Different Minds

Typically, people with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyspraxia, dyslexia, dyscalculia and in fact anyone experiencing a condition that impacts certain thinking skills is categorised as neurodiverse. It is widely believed that one in seven people (more than 15% of the UK) are neurodiverse. Students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are on the rise. According to the Department for Education, the number of pupils with SEND in 2022 is just under 1.5 million, an increase of 77,000 from 2021 and in the independent sector alone, almost 96,000 pupils were identified as having SEND, equating to 17.6%, as reported by the Independent Schools Council.
“Neurodiversity is not synonymous with less able” says Vania Adams, Head at The Roche School, “A neurodiverse child may need support in the classroom but not because they are not capable. Sometimes the problem for a neurodivergent child is insufficient challenge rather than the reverse. A good school will offer plenty of support and understanding whilst remaining aspirational.”

Dyslexia affects around 10% of the population. Common characteristics include difficulties with:

• Language processing
• Oral reading/spelling skills
• Listening comprehension
• Interpretation of language
• Copying, handwriting, eye-hand coordination
• Organisation/time management

If you suspect your child may have dyslexia:

• Ask teachers to send key vocabulary for the week, so your child can practise reading and spelling
• When reading aloud to them, ask them to jot down any word they do not understand or know how to spell onto colourful sticky notes. You can write down the correct spelling later. (A dyslexic child may not be able to find the word easily in the dictionary)
• Younger children may find deconstructed words, written out onto jigsaw shapes, really useful. They can practise putting the words back together and reading the spelling aloud. Then they can practise writing the words, tracing over them using tracing paper.

Source: Exceptional Academics

“SEN is celebrated, and proudly part of our offer,” agrees Helen Loach, Deputy Head at Streatham & Clapham High School GDST. “Staff are devoted to tailoring a curriculum that all girls can access, and priority is given to refining the curriculum model and resourcing to ensure all girls make rapid progress on their learning journey.”

A similar learning opportunity lies in wait at Newton Prep, explains Cristina Losito, SENDCo, Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Co-ordinator. “Newton Prep’s SEND department is an integral part of our academic offering. With a newly designed and bespoke ‘Learning Hub’, pupils are supported in their learning needs without being made to feel that they are in any way under achieving. Through high quality teaching, state-of-art technology and a truly inclusive approach, we strive to empower every child to succeed.”

The starting point for educating all pupils is the same: an acceptance of diversity, pupils’ rights, and the knowledge that all pupils can learn if they receive good teaching. No one size fits all and no child should be labelled too rigidly. Quality first teaching emphasises high quality and inclusive teaching for all. It relies on a variety of learning strategies in order to be effective, like differentiated learning, ongoing formative assessments and a personalised learning experience, encouraging greater inclusion of pupils with additional needs.
“Inclusion is at its most effective when parents, class teachers, school leadership, special educational needs and disabilities co-ordinators (SENDCos) and multi-professionals work seamlessly together,” says Matthew Pickard, Head at The Eveline Day School. “By being creative and flexible in our thinking, the right combination of differentiation, strategies and therapeutic interventions can give neurodivergent children every opportunity to fulfil their potential.”


However, “parents shouldn’t hold back from being assertive,” advises Melina Brook, Specialist Dyslexia Tutor with Exceptional Academics. “If classroom or homework adjustments aren’t happening, they should go through each of the recommendations within their dyslexia or Educational Psychologist report with the SENDCo, asking how the school will follow through. If their child has an education health and care plan (EHCP), this is a legal document that a school will have agreed to implement in full.”
Sophie Irwin, Educational Consultant and SEND specialist agrees, “Often parents aren’t sure what they should ask for or what they should say to schools. I work with them in the background to make sure that all their child’s cognitive abilities and needs are documented, particularly when they are transferring to senior school. With specialist support, neurodivergent children can thrive in a selective school if they are high performers. If not, they may fare better in a less demanding academic environment. The key is to find the right place for them to engage and enjoy learning.”
Parents of neurodivergent children should look for schools with specialist staff, continues Brook, “For example, will a level 5 specialist support their child? Do form teachers and teaching assistants have continuing professional development (CPD) training in specific learning difficulties (SpLDs)? Will there be at least an hour of targeted 1-1 support per week?”
When it comes to secondary transfer, in the state sector, records of children on the SEND register are transferred automatically to their new secondary school. In the independent sector, the onus is on the parents to inform the school. “Many parents aren’t comfortable with telling schools that their child has extra needs when they apply, because they fear that it will affect them negatively,” says Kirstie Richardson, Head of Learning Support at Whitgift School. “It won’t. By being up front, we can ensure that we support that child from day one with access arrangements for the entrance exam, to having a member of our learning support team sit in on their interview and having the right resources in place for when they start.”
Trudi Williams, SENDCo at Ernest Bevin College, concurs, “We don’t want any child to experience negativity at the start of their new journey at secondary school. We often visit new starters in their primary schools and invite them to our Welcome Day and week-long summer school to get to know them, and vice versa. There are so many growing demands on adolescents from
Year 7 to Year 11, so we need to make sure that our neurodivergent students trust and feel safe with us early on, and that we can accommodate their changing needs as they progress up the school.”

Every child with SEND will have a learner profile which documents their cognitive abilities and needs so that every teacher can provide that all important quality first teaching by including provisions such as movement breaks, quiet time, fiddle toys, differentiating the curriculum, for example, by breaking down the instructions, or even provide extension work, if it’s a subject at which they excel. They can adapt the timetable and provide additional technology such as laptops, audible books, speech-to-text software or a scribe.
Emotional support is equally as important, and many schools have safe spaces – at The Roche School, it is the Room at the Roche and at Ernest Bevin College, it’s a lunch club offering welcome refuge from the busy playground.
Other areas in which neurodivergent students might need help is with strengthening their executive functions including skills such as organisation, motivation, focus, attention, time management and self-regulation.
“Our team of specialist teachers offer group and one-to-one sessions with students focusing on equipping them with the study, revision, examination, homework and organisation skills that help them to become independent learners and help to maintain and build up their confidence and self-esteem,” says Louise van der Valk, Head of Learning Support at Alleyn’s School.

The most powerful lever you can pull to ensure your child’s academic success is reading. If your son or daughter is dyslexic, however, this can sometimes feel like walking across hot coals – for them and you.

Often dyslexic readers will have a specialist interest; you can indulge this with non-fiction reading materials linked to their special interest, such as magazines and reference books.
Current affairs publications like The Week Junior or First News are brilliant for increasing active vocabulary – and therefore comprehension – of the text. BBC Newsround’s website has useful words of the day for understanding the news.

Short stories reduce cognitive load by getting to the plot payoff much faster. Roald Dahl’s Henry Sugar and Great Automatic Grammatisator, along with collections by Edgar Allen Poe, R J Palacio, Enid Blyton or Kevin Crossley-Holland are all fun to read in double-quick time.

Source: The Commons Education

However, “as students get into their teens, they are increasingly reluctant to do additional learning and support clubs,” explains Whitgift’s Richardson, “so we have to show them results. We help them understand their own strengths and weaknesses and if they see positive results themselves, they will return.”
“Learning support groups are reviewed termly,” says Amy Burt, Head of Learning Support at Northcote Lodge School, “so that we can adapt to pupil targets and review whether children are ready to apply strategies more independently. Children might be included in a vocabulary group that focuses on visual learning strategies or be invited to a typing club to help build fluency and accuracy, and some may benefit from occupational therapy to support their fine motor skills.”
A culture of inclusivity is paramount for neurodivergent children to feel a sense of belonging. Burt says, “We encourage our children to use positive dialogue around neurodiversity. We have information books and displays around the school that include neurodivergent role models. Our pupil neurodiversity ambassadors in Year 8 help the younger children understand how people think and learn differently and some of our neurodivergent pupils are confident about sharing their journeys with their classmates.”
Similarly, at Alleyn’s School, the students have established a neurodiversity society. “Our SEND society looks at specific learning differences. Students discuss issues they face and sometimes a lack of knowledge among their peers of specific learning differences and we use that to inform our staff training,” adds Dr Rob Atkinson, Head of the Upper School.
“Some schools are better than others when it comes to SEND provisions,” concludes The Roche’s Adams, “and too often, parents come up against a one-size-fits-all approach. If you celebrate the child as an individual then they will relax and engage with their learning, and that’s when we find that they have fantastic strengths in a range of areas.”

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