In 1976, around a dozen local people got together to see what they could do about the problems of ‘dyslexia’. At that time, the word itself was little known or understood, and by today’s standards, its causes, implications, and remedies were almost unknown territory. The individuals involved were a mixture of teachers who were seeing the problem in the classroom, and parents, some adult dyslexics themselves, anxious to find help and understanding for their children.
The Local Education Authority was supportive, and it soon became clear that the creation of an organised, informed and determined group was necessary to achieve progress in the County. The Association was formed, affiliated to the British Dyslexia Association and became a registered charity in 1976.
Gradually, the Association increased its circle of contacts and members. Speakers were invited to give talks, and there were discussions and social events. But, at this time, there was little direct help in schools, so thoughts turned to providing independent, specialised, tuition facilities, which we decided to call “workshops”. The first workshop opened in September 1981 in Worcester, initially at the Stoddart Kennedy Centre on City Walls Road. There were five tutors teaching ten pupils.
Initial fears over maintaining a sufficient and regular intake of pupils, and an adequate force of competent tutors, not to mention financial viability, were soon dispelled, and the problem became one of coping with the demand. By 1985, pupil numbers had risen to 50, and there were nine regular tutors plus reserves. The second workshop opened in Redditch in 1985. Hereford and Bromsgrove workshops followed in 1986.
Today, there are over 100 pupils being taught by around 25 tutors. Pupils are given an hour’s tuition. Bromsgrove workshop is held on Friday evenings, the others on Saturday mornings. Sadly, we were forced to close the workshop in Redditch at the end of the summer term 2001 as we were unable to find someone to continue running it. The children were relocated to either Worcester or Bromsgrove, depending on personal preference.
All our workshops have remained consistently full since they were first opened. Each workshop is run by a Workshop Administrator (Senior Tutor) who, with her group of tutors, has established a compact, professional, well-integrated team. Pupils are accepted from the age of six years. They are taught in similar pairs. Their enthusiasm for attendance, over and above normal school hours, is remarkable, and they express their relief at being in a position where their difficulty is the norm, rather than the exception. The majority of pupils make substantial progress in mastering the strategies which are vital for alleviating their life-long difficulties.
Besides language tuition, help is provided in mathematics, and study skills are offered to those approaching exams such as GCSEs. Before joining a workshop, pupils must be appropriately assessed, so that they have their own personal remedial programme. The staff are all qualified teachers, or have relevant professional training. Many have completed further training for SpLD Certificate and Diploma Courses.
Inevitably, the Association has to charge tuition fees, but these are kept to a minimum. There is a good relationship with Worcestershire’s Learning Support Team (LST), an intervention service that helps schools to support pupils who have learning difficulties. Currently, as far as we are aware, Herefordshire Local Authority provides no learning support service.
Alongside the workshops, we maintain our activities aimed at bringing the issues of dyslexia to wider public knowledge and giving information to those who seek it. Not least among such activities is the staging of the Biennial Conference.
One may ask why we undertake this huge voluntary operation. Local Authority involvement has varied over the years with funding pressures and UK Government initiatives. It might be tempting to say that it is all someone else’s responsibility, and that we should just be a pressure group, pushing for action. However, the reality is that there are still hundreds of youngsters who need help right now. They cannot afford to wait for policy level developments, or for improvements dependent upon an upturn in local government expenditure. So, we get on with it for all their sakes.
Today, membership of the Association stands at just over 200 individuals. In addition to the activities above, there is an Adult Support Group in the Worcester area. We are constantly seeking to make the whole operation even more successful, bringing hope and achievement to pupils, and adults, together with a sense of purpose and fulfillment to all members of the Association.