The research project, entitled: 'Assistive Technology for Independent Learning', is partnered by Kellogg College, Oxford University, and is expected to result in a model that can be used to set standards and share best practice in schools worldwide.
This year's Dyslexia Awareness Week centers on the theme of 'hidden dyslexia.' Known as the hidden disability, dyslexia is a very serious learning neurological disorder which affects a person's reading, writing and spelling skills. Assistive technology can help those with specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia to learn more independently by increasing the ease with which a task can be performed.
Requests from parents to help students learn more independently led Stanbridge Earls School to open a state-of-the-art sixth form boarding house, equipped with the latest specialist facilities and a dedicated assistive technology study room, which will be the hub of the research. Stanbridge Earls is an independent co-educational boarding school with an international reputation for helping students with SpLDs including dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia and mild Aspergers syndrome.
Text-to-speech software, such as Read&Write GOLD from Texthelp Systems (www.texthelp.com), has been introduced to sixth form students at the school to help improve their independent reading and writing skills. The software includes talking spell-checkers, word predictors and screen readers, enabling students to hear their own work being read back. Rather than simply reading over their own work, students actually hear the words as they are highlighted. This can often assist with identifying errors more efficiently, for example, inappropriate words, words missed out or incorrect spelling. A superior spell checker, devised to help identify dyslexic spellings, also picks up more errors and provides more options than the well known Word spell checker.
The school hopes to roll out the technology to the rest of the school within the next five years and chart a roadmap for other schools to follow.
Peter Trythall, Headmaster at Stanbridge Earls School in Romsey, commented: "As the forerunners of this exciting project, we hope to inspire other schools to revolutionize the way students with learning difficulties are taught. Assistive technology such as Read&Write GOLD is transforming our students' ability to consistently produce high quality written work, whereas they may have previously struggled to construct a single paragraph. During Dyslexia Awareness Week we want to emphasize the importance of regular testing and reviewing students' progress to identify hidden learning disabilities, whilst recognizing the vital role that assistive technology can have in supporting them."
Margaret Malpas, British Dyslexia Association (BDA) Chair, said: "Assistive technology has transformed the lives of many dyslexic people over the last ten years. One of its hidden advantages and principle success factors is that it can increase the individual's self-esteem. We wish all the pupils of Stanbridge Earls success in coping with their hidden challenges and making best use of their more visible strengths."
Mark McCusker, CEO, Texthelp Systems, concluded: "Stanbridge Earls is setting an excellent example to other schools by extending opportunities for learning through technology. All students must be equipped with the literacy skills they need to continue their education, succeed in the workplace and everyday life. We are dedicated to supporting teaching and learning with cost-effective enhanced solutions that are continually developed according to valuable feedback from schools. We also believe it is imperative to provide pupils with access to assistive technology both in school and at home to encourage independent learning."
About Texthelp Systems Ltd: Texthelp Systems Ltd is the worldwide leader of literacy software solutions provided through three core business divisions: Education, Speech Services and Publishing. Texthelp has been developing assistive technology software for the learning disabled community since 1996. The aim has always been to provide the most comprehensive cutting-edge technology available to provide inclusive education.
Based in Antrim, N. Ireland and with offices in the US, Texthelp is currently experiencing a period of sustained year on year growth. The company has a reseller network covering over 20 countries.
About Stanbridge Earls School: Stanbridge Earls School is a small, independent day and boarding school for girls and boys aged 10 to 19. As well as offering help for Specific Learning Difficulties including Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia and mild Asperger's Syndrome, our Accelerated Learning Center houses one-to-one literacy specialists for Dyslexics as well as Speech and Language therapists and English as a Second Language teachers. Occupational Therapy provides support for Dyspraxics. Seven Maths specialists provide one-to-one support for Dyslexics and Dyscalculics in the Maths Learning Center. Students with Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dyspraxia and other Specific Learning Difficulties are taught a full range of academic, practical and vocational courses from Entry Level GCSEs to Advanced Levels. The teacher to pupil ratio is around 1 to 7, with an additional 25+ specialist trained teachers in the Learning Centers. www.stanbridgeearls.co.uk.
Stanbridge Earls School was judged Triple Outstanding by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) for Educational Standards, Ofsted in every care category in March 2010 and the Council for the Registration of Schools Teaching Dyslexic Pupils (CReSTeD) who re-awarded Specialist Provision Status (SPS).
Stanbridge Earls School won the Business Excellence through People Award from the HSA Simply-health organization in 2009's Test Valley Business Awards.
Kellogg College, University of Oxford: Department for Continuing Education, www.conted.ox.ac.uk, Tel: 01865 286960.