21 Dec 21/12/09 – ‘Magic Dust’ – an article in December’s Wiltshire Magazine
Appleford, a specialist school for children with dyslexia or dyspraxia, has high aims for its pupils.
The first thing you notice about Appleford School, in Shrewton is the amount of smiling faces from both pupils and staff. The atmosphere is incredibly friendly, a feeling which is compounded by its new Headmistress Lesley Nell. “We are a close knit school community,” she says, “offering specialist education to dyslexic students. Our whole school approach to dyslexia is to restore confidence, unlocking and developing the individual skills and talents of the children.”
Apple Day has just taken place, the equivalent of its Founder’s Day and the pupils have just released a cloud of red balloons to mark the occasion and to celebrate Dyspraxia Awareness Week, another condition closely associated with dyslexia. There is an air of excitement as the children watch their balloons float away. Each had a message asking to be returned to Appleford attached to it and they have heard that one was found as far away as the coast of France in the past.
Co-founded in 1988 by Educational Psychologist Dr Peter Gardner, Appleford School is a day, weekly and full boarding school for children with dyslexia and associated learning difficulties between the ages of 7 and 14. Set in 8 acres of beautiful Wiltshire parkland, Appleford is a home from home for its 80 or so pupils. Dr Gardner was concerned that dyslexia wasn’t being recognised in schools and that there was a shortage of quality provision for dyslexic children. In Appleford he wanted to create a school where children would be able to benefit from specialist teaching and therefore flourish in their education.
Appleford is such a success that it has been awarded 2 consecutive ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted grades in both education and care.
As an Educational Psychologist, Peter Gardner understands the difficulties faced by children and their parents when coming to terms with and understanding dyslexia. “Most children do know they are dyslexic but this is usually as a result of their experience of school. They know they are struggling in comparison to other children, despite their best efforts and this can be very upsetting. They often think they are stupid. Parents are reluctant to label their children but it is important for them to understand that there is a real reason for their difficulties and with the correct teaching and encouragement it will not hold them back. To find out that you are dyslexic can be a huge relief to a struggling child.”
Indeed, many extremely successful and famous people are dyslexic from Sir Richard Branson to actress Keira Knightley.
The next important date in the Appleford calendar is Dyslexia Awareness Week in November. To raise awareness, the pupils are taking part in a special project. They have each been asked to write down what being dyslexic means to them on a piece of card. These will be tied with a ribbon to the magnolia tree in Salisbury’s Elizabeth Gardens for local people to read and inspire. In the pupil’s own words:
“Being dyslexic is good because your brain can be wired up in a different and brilliant way.” Edward, aged 11.
Lesley Nell, who has recently joined the school, is focused on her task as Head and the challenges this will bring: “I aim to champion dyslexia as a gift, not a hindrance to achievement,” she confirms. “My hope is to continue to make improvements to enable the children to carry on enjoying learning, developing their talents and passions, and loving coming to school.
At Appleford it is strongly believed that in the right surroundings dyslexic children can start to realise their full potential. By being taught within a caring, happy and structured framework the children soon develop the self-respect, self-reliance and self-discipline which they are so desperately seeking and needing. It can open them to a world where they can achieve anything, which they truly can. As Martin Cooke, Headmaster of Claysmore School, says: “Appleford School sprinkles magic dust over dyslexic children.”