The one thing my postgraduate teacher training course had simply not prepared me for was that more than a third of my first class of seven and eight year-olds might not be reading and writing with any degree of confidence.
Granted, it was a school in special measures, and many of the pupils did not have the clear structure, support or guidance at school, or, in some cases, at home, that would help progress their literacy skills. But it seemed many of these children would do anything to avoid reading out loud or putting ideas onto paper, often with inventive, distraction tactics: "Miss, I need to go to the loo, I'm going to wet myself," "Miss my pencil keeps breaking."
Looking back I faced a huge challenge; trying to sort the learning gaps from the learning needs. No doubt, it was the ideal breeding ground for my current interest in dyslexia and the ways we can make a difference to those pupils struggling with basic literacy skills.
The educational landscape is far more attuned to failing schools these days, however the signs I saw in my first job are still evident in today's classrooms. There's the child in the class who has a lot of opinions; who can express sophisticated ideas verbally but struggles to put anything quite as impressive on paper. Then there's the child who spells even the most obvious words in various dyslexic forms, the child who omits, transposes or substitutes words, who misreads and stumbles on their reading material and the child who avoids books and the whole reading business altogether.
I was slightly in the dark back then when I began my teaching career as to why some children might not be reading or writing after a number of years at school. I was even more in the dark when it came to finding a solution. The existence of dyslexia was not always accepted. I distinctly recall a special educational needs inspector, as they were called at the time, telling me that there was no such thing as dyslexia and that all children just needed to be taught properly. The rise of the 'D word' was seen as a bit of a middle class phenomenon.
Despite dyslexia now being more widely understood, The Driver Youth Trust's recent report, A Fish in the Tree flags that 52% of teachers surveyed, received no training on dyslexia and that 84% of teachers surveyed said they thought it was important that teachers are trained in teaching children with dyslexia.
It is clear that the literacy difficulties that exist in UK classrooms are still not widely and uniformly communicated and addressed as a defined strand within the UK's teaching training programme. We surely need to tighten up these figures, when as many as three pupils in every classroom are experiencing dyslexic difficulties.
In my current role, as a lead teacher for dyslexia, I am able to wave the dyslexia banner to all new and established teaching staff. We begin to screen for signs of dyslexia with our six to seven year-olds and promptly engage in healthy discussion with SEN co-ordinators about literacy delays and difficulties. We also organise a range of training packages; whole staff meetings on the signs of dyslexia and what needs to take place in, and out, of the classroom. We encourage all our schools to build dyslexia expertise among their staff.
We know there are key strategies that will make a difference: strong phonics teaching, catch-up reading interventions, multi-sensory approaches to learning tricky words, providing writing frames and word banks to make the writing task more manageable and the use of text to speech technology to name but a few. All of this can be summed up by a notice and adjust philosophy; when you notice a child struggling, engage in the discussions about what you can do as teacher, to adjust and make the learning experiences accessible and successful.
With all the learning and research materials now available on dyslexia I'd like to think that fresh-faced teachers would not have to struggle with an army of children more eager to hide in the toilet than face the prospect of reading a book.
--Sally Bouwman, network lead for dyslexia, ARK Schools
*This article originally appeared on the Guardian Teacher Network