The General Teaching Council for Scotland

A difficult transition: your questions answered

Following a successful webinar talking about their research into pupils with learning differences transitioning from secondary to tertiary education, Jasmine Miller and Sarah Strachan have answered some questions asked by webinar attendees.

Q: Isn’t dyslexia an identification rather than a diagnosis?

The term ‘diagnosis’ has strong medical associations for most people so ‘identification’ of the individual’s profile is very valid. Dyslexia is a spectrum and it is important to identify learning differences which are largely to do with information processing.

The identification is primarily about making sense of a student’s profile in order to be able to adjust teaching and learning styles so that the process of learning becomes more accessible.

Q: Would you feel that having a Personal and Social Education (PSE) programme that builds in transition to tertiary education would be the best route or should it be integrated into all subject areas?

 Ideally both integration and PSE would be the best route, ensuring that students are having opportunities to transfer their learning between subjects and between settings.

Q: What apps would you recommend for people to use to help with dyslexia, dyspraxia etc.?

There are a multitude of useful apps for students with learning differences, for example apps for mind mapping, text to speech, audio notetaking, text checkers/spellcheck/dictionary etc., organisational apps to name but a few.

CALL Scotland (www.callscotland.org.uk/information) have app wheels for Apple and Android which could be a useful resource for all students, with or without learning differences.

Dyslexia Scotland also have some information www.dyslexiascotland.org.uk

Q: Is there the opportunity to work closer with tertiary education institutions to ensure a continuity of support for our young people. If so, how? Or is it more about giving our students the skills/resilience to cope?

There are opportunities for both schools and universities to ensure continuity. There are certainly some universities in Scotland who will send ambassadors out to schools to talk about transition and there are also opportunities for prospective students to visit/stay in the university during the summer holidays and familiarise themselves with campuses. These would be worth exploring in your area by contacting universities directly.

Skills Development Scotland also has some useful information on their website - www.skillsdevelopmentscotland.co.uk/what-we-do/

Q: Did the research show what had helped the group with mental health?

No, it was outwith the scope of this study, however it could be a fruitful area for further research.

Our research showed that students were not confident with knowing where to go for support with mental health needs. It is important that they not only know where to go and how to initiate discussions about support, but also realise that there is a huge variety of support available for mental health issues.

Q: Is there anything teachers need to be aware of in terms of spotting potential masking by girls?

With both identifying and making sense of learning differences, it is important that teachers know their students well enough to recognise subtle changes in behaviours which might indicate that a student is feeling stressed or anxious. It is often about recognising a consistent 'spiky profile' that can be seen between potential and performance whereby the picture 'doesn't fit'.

Q: I think one of the main problems is underdiagnosis as I think pupils who are diagnosed at school receive at least some support. How can we support pupils at school to actually seek a diagnosis as it's hard to support someone when you don't know there's an issue?

In terms of diagnosis, sadly there is a lack of services available to meet the needs of all students with learning differences.
  • In terms of teachers supporting pupils to seek a diagnosis, it relates back to the previous question about a picture which ‘doesn’t fit’. The mismatch between potential and performance should start alarm bells ringing as to what is going on for this student
  • In school aged students, ultimately it is the parents who are still responsible and staff may be able to initiate a discussion about a student through direct contact with the parents
  • Parents might be the first to highlight an issue for a child who is masking the problems at school- for example, girls may appear to manage the school day without any problem, but on returning home, may crumple and become tearful, angry etc. as a way of releasing the tension that has built during the day.
  • In some schools, students want a diagnosis for themselves in order to be able to make sense of what they are experiencing.

As experienced teachers, we have a responsibility to find ways in which we can support students with learning differences, whether there or not there is a formal identification. This can be a very useful area to explore in looking at our own personal development. There are a multitude of different CPD opportunities to develop skills in areas relating to learning differences.

Q: How can we best prepare our students for a smooth transition?

There are two main aspects of preparation for a smooth transition to tertiary education. In our experience, the following are areas where students have found difficulty in the transition process:

  1. Academic - Independent study skills such as:    
    • How to plan an assignment, clarity over what should go in which section of an essay- balance of words: 10-15% introduction and conclusion, balance of word count spread evenly over paragraphs providing a balanced argument
    • Referencing skills, linking into library skills
      Robust study regime: Importance of studying with breaks – e.g. Pomodoro technique (25 minutes plus five-minute break, x4 for two hours before a longer break)
    • Reading, notetaking and summarising; familiarity with longer academic articles
    • Exploration of suitable software and IT support with time to develop familiarity
    • Time and stress management relating to revision and exams
  2. Pastoral – Independent living skills such as:
    • Timetabling: getting a good balance between work, recreation, keeping fit and household chores
    • Importance of good sleep routine
    • Basic cooking, budgeting etc.
    • Early referral to disability services for appropriate support
    • Identification of stress reduction techniques: self-awareness, mindfulness, exercise etc.

Download the research report: