I should say first off that I’ve not been in Scotland for very long. I’ve lived here for all of four months (and so far, LOVING the banter). I’m very proud to say I’ve just taken on a new role with Ascentis, a charity which among other educational programmes has an amazing piece of dyslexia software called IDL. It’s my job to raise awareness of IDL and roll it out to schools in my areas – basically Glasgow up to the Highlands, so kind of west coast. So far, schools here have been very receptive and I’ve found the atmosphere and educational environment up here to be so different from England I wanted to write down my first impressions.

I spent a lot of time in many different schools across England in my previous role, delivering workshops on different areas of equality and special educational needs and disabilities. I loved it, but one of the conclusions I came to during my time there was that many schools are often not able to cater properly for those SEND students due to a lack of time and resources.

I know all these problems exist in Scotland too. Give me a few more months and no doubt I’ll be well up to speed with the challenges here. That’s part of the reason I wanted to work for IDL – it’s a tool which helps dyslexic students to learn at their own pace, and non-dyslexics to understand how the dyslexic brain works. Even to a complete newbie or non-dyslexia expert, you can’t help but get that insight as you see how the programme progresses. I knew that this is something that will make a practical difference to schools struggling to cater to all the different needs.

So I was looking forward to really having something to sell, as it were. “Look at the data collection on this!” “Independent learning! #winning”. But what I wasn’t prepared for was just how willing people are to help, and when they spot something that works change their existing system.

The first school I went into was actually one which already had IDL- on the southside of Glasgow, near where I live. It has an 80% deprivation rate, meaning that the majority of their pupils get extra funding for different needs. The head teacher had arranged for us to come and do some training for other schools in the area, to see if they would like to buy IDL too. My English brain wanted to scream and ask him “And what’s in it for you? What’s your interest in promoting this?!” Luckily my English reserve managed to make me ask this of the other teachers, in a more normal voice, at the end of the day. Their response? “Och, well it’s just great… and with the data collection – does it all automatically so you can monitor your students and show it to HMIE and all that.” (HMIE is Scottish Ofsted). I mean, I know that, but…. Why is he being so helpful? It doesn’t take you long to work out the answer… It’s because people really do want to make a difference.

Yes, I’d been in London too long. People help their neighbours up here – and if there’s a programme that works, as well as being low-cost (which IDL is) then words spreads. My counterpart in the east of Scotland has got all the schools in North Lanarkshire bar 10 using IDL, from zero a year ago. That’s about 155 schools.

It is true that Scottish schools, especially the primaries, have PEF (Pupil Equity Fund) money, which means they have more to spend at the moment than your average school in England. Therefore, there’s a practical focus on closing the attainment gap, and money put towards programmes like this, which build solid foundations that help young people out of disadvantage. The enthusiasm and flexibility that school staff show also play a part in this, along with the great social and community connections that help bring about the change that’s needed.

Given all this I feel super optimistic about working in Glasgow and further afield, and I’m really looking forward to the next few years. It’s great to feel the positive moves that the teaching profession is making to cater for different educational needs, and to share knowledge. I’m looking forward to seeing how students in the different areas take to the programme, and to monitoring the progress long-term.

Hilary Barker - IDL Interventions Advisor for Scotland