As a journalist, copywriter and editor, words are my living. Putting pen to paper, or more accurately – fingers to keyboard – is not only an occupation, it’s something I enjoy. Most of the time it comes easily to me. The ability to skim-read or speedily jot down notes is often done without a second thought, as it is for many of us.
But imagine how a child, or an adult feels, when what is deemed to be a simple task such as reading or writing is so difficult that it leaves them feeling sad, depressed and hopeless. And they hide it, because they’re unbelievably ashamed and see no alternative than to ‘get by’.
Earlier this year I was given a newly-created editor role with long hours, ridiculously unmanageable deadlines and the kind of pressure that leaves you and your team – all grown adults – in floods of tears. More to the point, my hands stopped working.
They would be so numb and lifeless that I couldn’t pick up a pen or type. In addition to this, I’d also lose my train of thought mid-sentence and struggle to follow the simplest of conversations. Sometimes I couldn’t even answer a question – and I froze in meetings.
I disappeared from my desk as often as I could, and created an illusion David Blaine would be proud of. The illusion that I was fine and that I could cope. Why? Because I was embarrassed, ashamed, and I felt like a failure.
While my hindrance when it came to reading and writing was only temporary, and in this case a severe bout of anxiety and exhaustion, it gives me an idea of how a child struggling with a learning difficulty or something like dyslexia must feel on a daily basis. Countless times in a day, in fact.
My role now is very different, and allows for my involvement in a number of humbling and far more rewarding projects, such as ARK Schools and the Driver Youth Trust’s Drive for Literacy event, or more affectionately labelled, ‘Torri’s Day’.
A free event, but one I was honoured to attend, Torri’s Day saw teachers, SEN professionals, Heads and leaders come together to support Drive For Literacy, and hear about the wonderful work the programme is doing in schools.
In addition to lovely introductions from Not Dead Fish’s own Anita Kerwin-Nye, ARK trustee Paul Marshall and the brilliant Sarah Driver, (founder of the Driver Youth Trust), we heard from 10-year-old Torri, a student at an ARK school. Torri may be dyslexic, but it hasn’t hindered her education, and she doesn’t feel the need to hide her learning difficulty. Why? Because of the fantastic training and support her teachers have been given by the Driver Youth Trust, they are now equipped to help Torri on her journey to success.
On average, three children in every classroom are dyslexic and struggle with literacy. Too many aren’t being identified and given the support they need to succeed. It needs to stop.
The Drive For Literacy programme is a whole-school approach that identifies and supports children. 84% of teachers believe they need to be trained in how to deal with dyslexia and literacy difficulties. And so it’s fantastic that www.driveforliteracy.co.uk has been launched, offering free advice and practical resources to help parents, teachers, and those struggling with literacy.
There’s no need to hide away anymore, or to disguise these difficulties. Drive For Literacy is removing the stigma – even Eddie Izzard, a dyslexic himself, has jumped on board – pioneering the #youknowadyslexic campaign on Twitter.
It was so heart-warming so see Torri, who had once struggled so much with her literacy, speak to an audience so confidently about how much she now enjoys reading and writing. And the success story doesn’t begin and end with her. This year, more than seven in ten pupils using the Drive For Literacy programme have passed the phonics screening check. This is over double the national average.
So we must applaud ARK Schools and the Driver Youth Trust for empowering teachers and helping to improve the life chances of dyslexic children. Because everyone deserves the chance to enjoy reading and writing – without giving it a second thought.