Michelle Catterson, Executive Headteacher at Moon Hall School image
Michelle Catterson, Executive Headteacher at Moon Hall School

In this article, Michelle Catterson, Executive Headteacher at Moon Hall School and Vice Chair of board at the British Dyslexia Association, discusses how assistive technology can significantly enhance the learning experience for students with dyslexia by giving them greater confidence and allowing them to fully participate in the classroom.

Virtual learning has been a challenge for every student during the pandemic. However, for dyslexic pupils, the challenges were heightened. Many lost access to the vital learning support they received at school, while parents also saw first-hand their children’s learning struggles, and, in some cases, how far ahead their peers were in comparison.

Because of this, now more than ever, parents with dyslexic children are looking for solutions to help their kids reach their academic potential. I’ve experienced this first-hand at my school, Moon Hall, which is a specialist dyslexic school for pupils aged 7-16. Our waiting list for placements has exponentially grown at a rate neither I nor the school has seen before.

More specialist facilities for increased national dyslexia support

This growing waiting list highlights that the UK requires more specialist dyslexia facilities. Mainstream schools are just unable to meet every student’s educational needs. At the same time, we need to increase investment in assistive technologies to enhance independent learning experiences.

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Traditional schools do have processes in place to help students with learning disabilities. However, these usually come in the form of separate assistance functions where pupils leave the classroom to receive intervention from support staff. This is an ineffective process because pupils are marked out as different to their peers, which can leave them feeling anxious and isolated. It’s also counterproductive as these students miss out on classroom activities, meaning that they are often playing catch-up when they return and are not in control of their learning.

At Moon Hall we chose not to do this. Our class sizes are small so that teachers can identify when students may require additional support and can provide this in the classroom. At the same time, we have invested in assistive technology and staff that can enhance this support.

The power of assistive tech for dyslexic pupils

Assistive technologies designed for dyslexic pupils have a big role to play in removing the need for additional support. This is better for the school and better for the student as they can take control of their learning while also building their confidence and capabilities.

For example, we recently invested in a new reading technology for pupils called the OrCam Read. This is a device that allows them to instantly hear any full page of printed or digital text the device is pointing at, whenever and wherever they are across the school. The OrCam Read means that we can remove many of the challenges pupils face in and out of the classroom.

In an exam scenario, this kind of technology really shines as pupils are usually reliant on in-person support such as a reader or scribe. By eliminating that need, we can take away the additional stress of having to communicate with another person during exams.

Experiencing how successful assistive technology such as the OrCam Read has been with our pupils has led us to take further steps to look at how we can use digital solutions to enhance our pupils’ lives. We now employ a digital champion apprentice at the school, whose focus is to support the integration of assistive technologies.

In September, we also recruited our first head of department for assistive technology who is tasked with looking at these technologies throughout the school and how they can be used better by both teachers and students.

Long-term investment in tech to better the outcomes for our young people

Dyslexic pupils have had more hurdles to overcome than just their disability. COVID-19 has highlighted how our education system can prevent some pupils from maximising their potential. We need to be investing in the facilities, infrastructure and technologies that allow students with learning disabilities to learn independently and thrive.

Specialist schools and innovative solutions are paving the way for this, and, with the right backing, we can create an education system that’s inclusive and allows every pupil to be the best they can be.

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