Another week, another dyslexia and SpLD professionals’ event!

This weekend marked the annual conference for the Professional association of Teachers of Students with Specific Learning Difficulties (patoss).

It was another early start, this time travelling by train. The morning was glorious; as we travelled to Newport, the huge, pale lemon sun rose into a cloudless, blue sky. I had brought some work to do on the intercity train, and was feeling strangely alert for someone who had got up at 5am after one of those nights where you keep checking the time in case your alarm has failed, only to find it’s less than an hour since the last check. I found the London platform and looked up at the sign – the train was cancelled!

Chatting to a fellow passenger, we realised that we were both headed to the conference, and so we passed the time together and speed walked from Paddington across Kensington Gardens to the venue, Imperial College. She had driven from mid-Wales to Hereford, getting up around the time when I did my penultimate alarm clock check. We managed to reach the auditorium just in time for the keynote address from Professor Maggie Snowling.

I had been fortunate to hear her speak at the ACAMH Dyslexia Conference last year, and so I knew that I was in for a treat. Her presentation focussed on the latest research on dyslexia and language, “Oral language sets the stage for reading development”.

Anyone who worked with me in early years will know how passionate I am about support for early early language development. I learnt so much from brilliant training by local NHS children’s services speech and language therapists and at the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, and from working with therapists through referral to diagnosis and support, that I jumped at the chance of becoming a licensed tutor for I Can’s Talk Boost programme. I do not need convincing of the presentation’s closing message

  • Oral language skills are the foundation for the development of literacy skills and more broadly for the whole of education
  • Interventions to improve oral language skills can be highly effective

I’m already looking forward to next year’s keynote, due to be presented by Professor Dorothy Bishop.

After meeting a fellow specialist teacher and SpLD assessor on the trip to London, it became something of a day of encounters. A few moments after I sat down, I was joined by a colleague I had, until today, only communicated with online. We had planned to meet today, but to end up sitting together was almost uncanny – it subsequently emerged that she had trained with the colleague sitting on the other side of me, and that they had not seen one another for years. As we left the auditorium for the next presentation, I bumped into two colleagues I had trained with. Before the next presentation, I met someone I have known since both our sons were at nursery, before either of us were teachers. It is a small world.

I had chosen to attend Sally-Ann Morison’s excellent lecture Keeping the Learner at the Heart of the Assessment. Of course, this is something I sincerely hope and believe I do, but it was so helpful to hear someone else’s perspective and map their ideas to my own practce.

After lunch I attended Rachel Simpson’s workshop on Academic Language. We discssed the reason for academic language, how to support our students to understand it, and how to help them develop their own academic writing skills. I came away with lots of ideas to share with practitioners and adapt to use in tutoring and study skills sessions.

The final session of the day was an very useful presentation from Lynn Greenwold regarding what the GDPR means for us as assessors. Those of us who do at least some of our work privately, as independent assessors or tutors, were especially keen to hear the update. I’m sure most of us were pretty familiar with file encryption, password protection, privacy, data protection and data handling aspects. What was interesting to have confirmed was the length of time we must keep assessment materials after writing a diagnostic report. Where adults are concerned, these must be stored for six years. For children, they should be (securely) stored for six years following the candidate’s 18th birthday. I’m going to need a bigger filing cabinet!

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