Reading in special schools
Updated: Feb 10
I do urge you to read this fantastic piece of work on literacy and the teaching of reading in special schools in the UK, focusing on intellectually disabled pupils.
This mirrors exactly my (anecdotal) experience of how literacy is taught in special schools. Access to appropriate training, curricula and materials are cited as the main barriers for teachers in teaching reading. If you are on this site then you can see that training and resources needn't be a barrier!
So what is happening in UK special schools? In terms of reading, it could be described as 'a bit mixed'.
The will is there! In this study 59.3% of teachers agreed that ‘literacy capabilities of children with ID are often underestimated’. We all want all our students to make progress and become as good a reader as is possible.
However, it is clear there is still a reliance on learning words visually by sight and using a whole language approach. Yet the study states that ‘sight words learned are often not generalised to become functionally useful in either academic or daily living contexts’. A meta-analysis cited states that it indicated ‘a significant and large overall effect of phonics instruction on decoding skills’.
I suspect this goes back to the training issue. Firstly learning to read is not a natural process - we don't learn it by sitting next to someone reading to us (even if they do point to the words). Secondly we all have to manage the same alphabetic code. Academic reseach has unpicked how we read and, more importantly, how we learn to read and how we should be taught to do it. If teachers have never had any training on the up to date research and have not been shown how it is possible to teach phonics to our complex children then it is understandable that they are hesitant. Many teachers select an eclectic mix of instructional methods in an attempt to do 'some phonics' but it's not systematic or structured.
Imagine what could be achieved by delivering robust systematic, synthetic phonics (and I would argue linguistic phonics) in special schools. This embedded in an understanding of the Simple View of Reading enables us to go on to that important wider reading context... developing fluency, comprehension and vocabulary i.e. functional readers.
Teaching conventional early reading skills to children with intellectual disabilities in special schools in the UK: a survey of current practices and perceived barriers. European Journal of Special Needs Education. 2020 Click tthe link below: