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Kids, Pigs, Dyslexia & Self-esteem: Interviewing the Principal of a specialist dyslexia school.

Read about my experience of visiting a specialist dyslexia school and my time with the principal of The Bredon School, David Ward and how the topic of building self-esteem is a central pillar to successful educational outcomes.

I love the positive aspects of social media, especially when it connects you with people that are making a difference.

A month ago I received a new message in my LinkedIn mailbox, from Principal David Ward at The Bredon School inviting me to visit.
I relished the opportunity as I was curious as to what was different about a specialist school versus that of a mainstream school.

When talking to senior managers of schools i.e principals or head masters sometimes my views of what a school should deliver for their pupils can differ from the objectives of a school leadership team.  So it was a surprise to find a principal of a school who had similar thoughts to myself.

David, has dyslexia and has a child who is dyslexic.  He experienced issues in education that caused struggles for him as he studied.  He spent some time being a professional rugby player before he embarked in a career in education.  I get the sense that David is a passionate man who throws himself at challenges and doesn't let them hold him back.  He decided relatively early that he wanted to be a head teacher and has had a considerable career in education management.
I asked David some questions about education and dyslexia.

What are your thoughts about what education should be like for young dyslexic thinkers...

David said "My mission in life is to ensure that everyone, who is dyslexic, has the confidence to enable their true talents to  be recognised and to provide an environment where they can learn in a school, where very different styles of learning do not disadvantage them both at school and later in the work place."

Tell me more about your thoughts on dyslexia and education?

Dyslexia is a gift, we all learn differently. It is up to educators to spot it, embrace it and join the journey the child is experiencing as they move through school. The pace of school life and conformity eliminates some from mainstream schools from being able to support dyslexic students as the pace gets quicker, the subject matter in syllabuses grows. 
A lot of state schools now start GCSE’s in Year 9, why? To complete the subject matter required to pass an exam.

How can we help our dyslexic thinkers to succeed in education?

We need to celebrate all our students as each of them has skills and will find success. Staff need to highlight their success and use it in a motivational way to tackle the subjects that they find difficult. Ensure the curriculum has three levels of ability to ensure all in your school can achieve. There are simple things each member of staff can do to ensure all students have the skills to progress. My advice to all parents? To work with their allocated tutor & SEN teacher.

Walking around the school...

It is fair to say that this school uses unconventional strategies to help their students to learn. The school has it's own pig farm and orchard.  These present opportunities for students to get involved in learning about the whole process of farming produce through to getting it on the table.  The school sells it's own pork and apple juice from which the profits are ploughed back into the educational life at the school.

David Ward and one of Bredon's residents in the pig farm.
The students not only get to learn about business (great learning for dyslexic thinkers that are known to be strong with entrepreneurship ) but they also do vocational qualifications too that are recognised by some of the major leading companies in different industries such as IT e.g.with a specific CISCO qualification.  Some students have gone onto exciting jobs in other countries that truly play to their strengths.
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It is clear that by engaging pupils with what they are interested in or passionate about first before dictating what they need to learn, opportunities for educational engagement become more likely.

David told me a story about one lad who develop his own IT network at Bredon 'illegally'  (the teachers knew and allowed him to explore his skills), the lad needed to get a cable to another part of the school and used a drone to carry the cable over the roof of the school!  The student in question was able to explore his strengths in a way that perhaps a mainstream school would not normally allow.  

Assistive Technology

I spent some time talking to the Louise Wood in the school's Access Centre.  Louise is responsible for  the use of assistive technology at Bredon. Together we were exploring the use of assistive technology to support learning.  We spent some time talking about text to speech software which is great for building literacy skills such as SprintPlus and how that could be used to provide access to text in school text books for example.  Bredon use the RNIB Bookshare service which gives students access to electronic versions of curriculum based text books for free.

I was very impressed by the range of technology that this school was prepared to use to support their students learning.  One area of strong interest for me is using tablets for writing notes.  So often a child with dyslexia is asked to write notes in ways that can sometimes be difficult to achieve clearly due to issues associated with fine motor movement.  On a tablet, there are writing apps that allow one to write using a larger size which can then be reduced to conventional sized writing.  This builds confidence in writing and the resultant notes look the same as what is usually expected.
A good example of an app that can be used is Bamboo Paper, available on IOS and Android.
It struck me that there was a real sense of how individual students are and that they each might need an individual approach to supporting their learning with technology.

My thoughts...

It struck me that whilst a school has to follow curriculum and deliver results, this school almost ensures good results by focusing on building up the self esteem of their learners first.  It seemed to me that the students here are enthusiastic about learning because it is fun and appeals to what they are passionate about and what they want to do in the future rather than feeling like they need to struggle with learning for the sake of it or as a result of some perceived authoritarian pressure.  It is difficult in a school to maintain the correct balance between giving a child space to learn and delivering results but it certainly felt to me that this particular school was achieving this.

One of the things that surprised me was that despite the fact that this is a fee paying school and thus many students perhaps come from privileged backgrounds, out of the 230 students, 80 of them are state funded places which opens up wonderful resources to students who struggle in mainstream education.

I would like to thank David and his staff for making me feel so welcome and also for lending me a fantastic book called Educating Ruby which explores a different way to deliver education that empowers our children, dyslexic or not.  I think that there will be a review coming out shortly on this blog about this book to watch this space!!

Find out more about Bredon School by clicking here.

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