Free training on writing and public speaking

Have you ever thought about publishing an article or speaking publicly? Maybe you want to build your network?

The London Leadership Strategy (LLS), host of Whole School SEND, have come up with a wonderful opportunity to increase the exposure of SEND professionals and families. Responding to feedback, the team decided that a free training programme should be offered to encourage advocates to write or speak about their experiences and expertise. You may have thought about blogging before but wondered who would want to hear from you? Perhaps you feel nervous about your strategies being made public? It’s likely you’re incredibly busy and sharing your skills is the last thing on your mind…

I would encourage you to sign up for SEND Advocates. There is wonderful work happening in SEND but due to the modest nature of many teachers and carers, these experiences are not shared. Collaboration and communication is vital and in a time where mainstream exclusions for students with SEND are on the increase it is more important than ever to hear from those living it and for experts who see successes in their school to share them. We need a supportive and informed community of advocates shouting from the rooftops that SEND provision can be effective, can be high quality and can be so rewarding, so that teachers to see SEND as a career choice.

I am supporting SEND Advocates and think it is a brilliant idea from the LLS team who are committed to inclusion and listening to as many professionals and families as possible. Well done to them for hearing the voices of those in SEND and offering such an opportunity. Please sign up. Learning how to write or speak publicly are great skills and I hope you may begin to feel confident enough to have your experiences heard in a wider arena.

SEND Advocates is a year’s programme and comprises four conferences across the country. These will offer professional development and opportunities to network. It is free but teachers will need permission from their school to attend. Whole School SEND also welcome applications from parents and other family members.

The first conference is on 9th October in London with the wonderful TES, features editor, Jon Severs.

Three others are planned across the country between December and March on building networks, policy and public speaking. I’m speaking at the ‘Communities of Practice’ event, which will be about building your network; to include my nightmares as well as my positive experiences. Simon Knight, Director and Anita Kerwin-Nye, Chair of Whole School SEND will also be contributors.

It you’re interested, you can email or fill in the EOI form  by 15th September.

Hope to see you on the course!


Treat the Need not the Label

Every few months a newspaper report comes along to claim ‘dyslexia doesn’t exist’ or ‘ADHD is made up’. Of course, this is usually a sensationalist version of a new report showing controversial research in the field. Yesterday, Tom Bennett wrote an article on the misdiagnosis of ADHD and dyslexia.…r-dyslexia-and-adhd-are-over-diagnosed-crypto

For a SENDCo this can become tricky as teachers may begin questioning your advice citing this example from a ‘behaviour tsar’ as evidence. They would be right to question you, after all Bennett influences government policy, he must know what he’s talking about, right? This is my response.

It is perfectly valid to question the validity of diagnoses such as ADHD and dyslexia. There has been an increase in children with ADHD and medication such as Ritalin is being prescribed more. There are correlations with government policy (in US) and it is sad if normal behaviour is being pathologized. In contrast, figures for diagnoses of dyslexia in state schools is going down which appears to correlate with the reduction in Local Authority SENSS services. Dorset for instance, which still has a service has more dyslexia recorded than other counties who no longer have a service. You could, I’m sure find a similar picture in the quality of NHS services when assessing for ADHD. It’s complex, and it’s not perfect. 

But none of this should matter to the day to day practice in a mainstream, classroom. What would a teacher do differently if a child was diagnosed with ADHD compared to one who wasn’t?
As teachers we have no right to question a paediatrician even if we want to. We have no right telling a parent that we believe their child doesn’t have ADHD because a ‘behaviour guru’ told us that misdiagnosis is rife. We have no right to tell another teacher that if they just set some boundaries that the ADHD is likely to disappear. We have no right, morally or, as it happens, legally. 

We have no right telling a 15 year old who can’t read that the diagnosis of dyslexia isn’t true because it doesn’t exist. The Equality Act and the teaching standards mean that as a classroom teacher we must put reasonable adjustments in place to meet the needs of all our students, not just the typically developing ones.

This may seem harsh but it’s true. What we do have control over however is the classroom, our students, and their right to learn. We have the right to expect support from the leadership team, our SENDCo and outside agencies should we need it. All our children have the right to an education and we have the right to deliver it in whatever way we wish as long as we are meeting the needs of the class.

A professional teacher must be informed, know their students well and teach responsively. Where does the label come in? Well, only as a starting point. It’s part of an holistic picture of the child. It doesn’t matter if the child has ADHD or not. If she is exhibiting behaviour traits which seem similar them treat the need not the label. A child with ADHD is impulsive, struggles to filter out irrelevant information and can become easily overwhelmed. This is really useful information.

Let me give you an example of responsive teaching based on this. A child comes bouncing in from the playground. She’s been playing a game of ‘wee and poo’ with her friends. Not under adult supervision the children have been shouting wee and poo at each other and giggling. The bell goes; her typical friends find it easy to transition back into the classroom and ‘turn off’ the game, walking quietly into class, sitting themselves down and preparing for learning. The girl with ADHD however struggles to self-regulate; she’s still mentally in the game and runs into class blurting out ‘poo’. She’s immediately in trouble and is sent to sit away from the group. Becoming upset, the pupil screams at the TA who is trying to keep her away from the group and the incident escalates until she’s sent out of the classroom to prevent disruption to the rest of the class.

As a teacher, observing behaviour traits which appear similar to those of ADHD, I can anticipate this impulsivity. Putting my hand up to the little girl as a physical reminder to self-regulate. I then tell her playtime is over and it’s time for learning. She’s given a few minutes for the transition to ‘check in’ then I ask her to enter the classroom calmly for learning. 

It doesn’t matter if this child has an official diagnosis of ADHD or not, recognising behaviour traits and responding is the same, label or no label.


Are Coloured Overlays evil? Asking the right questions


I was pleased to see this,, arguing coloured overlays can help reading speed.


But there is also this,; here the author argues that dyslexia charities should be more honest about the efficacy of coloured overlays and categorise them under alternative therapies. I’m inclined to agree with this too.

Coloured Overlays get a bad press – partly because they may once have been over-hyped as a cure for dyslexia.  Visual difficulties do not mean someone has dyslexia  (it is a phonological processing difficulty – think ear rather than eye) 30% of those with dyslexia however may also have visual stress as a co-occurring difficulty.

Visual stress can affect students’ comfort and exacerbate reading difficulties;  the white glare of a screen or paper can make reading stressful. For others it appears to be more dramatic; students may report the words blurring or moving around or that the black print is swamped and the white background comes to the fore.  This can result in eye strain and headaches.

I have only come across two very severe cases:

One student, who rubbed his eyes excessively and squinted at text after a few minutes, nearly fell off his chair when I put a coloured overlay over some paper – he just looked in disbelief at the print. I sent him straight to a specialised optometrist (he didn’t have dyslexia). Another mature student from an FE college I once worked at found the use of a coloured overlay and a screen tint on her computer “life changing”.  She had dyslexia. From what I have learned since, I would still have referred her to a specialist optometrist to rule out any other problems.

Many students I meet see little difference with a coloured overlay but others report a ‘less stressful’ experience when reading.

For the price of a coloured overlay it seems wrong to deny them to students who say they help. Obviously for an expensive intervention I’d want harder evidence before I spent thousands of pounds but for such a cheap resource I’m willing to accept the students’ voice on this.


If your school can’t afford coloured overlays there are cheaper alternatives:

  • The first thing to do is teach the student how to change the background colour on a Word document/kindle
    (iPad has apps which will change background such as ireadwrite and goodreader)
  • It is also worth changing the background colour of your whiteboard (off white or light blue seem popular -maybe worth asking students which they prefer).
  • Have a stash of mixed colour poly pockets in the classroom.
  • Present your work on different shades of paper and allow students to choose.
  • Tintmyscreen and MyStudyBar are both free downloads for computers.


  • Reading Rulers may be useful for both visual stress and tracking.


I would add that those who do show a marked difference when using colour to read should see a specialist optometrist in visual stress who also examines focusing and binocular vision. They can rule out any serious problems.

Has research into coloured overlays asked the right questions yet?  In the articles above, one shows an improved reading speed which will please many and discredits the ‘comprehension’ research. The other cites studies showing little proof other than a placebo effect.  For me though, my question would be ‘does it make reading nicer for you?’ For those students who keep going back to worksheets on buff paper or who consistently use a reading ruler or who always change the shade of the word document – for them the answer is yes, and why should we deny them this?

More research.
Arnold Wilkins own web page where he summarises use of colour and provides lots of links.
Wilkins book Reading through Colour, available from Amazon.