Tourettes – A School Teacher’s Guide

1 child in every 100 is affected by Tourettes so it is likely that at some point or another, a child with Tourettes may have sat in your classroom. It is a condition where students move and make sounds involuntarily and uncontrollably. The organisation Tourettes’ Action says “Educationally – TS can make it impossible for students to follow what is going on in class”. Of course, Tourettes can be mild so in mainstream education, we may barely notice it. When it becomes extreme, we do what we can and transition these students into special education where we believe they will be a little bit safer and a lot more accepted. Yet, due to the fact that extreme cases are rare they are still a minority within some special education schools. Consequently, even there, students may face “ridicule, bullying and social exclusion”. As a result, schools and teachers must create an approach to caring for young people with Tourettes that builds their confidence and reduce any aspect of social exclusion and bullying.

Schools can of course raise the profile of this disorder by:

  1. incorporating information about disorders such as Tourettes in the curriculum through PSHE lessons
  2. creating assemblies which raises awareness of the disorder
  3. having facilities and systems which enables students to exercise everyday
  4. having a zero tolerance for bullying and make sure that students who bully or ridicule these students are effectively dealt with

Within the classroom, class teachers are often swamped with a sense of urgency. Whether a student has Tourettes or not, we are compelled to push them to secure progress. However, when you ask this child to cut a piece of paper or write a few sentences, she is reduced to a meltdown or uncontrollable rage as they find this task somewhere beyond difficult. Other times when you might ask her to begin an age old activity, she may descend into despair thinking she’s useless and good for nothing and therefore feels unable to complete the task before her. Therefore, as class teachers we must act to build self confidence and to provide the support which will allow these learners to blossom and fulfil their potential. So the question remains: how?

As a class teacher you should:

  1. seat the student close to the door so that they can make a quick exit if  necessary
  2. provide students with a time out card to use if needed
  3. use lots and lots of praise to reinforce positive behaviours
  4. create a book with positive self talk and positive choices
  5. find out what this student is good at and give them ample opportunities to do this
  6. buddy them up with an understanding student to reduce effects of social exclusion
  7. use a bit of humour to help your student to smile and escape feelings of anxiety and stress
  8. never penalise the student for a behaviour that they can’t help

Of course there’s no one size fits all but I’m hoping that whether as a school or a teacher, you will be able to implement a few of these tips that will help your student to feel right at home.




Building Readers – A Post-secondary Perspective

As Secondary English Teachers our heart is often on inspiring our students to engage with the texts being studied. In this regard, I believe we have been highly successful but when it comes to teaching a child how to read, we simply do not know how to do it. Segmenting and blending for us are linked more to our Sunday Night Baking Sessions rather than to ways that we can teach our kids to read. This must change!

In the paper entitled ‘Reading: The Next Steps’, Nick Gibb points out that in 2009, only 1 in 10 of those who failed to reach a Level 4 in Reading were able to go on to attain 5 good GCSEs. We can not ignore the reality: if our kids can’t read, their chances of success are severely limited.

So we must build readers in our classrooms, we must lift our struggling readers from the fringe and place them deep into the mix of things.  To take this from talk to reality, it is incumbent upon us all to:

  1. Learn systematic synthetic phonics
  2. Offer 20 minute synthetic phonics lessons to all students on a ‘Level 3’ or below in our schools
  3. Utilise synthetic phonics activities as starters in mixed ability and lower attaining groups (so teach the sounds, link to key words and then ask students to apply this by using the key word in the lesson)
  4. Train our high attainers to teach synthetic phonics to their peers
  5. Utilise written spelling tests on a weekly basis
  6. Model the segmenting of words when writing on the whiteboard
  7. Ask your students to read aloud and to sound out and blend words that they might find difficult

Unless we do this, it is undoubtable that our students will continue to be left behind. We can not afford to let this happen. Additionally, de-stigmatising the use of synthetic phonics in our secondary schools is also crucial, which is why it is essential to use it in our starters and make it a regular part of classroom practice.

Bon Voyage!




An Old Post on Synthetic Phonics

Is your child that 1 in 5? Studies show that only 84% of 11 year olds achieve a Level 4 in Reading. That means that 16% of Britain’s children will have difficulty recognising relatively simple words on a page and even when they are able to pronounce these words, they might misunderstand what they have read. Is there any wonder then when these same children express a hatred for reading? How much pleasure do you experience when something that seems so effortless to others is a struggle for you? Yet everyday these children struggle to understand these words around them and often times, they fail.

In response to this, the UK Government has embraced the teaching of synthetic phonics. This is a method of teaching reading whereby children learn the sounds of letters and letter combinations before being taught how to combine them to form words. The reliance on this method came about through a study of 300 students in Scotland who were taught using this method and as a result obtained a reading age up to 3 years above their peers. It must also be noted that these students did not show a significant improvement in comprehension and perhaps there lies one of the key concerns about this method. It must also be said that the UK government chose to base its entire approach to Reading on a study that happened only in Scotland rather than throughout the UK. Is it right to have a one size fits all approach to reading? Do we all learn in the same way?

Of course there are other approaches to reading such as analytical phonics where children are taught whole words and then later analyse their constituent parts. It must be said that students are taught to read these words within the context of meaningful text. The reading of a word is therefore not done in isolation, it is immediately connected to the other images or words around it. As a result, there is an implication that this method fosters the development of children’s comprehension skills as it is asking children to use clues in order to arrive at an understanding of the text. For many, this type of phonics is seen as a method that has failed even more of Britain’s children due to the fact that in 2001 when it was blazing in its glory, 25% of students were not achieving a Level 4. Therefore, regardless of our reservations, synthetic phonics seems to be reaping better results. Many would even go further to highlight that even boys tend to do better when using this system of reading. For once, they are not lagging dreadfully behind the girls.

Yet even then, reservations abound. This is not because synthetic phonics doesn’t work but because Ofsted now sees it as the be all and end all of teaching reading. Ofsted has made it crystal clear that primary teachers ‘must’ demonstrate a clear understanding of this process. The government is so serious about this approach that six year olds now have to sit a systematic synthetic phonics test. Already some of these youngsters are being labelled as failures when it comes to reading. Or rather, they are already feeling the pressure of preparing for reading exams at a time when they should be enjoying the journey of reading. It is this one size fits all approach which bothers me. Surely analytical phonics still has a place. Surely some students flourished through this method. If not, 75% of the Nation’s children in 2001 would not have been a level 4 or above in English. Therefore, the government must recognise that individuals learn in different ways; that the same approach does not work for everyone. Yet, I must admit that if every teacher is aware of this approach and uses it well, it is less likely that a child will fall behind if they have to move to a new school. There is also a sense of consistency, the idea that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet which makes the playing ground of Literacy Education, a fair one.