. Will these shiny new promises amount to a significant shift in values for schools? Or will teachers just be beaten with a different stick? This new positive OFSTED would no longer be judging teachers on ‘how’ they teach, granted, but would they instead be inspecting ‘what’ they teach?

It seems at present that ‘Schools are all equal, but some are more equal than others’.


Moving on…

I’m leaving my dream job. 

Literacy Co-ordinator for DASP (a partnership of 12 first, 3 middle and 1 upper school in the Dorchester Area). 

Running an alternative curriculum for students who come out with me on Tuesdays.

Teaching yr 9 mixed ability English. 

SLE for the Dorset Teacher School Alliance.

And base leader of our specialist, LA funded, provision for students with speech and language difficulties. 

I love every element of my job, the comprehensive, Thomas Hardye School. the staff and the students. 

Why am I leaving? I said to the Head recently that I was having cold feet and how I wasn’t sure I’d made the right decision. He wisely told me that staff who felt like this were usually the ones who had done the right thing and that it was the teachers moving on with no mixed feelings he worried about more. 

But, the nearer to the end of term it becomes, the sadder I’m feeling about saying goodbye to the students and staff. I am also realising however that I have made the right decision. Much as I adore my job, I spread myself thinly and never quite feel I am doing any of my roles justice. I now know from my involvement with #WomenEd that I can strive for more, that I don’t need to think ‘it would be better if…’. I can dare to keep searching until I am in an even better job. I wanted to be able to focus on a single idea without distractions; I wanted to make a national impact rather than just a school one and I think I’ve found the place to do that in. I have dared to say out loud exactly what I want to achieve and not be concerned that I may sound arrogant, or listen to the voices in my head saying ‘who do you think you are?’. I’m done settling for ‘pretty good’, I want ‘nearly perfect’.
I was invited to join an expert advisory group scrutinising training materials for The Driver Youth Trust (DYT) and was struck by the insistence on including SEND alongside literacy. Their non-profit making values which had one aim; to improve education for children with poor literacy made me want to work with the DYT  as I knew I could have an impact.

After Easter I begin my new role and it’s very exciting. I want to empower teachers in mainstream to support students who have literacy difficulties and get the message across that some simple adjustments to classroom teaching can remove complex barriers to learning. 

The Driver Youth Trust provide free resources on their website. I know as a teacher that ‘free’ is a welcoming word so please take a look. Let DYT know what you think and if there are resources or advice you need, contact us. We’re listening.

Whole School #Literacy Tweeters

To share good practice @DamsonEd and I are attempting first to find all those interested in or who have responsibility for whole school literacy. 

Once this is done, we hope to co-ordinate  ideas, resources, what’s worked, what hasn’t, advice, questions, maybe even a #literacychat and, if sufficient interest, a get together.

Please let us know if you’d like to join the group below – all welcome.

@DrewEd has also volunteered to create a Twitter list. Thanks.

@julesdaulby & @DamsonEd

The list so far…








































Dyslexia – How to Help – Primary


This is a series of dyslexia posts.  So far, I have covered:

Dyslexia – What is it?

Dyslexia – How to help – Secondary

and next week I will blog on Dyslexia – the indicators requested by @suecowley

Question from @alarter

What are the absolute Musts in any generic primary lesson?

  • Quality First Teaching
  • TIME (so much is linked to this – in the short term and with schemes of work – schools move fast and this can often leave students with little time to consolidate their learning)
  • Opportunities for rehearsal/constantly going over material
  • Beware of too much language – short, concise instructions and wait for response if required
  • Allow ‘less is more’ – let them create a quality piece of writing with bullet points for sections of work or a story board with only one paragraph written (but really well)
  • Give opportunity for alternative assessments – TA scribing, video, photos, recording – Vlog (video blog), peer work
  • Scaffolding – sentence starters, writing frames, key words etc.
  • High but reasonable expectations
  • Try to unpick what students can do – should they really be on a lower ability table? Or, if mixed age, should they be with much younger students? Is this appropriate for them? Are they mature? Do they find the activities embarrassing even if this is appropriate for younger students at similar phonic stage?
  • Use whiteboard for reminders not large pieces of work
  • Writing will be easier to read if large, clear and well spaced (I still struggle reading long hashtags – there is some tentative research showing the spacing of letters maybe as important as the size)


Colour helps –  ‘ ar’ in shark, bark for instance; then let them draw pictures of the words.  This student was doing the ‘ur’ sound with pictures.

IMG_0531 IMG_0533 IMG_0532

We also went on an ‘ur’ hunt – where the student had to find words with ‘ur’ around the school – ‘burn now find purple’ and so on.

Rainbow writing is helpful – the student goes over the word in lots of different colours

Writing the word, saying the word, discussing the meaning of the word then saying it in a sentence, then writing it in a sentence.

Writing in sand or on sand paper, writing in shaving foam, drawing in chalk then using watering can to wash it away – all alternative ways to learn spellings.

There’s a lovely app called Spellosaur which allows students to put in spellings, record themselves saying it in a sentence, and then spelling the word using strategies which get more difficult.


I do believe the phonics approach should be tried first and foremost and a reading programme to match however, I have written about other approaches here: for those who do not seem to be making progress.

Professor Goswami was recently quoted as saying the current synthetic phonics programme missed out onset and rime and word families.  I agree with this – it feels like the missing link, especially for those with dyslexia (this means rather than going from c./a/t to cat, you include c/at).

There are lots of activities for this.  Let’s take ‘sh’ and ‘ch’ for instance.  Have buckets with these on and bean bags with ‘ut’, ‘air’ ‘op’ and get students to throw into the buckets.  A colleague of mine uses a hoody with the sh and ch on one side of the zip and air and op the other.

I am teaching a small group of students next term and I want to make some big boards with initial blends on like str, sl and then big boards with ing, ap.  I then want to get students to move towards each other saying their onset or rime until they collide to say the word.  I have no idea how this will go, I’ll let you know.

Oral language is vital – dialogic reading is something I’ve become interested in recently – it’s really conversations through books.  The idea being that you use prompts to discuss the story with a child. Reading Rockets is a great website for reading difficulties and explains dialogic reading here (I know it says pre-school but I think relevant for some Primary age:

Rose (2009) argued that a ‘language rich’ environment was important.  I am hearing in upper schools, that while students appear to be better decoders, comprehension is poorer. Professor Bishop mentioned this at ResearchEd 2014.  Telling us that comprehension may have been neglected and the ability to decode words was not always sufficient citing Professor Margaret Snowling’s research.

Phonological Awareness

Having fun with language can really help students learn skills such as rhyme, syllabification and alliteration. A few favourite books I use are ‘Tiddler’ by Julia Donaldson, ‘We’re going on a Bear Hunt’ by Michael Rosen and ‘The Gruffalo’, again by Julia Donaldson.  Using rhyme and rhythm with these books, discussing the words, talking about the illustrations are all effective ways to improve skills in manipulating the sound structure of words as well as lots of opportunities for oral language work.


While the younger students will still be at the sounding out stage of writing – what happens to the older students in primary? How will they record what they know if their spelling and reading are not as developed as their typical peers?  I favour allowing them an app or piece of software such as Clicker.  This helps them to write using the words they need but without having to spell them and allows them to have words read to them.


If they are handwriting however, make allowances for presentation and spelling if it is content you are marking.  It can be liberating for a student with dyslexia to be told they will be assessed on what they write not neatness and spelling.

For @moodybill

While reversing letters doesn’t equal dyslexia (probably more visual motor issues and dyslexia is a phonological deficit) this is often a co-occurring difficulty.

Reversing words (saw/was), letters (b, p, d and q) and numbers (13, 31).  Students do usually grow out of reversals but there are a few ideas which may help.  ‘bed’ is great for remembering b/d (a person can lie on it head on top of b and feet on top of d – also putting your thumb and index fingers up (the left hand is b and the right, d – say with bed and they can usually remember it.

There’s also a great app by Dexteria which deals with reversals called Letterreflex – you have to tilt the tablet to get the ball into d, b, p or q and flip numbers such as 6 or whole words such as saw.

Cursive writing really helps with reversals – it’s much harder to reverse letters when the join starts at the bottom of the page (I am going to blog about cursive handwriting soon).

Much evidence points to early intervention being key for dyslexia and using a structured, cumulative, multi-sensory phonics programme.  Little and often, chipping away – there is no silver bullet but it is clear support needs to continue until students are fluent readers, have good comprehension, can spell adequately and write – if persistent, this will need to continue through secondary school, into sixth form/Further Education and onto University or the work place.

Does your primary school want to be part of some research?  The Education Endowment Fund (EEF) are looking for schools to be part of the ‘Literacy Octopus’.  It’s funded by #londoned so I don’t know if that means just London schools it didn’t say? Anyway here’s the link


Dyslexia – How to help in Secondary School

Dyslexia – How to Help in Secondary School


My last blog explained the current definition for Dyslexia/Rose’09. .

Next week I will look at Dyslexia – How to help in Primary

What are the Indicators? requested by @suecowley will be the following week.


‘If you get SEN right in school you raise achievement for all.’


‘I know what to say but I can’t get it down on paper’ – students with dyslexia often say this and it impacts on writing.

I like the comparison to index cards: the idea that all the information is there but not in a neat, A-Z sequential order, rather, it is thrown all over the floor.

Concept mapping may be useful – it’s the ability to brainstorm first and then begin to plan thoughts into a linear, more ordered structure.  I love a programme called Inspiration This allows you to plan in a mind map or spider diagram and then press a button which changes it to a linear format.  I applied for my current job using this and it made the whole process less overwhelming.


Post-it notes are good too as they can be moved around; as a whole group exercise try putting them on different walls in the classroom – this really helps to cluster themes into subheadings/paragraphs etc.

Word processing helps due to being able to cut and paste – it takes away the finality of writing – think of those students who are constantly crossing things out, moving paragraphs around with arrows, using asterisks to add bits in.

Obviously grammar and spell checker is also an advantage.  Be aware of students who appear to have a wide vocabulary when they talk and yet their writing does not reflect this – it may just be that they try to use words they are confident in spelling.


Don’t assume students cannot comprehend what they are reading even if they cannot decode out loud to you.  I know this is controversial but I come across students with dyslexia who have single word reading scores in the ‘well below average’ range but comprehension in the ‘average’ range.  It is not reading in the decoding sense but it is reading.

Teaching reading skills to someone with dyslexia should be phonics based however,  due to phonological difficulties, learning words by sight is easier for many but this will not give them strategies to decode words they don’t recognise.  I advocate (but many disagree with me) a balanced approach. This encourages learning a bank of sight words for automaticity and fluency alongside a more structured, cumulative, multi-sensory phonics programme.

‘Oral language is the precursor to reading’ Snowling ’13.

Although students with dyslexia need support with letter-sound correspondence and phonological awareness, this will not help reading comprehension.  Dyslexia is a language based impairment so here, oral language is key.  And there is bucket loads of research to show spoken language work improves comprehension.

(There is however a difference between poor decoders/good comprehenders and good decoding/poor comprehension – crudely speaking the former may be dyslexic and the latter may have language impairment but there are many overlapping difficulties which does not make it so clear cut).

This by Snowling and Hulme explains far better than I can.

For a more practical look at language in schools, Chris Chivers’ blog is worth reading.  In fact for good, inclusive strategies all his blogs are useful.  In fact he should be in charge of education full stop.


While I think I can teach pretty much everyone to read, I do not believe this is the case for spelling.  Of course I am describing the very severe cases; for most while their spelling may never be perfect; they can get by with ‘near enough’. (a term coined by Neil McKay 2014)

  • Use colour – colour phonic codes, colour vowel sounds, colour different sections of the word – hell, colour everything.
  • Vowels are really important to teach and telling students that words cannot exist without them (including y) is too. Many students I see struggle with the spell checker or predictive text to help them as they miss vowels out.  Library for instance might be written ‘lbry’ which a computer won’t pick up
  • Chunking syllables maybe more useful to older students than phonic codes – if you examine your worst spellers in an Upper school/college setting, look to see if they have used the correct amount of syllables.  Often students with dyslexia will be quite a way off – recently a boy had written ‘fart’ meaning to write ‘favourite’.  The main letters are there and in order but it is only one syllable.
  • Prefix /root word/suffix – this is sometimes a useful strategy to build words ­and linked to word derivation makes it great for key words in subject areas.  Quick question for you with the word du jour on twitter at the moment.  What does meta mean? Now put in the root word and suffix for English – meta/physic/al poets and for study – meta/cognition – this deep analysis of words is interesting and may appeal (you’ll see at the top of the pictures I use a beautifully drawn stick person lying down – head/prefix – body/root and legs/suffix).



  • For subject key words – etymology can help – in Romeo and Juliet – Benvolio (good) and Malvolio (bad)  in Twelth Night – link to other words with same prefix – benevolent, malpractice etc
  • Proof reading – this can be a real nightmare for those with dyslexia – they may not be able to ‘see’ the errors.  I have found using something like Balabolka ( a text-to-speech app which highlights the words as it reads) can be really useful for proofreading or, try turning text into an MP3 so students can listen to it  (thank you to @JaPenn56 for this question).

Revision strategies (thanks to @scjmcd for this question)

  • I have mentioned spider diagrams and post-it notes – I think they help.
  • Turning text into MP3s allows students to listen to revision notes (Balabolka will do this and it’s free)
  • Help with time management and organisation – both these can be issues for those with dyslexia, so advice on  ‘how and when’ to revise is beneficial
  • Students may struggle to filter relevant detail for exam style essays so lots of practice with structuring and planning without having to necessarily write the essay each time
  • Mnemonics are like marmite but often loved  by students with dyslexia
  • Narrative – having a hook to remember information – ‘tights come down for stalactites’ (sorry but I never forgot once my Geography teacher told me this)
  • Using songs to help with remembering poetic strategies:

‘I can see clearly now the rain has gone’ – pathetic fallacy

‘Lady Luck and Sister Vanity were not easy to ignore, opened up a door and let me in’ – personification

‘Light up like a candle burning when he calls me up, melt down like a candle burning every time we touch’ – simile.

More questions sourced by twitter

@Podgainy­_j – ‘How to verify the knowledge gap is shrinking?’

This is a tricky one – I have written about the Matthew Effect for poor readers here

Again, oral language is key: exposing children to books in other ways such as audio, reading to them, text-to-speech for subject based information.  These would all help but I don’t know if we can verify the knowledge gap is shrinking?  Stanovich argues that crystallised intelligence is affected by reading difficulties so you may wish to look at this.  (Does reading make you smarter/

@rashush2 ‘interventions or not? If yes, what helps?’

I have mixed feelings about this – if as much as possible can be done via Quality First teaching then brilliant.  Some students however do need support and 1:1 teaching by a specialist teacher is the Rolls Royce of interventions.  Small group work will never be able to pinpoint precisely each student’s difficulties but it is obviously a cheaper option.

What helps I have discussed above – what doesn’t help however is untrained staff.  This can actually do more harm than good.  The children with the most persistent difficulties need the highest quality support.

@evenicola1 ‘Is technology the answer?’

Assistive Technology has transformed the lives of many people with dyslexia.  There’s text-to-speech, speech-to-text, concept mapping, predictive text, even Captura now where you can take a photograph of any text and have it read to you. (I will blog on Assistive Technology)

I like the new livescribe pen which records lessons, allows you to handwrite and then change it to text with a swipe. One of my students has this and it’s wonderful.

All these technologies remove barriers to learning and often allow students to show what they are capable of without being disabled by reading and writing difficulties.

A few interesting Research morsels from The Dyslexia Debate – Professor Elliot

“Good interventions in early years reduces later incidence of problems but those left are more resistant”

“Effective interventions for young children result in lower success rates for adolescents with reading difficulties”.

“Phonics more efficacious for younger kids but still works for older children pp 127-129 and p 136 onwards but require more work with language and comprehension”.

This has became a marathon blog (hence why I’ve dealt with identification and primary separately) – if you have got to end – phew, well done.  Thanks for all those who asked questions, I hope I have answered some.

Break Prohibition – Welcome to my Speekeezee


This is how Systematic Synthetic Phonics (SSP) works:

  • Fast and Furious
  • No other method
  • Do not look at pictures for clues
  • Do not guess – must sound out
  • Consistent, persistent, insistent – not a plethora of games and random strategies – that’s called mixed methods which is illegal.
  1. If it doesn’t work you just carry on until it does.
  2. If it still doesn’t work you are not doing it properly.
  3. If you think another method may work better or complement SSP you can’t. Remember no mixed methods.

Under the current prohibition any method of teaching reading which is not SSP is banned. So, I’m going underground – come to my Speakeasy where I will list some practical tips on teaching those students who just don’t seem to be progressing.

1. Taming Tricky Words Taming_Tricky_Wo_4cf04d1b6b40c_85x120

This is great and allows pupils to learn those high frequency words which are more irregular and cannot be decoded easily.   It gives them a self-esteem boost and in half a term a good bank of words allowing them to at least access some of the text based curriculum if phonics, past learning initial letter sounds is proving a challenge.

How it works

You show student a picture – example traffic lights and then read the word in a sentence.

So ‘go’ is ‘When the lights are green the cars can go’. The student learns to read words by association. IMG_0173

2. Direct Phonics

Actually this is a synthetic phonics programme but introduces a small amount of sight words with each book. It also combines phonic instruction with oral language and ensures students have opportunity for speaking, listening, reading and writing.

Book 1 – introduces letter sounds and CVC words, they blend and segment from the start. The other books (2 & 3) move through cumulatively with consolidation activities ending with polysyllabic words.  It introduces reading and writing and activities are linked to the reading materials.  Direct Phonics is very repetitive.  It’s simple to use and designed to be done in 20 minute chunks.

I particularly like this for older students who have reading difficulties.

3. Rapid Readers (RRs)

Cleverly designed to use the language students can read, then adds in some ‘tricky words’ which you go over together before they begin reading. They also have pictures and a summary at the beginning which teacher and student can go over together for a hook in.


And they experience reading fluently which feels like magic – it is a joy to see. There’s fact and fiction in each book and little exercises at the end on spelling, comprehension, phonics and a joke which I always laugh at and the older students look at me like I’m an idiot.

The books are age appropriate too which makes them ideal for secondary age. Rapid Readers and Rapid Plus also come with a CD to work with the book online (reading, recording etc) and some worksheets.

pedal_power_b rapid reader rapid reader

5. Swap cards

Again, phonic based (see, I’m not that bad) but a game (boo).

These are a staple in my kit (I even have a couple of boxes in my handbag for random opportunities to practise) –  they are loved by all my students – all ages.

There is every phonic pattern known to woman in SWAP cards.  Each player has seven cards and the winner is the one who gets rid of their cards first.  The words are colour coded so in this picture it is the ‘oo’ sound.  ‘oo’ is brown, ‘ue’ is blue and ‘ui’ is red etc.  The idea is you lay same colour cards down until you run out.  Each time you put a card down you have to say the word (important or it’s pointless).  If you run out but have a SWAP card, you can change to a different colour.


6. Minute a Day

A simple resource and good for homework.    These are phonic and sight word photocopiable sheets which encourage the student to read words or phonic patterns quickly in a minute.


7. Stiles

A nice game where you match numbers and patterns. It’s called a self-checking tray where students’ answers match a number. If they are correct students will be able to match the geometric pattern. Books come with phonic patterns, maths, comprehension – all sorts.


8. Barrington Stoke Books
Ah, these are age appropriate loveliness for older students – written with a larger font and better spacing, they sometimes do the trick to ‘get the buggers to read’ (thank you @suecowley for this phrase)


You’ve been attending my Speakeasy. Thanks for joining.