Digital well-being: finding a balance for your family

Phone applications

        

Sally

Sally

Bright Heart tutor Sally looks at how parents can support their children during exam time.

How best to support your child during exam season

Exam season can be stressful for the whole family. It is difficult for parents to know how best to manage revision at home, especially if this is the first time your child is taking public exams or end of year assessments.

Helping your child to succeed will vary according to their needs and strengths. Some children will need help to make revision timetables, others with sorting and filing notes and handouts and others someone to prompt them to stay focussed or to help them get started with a task.

Key things that parents can do to help their children:

Realistic revision expectations and tips for revision timetables

It can be hard to decide how much time to spend on revision per day, especially as everybody does it differently. The most important thing is to make a revision timetable to avoid devoting the first week of study leave to the first exam.

During term time 2 hours of revision per evening for GCSE and A-Level students is an achievable goal. Most homework tasks set now should be part of revision.

During study leave, GCSE and A-Level pupils could follow their school timetable and revise according to the lesson they would usually have at school. When they have subjects that they do not have a set exam for, such as PE or PSHE, the focus should be on a weaker subject that they feel needs more time. It is important to take regular breaks e.g. 45 minutes of study followed by a 15-minute break. It is a good idea to keep their phone in a different room or
to put it on to not disturb and only check it during the 15-minute break.

Here is a link with more information about creating effective revision timetables.

Family going on a walk
A family walk in the evening can be a rewarding routine away from screens.

Five Simple Strategies

If your child is struggling to revise, focus or retain information, you could try the following strategies with them.

1. Asking questions - the 6 W's

You can apply this exercise to many topics in a variety of subjects. Choose a topic and ask your child six questions about it using the following prompts:

Who? How? When? What? Why? Where?

Your child could make brief notes under each of these prompts or create a spider diagram – topics can include volcanoes, forces, shapes, religious groups, characters in a novel etc.

2. Ask your child to teach you

For every topic, ask your child to teach you the content in a way that is easily understood, well-structured, and simplified into several key points. They can retain information by talking aloud and “teaching” the topic that they are revising. They could prepare keywords and definitions and perhaps six important points for each topic before they present the topic to you.

It is estimated that we can take in 10% of what we see, 20% of what we hear, 50% of what we say and hear, and 95% of what we teach someone else. This is why teachers can remember a lot of facts!

You could suggest a three minutes time limit to teach a topic. You will be amazed at the results. They could also teach siblings, themselves in the mirror or talk into a voice recorder on their phone.

3. Flashcards

Flashcards are excellent in helping to revise key topics. Ask your child to put a question or a word on one side of a small piece of card and write out the definition or key facts on the other. They can then place the cards on a table and revise by remembering the important details before checking the answers by turning over the cards.

You could buy coloured cardboard – a different colour for each subject – and your child could
carry these around with them. They could work with a friend to test each other.

4. Note making

Revision means that you need to be active in the way that you learn. This will inevitably mean that your child will need to write out information to help them recall certain information. The best way to recall information is to present it attractively.

a) Spider diagrams

Record the topic in the spider’s body.
Place keywords at the end of each leg.
Provide some information under the keywords.

b) Flow charts

A flow chart is a common type of diagram that represents a process. Your child should use diagrams to help remember key points and details in all of their subjects. In Languages, they can create diagrams to help them to remember the days of the week, rooms in a house, seasons etc. Add pictures and colour.

c) Closed book note making

This approach will allow them to test themselves after they have read over a section of notes on a topic in any subject. The point of this methodology is that it can help you get information out of your head and onto the page – a key element of exams.
1. Take a piece of information and skim read through it.
2. Read it again and identify the six (or eight, ten, etc.,) most important points – you can
number these on the text.
3. Turn over your notes and write out the main points from memory.

5. Mind maps

Your child can use mind-mapping techniques to help them absorb information in all subjects. Developed by Tony Buzan, mind-maps are an excellent way of taking in information and allowing you to make all sorts of links and connections. This is how you mind-map:
1. Take a large sheet of paper and turn it on its side.
2. In the centre of the page, draw a logo or heading that sums up the topic that they are studying.
3. Draw several large branches coming out of the central topic heading – these are the key themes. Write the key theme along each branch.
4. Draw smaller branches coming out of the main branches and write along these as they begin to develop their topic.
5. At the end of branches, they can draw pictures that help them to memorise the information.
6. When your child has finished their mind-map, it should resemble the picture that you would see if you were underground, looking up at the roots of a tree

More information can be found here about mind maps.

Family going on a walk
A family walk in the evening can be a rewarding routine away from screens.

Retaining information

Educationalists have analysed how information is retained and it has been argued that there are seven keys to memory, six of which are listed below. We naturally remember things that are:

1. Funny
2. Outstanding
3. Personal
4. Emotional
5. Linked to our senses
6. The first and last thing we learn in a reading or revision session

With this in mind, your child should try to remember revision notes by making connections, rhymes, links or visual images. They should make these funny and personal to them. It is of great importance that, when revising, your child (and the parents) do not become unduly stressed or anxious, since a calm, relaxed mind learns much more efficiently. Encourage your child to be kind to themselves and to not become cross when they are unable to recall an answer – simply reveal and read the answer.

We hope this blog was helpful. Please feel free to get in touch with us should you have any questions about your child and their learning at school and at home. We enjoy talking with parents and helping our students by tailoring learning to their individual needs.


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Resilience: what it is and how to build it

boy on top of hurricane ridge, olympic national park, washington

        

Bright Heart Owl Logo

Bright Heart

This month we look at  resilience. This is an important strength for your children to develop. We look at some tips for parents in this regard.

Resilience: What it is and how to build it

Resilience is the ability to get back on your feet after experiencing a hardship. It is a valuable trait that allows people to get through even the most challenging parts of life. It doesn’t mean never feeling hurt, angry, or bitter – it means being able to accept those emotions and not let them affect your entire life.

Resilience is best taught from an early age. When a person learns to be resilient when they are young, they end up growing into emotionally mature and capable adults. The type who can manage their emotions and circumstances, no matter what they are.

When it comes to children, though, it can be tricky to teach resilience. It takes time and patience from the parent. Luckily, it is more than doable if you know what you’re doing.

Tree in a desert
Every child can build resilience. This will last them for life.

What are some common setbacks for children?

Children experience a lot of setbacks that they must learn to bounce back from. They are learning curves and opportunities for the parent to teach them the art of resilience. Some of them include:

Some of these setbacks are a lot more serious than others. Getting a poor grade, for example, is incomparable to the loss of a family member. It’s important to consider that children feel emotions differently from adults, though. You might think a challenge in their life is not that big of a deal, but to them, it might be the greatest challenge of all.

Why resilience is so important for children

While you can’t expect children to show emotional maturity in everything they do (they are still learning, after all), it is important to help them bounce back after a challenging time. Otherwise, the setbacks will harm their academics, attitude, and general happiness. You want your children to thrive, and that means building resilience.

Plus, the more resilient a child is, the more confident they are. It helps them understand negative emotions, as well as the fact these emotions won’t last forever.

Sugar Ray Leonard motivational quote
Overcoming setbacks is the path to sucess and greater confidence.

How to build resilience in children

Now that you know how important it is for children to build resilience, you likely want to know how. Luckily, we have the answer right here. It takes time, but it’s more than worth it to ensure your child handles challenges well and grows into an emotionally mature adult.

1) Build strong relationships

Strong relationships are the key to resilience. When a child has a parent, teacher, or other trusted adult that they can rely on, they are far more likely to bounce back from situations. A role model is even better.

If your child struggles with a piece of homework, for example, having a trusted adult there to help them makes a world of difference. That could be you, as a parent, a teacher at school, or perhaps a tutor. If they have people who have their back, they will know that they can get through anything.

2) Let them make mistakes

Shielding your child from making mistakes will not help them grow. Instead, it will make them believe that they are immune to making mistakes – that you will always be there to ensure that they don’t. That won’t build resilience!

Let your child make mistakes (small ones, of course). Mistakes like putting too much sugar on their cereal or using too much water on their watercolour painting will help them face a challenge head-on. It might frustrate them at first, but they will learn from it.

3) Encourage them to keep trying

Resilience is built in the early years. You need the patience to grow for resilience to take hold. That’s why you should always encourage your child to keep trying, no matter what.

That is especially important with school work. When your child reaches an equation, book, or science problem that they can’t solve, you must encourage them to keep trying. Help them where you can, but don’t let them give up. Hiring a motivating and positive tutor can help when confidence is low. If they have someone there to help them through it, they are more likely to push through and thus build resilience.

4) Let them feel their emotions

Telling your child to get over something is not the way to encourage resilience. Instead, it will make them push their emotions down, which isn’t helpful for anyone, especially children! Allow them to feel upset, frustrated, or hurt when they experience a setback. That is a part of their growth. Then, once they feel better, tackle the problem with them head-on.

5) Encourage self care

It is never too early to teach self-care. When someone experiences a setback, it is healthy to do activities that make them feel better. Your child will benefit from learning how to look after themselves properly, especially when going through a challenge. Activities like reading, taking a breather, and talking to someone they trust are all great ways to lessen the emotional impact of a setback.

5) Don't do everything for them

It’s tempting as a parent to do everything for your child. You want them to have the best, after all. You might tie their shoelaces for them in the morning. Or, you might pack their school bag every evening. When they reach an age where they can start doing these tasks for themselves, though, let them.

They might struggle at first, and that is OK. In fact, that’s the biggest step toward becoming more resilient! Let them struggle (to a point) and then allow them to succeed independently. Over time, this will help them flourish. They will take that mindset into other tasks, such as classwork and playing musical instruments.

6) Celebrate the successes

When your child pushes through a setback and comes out the other side, you must celebrate that. Show them how well they have done. Tell them that they are strong for doing it – even if it was just a small setback. Remember – things that seem small to adults can feel enormous to children.

Building resilience in children means adapting new parenting techniques. It’s essential for raising a child that grows into an emotionally mature and self-aware adult.

boy on top of hurricane ridge, olympic national park, washington
Building resilience is a journey.

We hope this blog was helpful. Please feel free to get in touch with us should you have any questions about your child and their learning at school and at home. We enjoy talking with parents and helping our students by tailoring learning to their individual needs.


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How to deal with relational aggression and bullying – advice for parents

Confident young girl

        

Sally

Sally

Bright Heart tutor Sally discusses relational aggression and bullying and how parents can respond to this. She also provides some helpful tips on how to avoid or manage it.

How to deal with relational aggression and bullying - advice for parents

Traditionally we might think of bullying as a physical act or a verbal insult by older children or a group of children targeting those more vulnerable, but this is often no longer the case. Relational aggression takes place within friendship groups. It can be very distressing and affect self-esteem, increase anxiety, and cause depression.

What is relational aggression?

Relational aggression is a type of bullying which includes threats or attempts to damage someone’s relationships or social status. It includes excluding people from the group, using silent treatment or threatening to withdraw a friendship. It can involve sharing secrets, spreading rumours, or ‘banter’; for example, mocking their appearance. Perhaps the hardest thing to understand about this form of bullying is that the victim often wants to remain friends with the perpetrators and will do anything to remain part of the group. Often a victim can become a perpetrator to try and win back favour by excluding someone else.

As a parent, you may witness a deterioration of a friendship that seemed very positive at first. It can start with a few negative comments disguised as jokes. Victims are then labelled as oversensitive or dramatic if they express they don’t like it. These friendships start intensely, but then the victim is suddenly dropped for someone else. They have to witness their exclusion via social media posts. Once the relationship is damaged the victim feels vulnerable and can be called ‘needy’ or ‘clingy’ if they try to repair the friendship.

How to respond as a parents

It is always tempting to jump in and try and sort it out on your child’s behalf, but this is usually not the best course of action. Your child needs to feel in control of the situation and know that they can trust you. You need to listen and explain that they cannot control what other people say, but they can control how they respond. 

The first step to take is to encourage other friendships. Suggest new clubs or activities and invite someone different to go with them. Praise your child and highlight all that is good about them; this will help rebuild their self-esteem.

Confident young girl
Self love and building self esteem is key to resilience.

It is very important to agree on what action to take with your child. Do they feel confident talking to a trusted adult at school? Would they like you to do it on their behalf? The school is probably aware of friendship dynamics within the year group. Ask them to support your child to make new friendships through seating plans or planned group work. You do not need to raise it as a bullying issue at this stage if your child does not feel confident to do so. You can inform the school that there are friendship problems and ask for a meeting in two weeks in case the situation persists.

Unfortunately, relational aggression is very hard to prove. Some children are so skilled at this type of bullying that no one would ever suspect them of hurting others. It is manipulative and sly. Keep screenshots of any online incidents and a diary of events as evidence. If the unkind behaviour persists, present the evidence to the school in a meeting with your child. Managing relationships is a difficult task. 

Unfortunately, your child will probably encounter other negative friendships in the future; this can be a time to establish boundaries and build resilience. However, it is important to have time frames and stick to these as your child will likely be reluctant to report it to the school for fear of retaliation. Explain to your child that if the situation has not improved in two weeks, despite the positive action taken (outlined above), then it must be reported to the
school. The school will have lots of experience in dealing with the issues, but they will not be able to take disciplinary action without your child’s cooperation and evidence.

Relational aggression is learned behaviour. We should encourage our children to be upstanders and challenge unkindness, rather than bystanders who are complicit in the bullying.

Children learn how to interact socially with their parents. If you gossip about other parents or purposefully exclude people from social gatherings, you should not be surprised when your child does the same thing. Show your children what it means to be kind and loving. Parents need to model positive relationships. We often point out our friends’ weaknesses instead of verbally celebrating their greatness.

Discuss the dangers of gossip, backstabbing and rumour-spreading with your children. Teenagers do not tend to think about the negative consequences of their actions. As a result, they may engage in relational aggression without even thinking about how this behaviour could impact others. Help your children recognise who is loyal and who is safe. Talk to them about relational aggression. They should be able to recognise it and name it.

Top tips to avoid relational aggression

1) Teach your child to be an upstander

Upstanders are people who stand up for victims. Some children are stronger than others; encourage your child to intervene or attempt to stop the aggression taking place in their circles. It could be something as small as making eye contact with a victim whilst the incident is happening. Encourage your child to ask the victim if they are ok and be kind so that they do not feel alone.

children supporting each other
Supporting and standing up for one another is an important value to teach your children.

2) Carefully manage your child’s online activity.

Relational aggression often takes place online. Your child needs a break from their friendship groups; ensure that they take some time away from their devices each day. A helpful way to do this is to set boundaries and limits for the whole family.

3) Create opportunities for your child to meet lots of new people outside of school

Sports or other activities are an excellent way to make new friends. The focus during practice or games is on the activity and therefore there is less social pressure. They are also likely to meet people with similar interests in these settings. It is important to remember that being part of a clique or excessive togetherness is not healthy. The
healthiest kids have friends in different social circles and a variety of interests. Do not encourage your child to stick with only one group of friends, but instead encourage them to branch out and meet new people.

What to do if you find out your child has been the perpetrator

It is never nice to hear that your child is the bully, but it is necessary to address this behaviour and help them manage the root of the issue. It might be a reaction to something taking place at home or a way of them trying to impress a friend. They might be feeling insecure as they are struggling at school and are being unkind to divert
attention from their shortcomings.

Take steps to help them seek forgiveness for their behaviour. Tell them to apologise to those they have upset and explain they will have to work hard to repair friendships and rebuild trust. Ask the school if they have a mentor or counsellor who could provide support and finally take the steps mentioned above to foster self-esteem so that they do not need to belittle others to feel confident in the future.

We hope this blog was helpful. Please feel free to get in touch with us should you have any questions about your child and their learning at school and at home. We enjoy talking with parents and helping our students by tailoring learning to their individual needs.


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Literacy and numeracy summer workshops

group of school kids with SEN at dyslexia summer workshop

Director John Salmon writes about Bright Heart’s recently held summer literacy and numeracy workshops.             

Literacy & Numeracy Teacher

Director John Salmon ran summer literacy and numeracy workshops, taught by Bright Heart experts. These were a great success.

Literacy and Numeracy Summer Workshops

This summer, we held a series of workshops to help primary students catch up with their literacy and numeracy. 

The workshops took place over four days in August at a primary school in Wimbledon. The workshops were a great success (see parent feedback below). Workshops were especially beneficial for students with special educational needs (SEN). 

group of school kids with SEN at dyslexia summer workshop
Small groups allow more effective instruction

Parent Feedback

The workshops were delivered in a very engaging, peaceful, autism friendly and safe environment. My son enjoyed spending the entire day with John and the subject teacher doing a lot of learning through fun activities. Thank you very much and we look forward to the next workshops.”  – Parent survey on Literacy Workshops

My son enjoyed the workshop very much and consolidated everything he knew through fun activities and learnt [new] things, which helped him with his confidence. The reports we got from John regarding my son’s attainment, level and skills motivated us for a positive start of a new school year. Thank you and we look forward to the next workshops.”  – Parent survey on Numeracy workshops

The Literacy and Numeracy Crisis

We were deeply concerned after seeing data from the Education Policy Institute, which showed that, by March 2021, primary pupils in England had an average 3.5 month learning delay in reading and an average 2.2 month learning delay in maths. This was no doubt exacerbated by lockdowns and the deficit in formal instruction.  Additionally, we knew how much students had suffered in terms of their wellbeing and mental health due to a prolonged lack of social interaction with other children their age.  With this idea in mind, we had the goal of helping children catch up in both literacy and numeracy and boosting their confidence while having fun with individual and group activities alike.

Dr Ryan Stevenson, Bright Heart’s Co-founder, writes about the literacy and numeracy crisis in an article published in the nasen Connect magazine in September.

2021 nasen connect article by Bright Heart Education
nasen Connect is distributed to schools, SENCos and parents across England

Bringing our ethos to life

The cornerstone of our philosophy of education is the idea that every child should have the opportunity to show their true potential according to their own set of skills. They should be able to work at their own pace in a warm and nurturing environment that celebrates individual differences while at the same time promoting teamwork. We were determined to provide differentiated instruction for all participants. We decided to work with small groups for focussed attention (2 teachers for groups of 4-6 students). This allowed us to address every child’s unique learning style and needs in a bespoke manner. We could also provide adequate 1:1 support where required and pair students with peers with similar levels. 

In the context of differentiated learning, we decided that the optimal way of maximising the potential of children with varied requirements, while making the experience fun and relaxed, was through project-based learning (PBL).  Essentially, it entails active learning through an array of multiple, dynamic, hands-on activities under a common theme and goal. 

With project-based learning, each child has a choice of activities and means at their disposal to respond to a specific problem or challenge. This allows each individual to take ownership of their learning by building on strengths and addressing areas of improvement with the aid of facilitators, who model these strengths or through peer support.  As a result, each child feels that his or her contribution to the group challenges is valuable and this helps boost their confidence in their own distinct abilities.

Run by experts

The workshops were conducted by highly-qualified teachers with many years of experience working with a wide array of special educational needs, together with John Salmon, a Bright Heart director, who is a qualified teacher and former headteacher.  Preliminary information was gathered about each student prior to the workshops. This meant that the instructors could coordinate strategies and best practices to provide adequate 1:1 support throughout the sessions and ensure that everyone’s needs were met. Children worked in short bursts, at their own pace, while responding to specific challenges. They were given plenty of breaks between one activity and the next.

group of children learning
Sessions were fun, creative and interactive.

Skills and confidence boosted

All activities addressed critical and basic aspects of literacy and numeracy that schools very frequently do not have a chance to review.  More importantly, it was a chance for students to acquire a series of study skills and confidence in their own abilities to use at school and in their everyday life in the future. Students also learned to work collaboratively and become more assertive while respecting individual differences and boundaries.  Activities took place indoors and outdoors and provided plenty of opportunities for visual, auditory, kinaesthetic or tactile learners.  Children were provided with snacks and lunch, as well as all materials needed for the workshop.  The content in each workshop was aligned with the national curriculum and activities were adapted to include different learning styles.  Students were grouped according to age merely for practical purposes but each child was allowed to work at his or her own level. 

The Y1-Y3 and Y4-Y6 numeracy workshops

These focussed on a series of challenges that addressed key areas in a practical manner. This was to replicate everyday situations that make maths more tangible and relevant, such as purchasing items in a shop, measuring things or telling time.  It included place value, arithmetic skills, measurements, word problem solving, fractions, geometry, position and direction, time, statistics and graphs.  Students participated in different activities, working against a timer to complete as many challenges as they could. Students worked individually and also collaboratively on solving mysteries that included clues based on maths concepts.  It also included creative expression through artwork.

Boy in classroom
Learning through tangible examples improved understanding and retention.

Y1-Y3 literacy workshop

This aimed to help students develop language and written and creative skills for describing themselves and others.  It included vocabulary words connected with describing people, structure (paragraph writing using present tense), cross curricular activities based on the idea of connecting with others and understanding people and a series of integrated skills. Integrated skills included talk, discussion, reading, writing and drawing/painting, as well as a game of Guess Who?

Y4-Y6 literacy workshop

This focused on the environment and aimed to help students develop and practise: vocabulary words connected to the environment; structure in writing, using imperatives and present simple questions; curricular work to address environmental issues; integrated skills, such as listening, speaking, reading and writing.  It included many interactive and hands-on activities as well as ample opportunities to consolidate knowledge through creative expression, using arts and crafts.

Celebration and personal recognition

We celebrated student achievement by gathering a portfolio with each child’s work, including their artwork, so that they could share it with their family at the end of the day. Each child also received a certificate of achievement at the end of the workshop. Families were provided with a report including an overview of the sessions as well as individual feedback about their child.

Our students had lots of fun, became more confident about themselves, and learned individual and team-building skills to help them become lifelong learners.  They learned that individual differences make combined efforts all the better when facing common challenges. 

We are very proud of their work and look forward to our next workshops!

Contact us

If you would like to find more information about our workshops or are interested in having your child attend a future workshop, please get in touch. Alternatively, please read more information on our website here.


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The numeracy and literacy crisis – insights from the front line

2021 nasen connect article by Bright Heart Education

A director discusses the literacy and numeracy crisis following lockdown in an article published in the nasen Connect magazine.           

SEN Agency Director & Co-founder

Ryan Stevenson

Dr Ryan Stevenson writes about the current literacy and numeracy crisis following lockdown.

This was published in nasen Connect magazine (Sep 21)

Dr Ryan Stevenson, Co-founder & Director at Bright Heart Education, reflects on how lockdown has negatively impacted children’s numeracy and literacy. This has been especially the case for children with SEND.  He also considers potential approaches for meeting this crisis. 

This article was published in the nasen Connect magazine – September 2021 edition.

2021 nasen connect article by Bright Heart Education
nasen Connect is distributed to schools, SENCos and parents across England

The numeracy and literacy crisis – insights from the front line

As children start a new year with excitement and trepidation, we can now look at the 2020/1 year with greater perspective. It was a trying time to teach while managing class bubbles and quarantine. This has presented its own challenges as a SEN tutoring agency, with students and tutors spending time in isolation. Emerging through these clouds, we have a better sense of the lost time students have experienced, but are less clear regarding this impact and how much children have retained. The emotional impact of this period must also be acknowledged and much less is known on the impact of children with special educational needs.

Studies were conducted by McKinsey on the effectiveness of remote learning during the pandemic with scores provided by global teachers. While schools, parents and tutoring agencies adapted innovatively, the study gave the UK a score of 4.9 out of 10 for online effectiveness of remote learning, with 2.8 learning months lost. By comparison, Germany, a top performer, still suffered a loss of 1.7 months of learning.

In June this year, the Renaissance Learning, Education and Policy Institute released a report tracking 375,000 students in England in the first half of the autumn term and 185,000 students in the second half. The study indicated that primary students lagged by 1.7 months in literacy and by 3.7 months in mathematics. For students from disadvantaged backgrounds (receiving free school meals), these figures were 2.2 and 4.5 months respectively. While there was some catchup in the second half of the autumn term (an average of 0.6 months for literacy and 1 month for maths), this still resulted in an unfortunate net learning loss. Catchup was lower for SEN students. 

In general, conceptual understanding in maths has suffered greatly, and it is clear there is no easy substitute for a teacher building the foundations in person. The extra attention that students with SEN require for literacy has also come at a cost. So now that there is a better idea of what is lost, how do children catch up?

Next steps

One option is to raise the lesson tempo and volume of homework. However, as Harris, one of our maths tutors on the front line, notes:

‘…many students have become overwhelmed with the workload from school. Students during the lockdown/online teaching phase found it difficult to cope and would not pay much attention in lessons, when coming back to school there seems to be an influx of work which has raised anxiety for many students as the pressure and overload of work rises. I think students are still transitioning in this period and I have to say I do feel for them.’ 

While there is pressure on teachers, caution should be advised against tackling a large problem with a larger hammer. Many students with special needs already struggled with social and emotional challenges prior to the pandemic. One needs to be careful not to have attitudes towards learning steer towards the negative as increasing pressure is shifted on to students.

The government has proposed longer school days and shorter holidays. However, as pointed out by some already, the quality of attention by students is not sustained for longer duration, and over-tired primary students tend to create low-level classroom disruption. Shorter holidays may sound attractive to parents, but UK teachers currently have one of the highest workloads in the world. Workload is often cited as the chief cause for schools struggling with staff retention.

The National Tutoring Programme (NTP) was launched to address the loss in learning time, with a particular emphasis on disadvantaged students. The idea is admirable in principle; however, the allocation of resources has been a challenge and seeking larger budgets for school recovery programmes has taken its toll with the departure of Sir Kevan Collins. The effectiveness of one-to-one and small group tuition is uncontested for helping students; it is hoped the government sees the importance of this avenue of delivery. As a tutoring agency, we’ve looked to help where possible, providing free tutoring at a school for small groups of disadvantaged students. Many of these students had learning challenges and English as a second language. With many of the students having had no access to remote learning or the right support during lockdown, it took time to put them at ease and for them to reengage with learning. However, with patience, encouragement and appropriate support, the students have made good progress.

Another solution seen in action, which worked effectively and at low cost, was a school paying their own senior students to tutor those younger and falling behind. While not in the same league as professional tutors, there was a gain by the senior students (if you want to master something, teach it – Feynman), a noticeable gain by the tutees and all within the school budget. This may not be the specialised help that some students need, but would go some way towards alleviating the current crisis.

The last 18 months cannot be quickly overcome nor glibly dismissed. But along with planned teaching, creative and collaborative approaches can really help children catch up lost learning.

Contact us

If this article rings true for you, then please get in touch and let us know how best we can help.


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Nutrition and your child’s learning

Nutritious foods help your child's health and learning

            

Sally

Sally

Bright Heart tutor Sally discusses the importance of nutrition for your child’s well-being and for their ability to learn and sleep.

The benefits of a healthy diet

What we eat plays a huge role in our overall well-being. Nutrition is vital when it comes to our physical health; it can improve immunity, energy levels, and sleep quality. Adding certain foods to our diet can help create feel-good hormones and help us to remain calm and happy. 

Low blood sugar affects concentration and our ability to learn. Poor nutrition can also lead to mood swings and aggressive behaviour. 

Finding a balance

We need to eat a wide variety of foods in the right proportions and consume the right amount to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.

Processed, unhealthy foods (which mainly contain fat, sugar, and salt) do not provide us with the right nutrition. They trigger a reward response in our brains which makes us want to eat more of them. Natural food is better for us because our body can process it more easily and it also contains many more vitamins and nutrients. 

The 80-20 rule states that you should eat healthy food 80% of the time. This is an achievable way of maintaining good nutrition rather than cutting out food groups or dieting as it allows you to have treats at the weekends for example.

Processed foods are not a good source of nutrition
Processed foods like pizza are far less nutritious

What should we eat?

The NHS eatwell website states that we should eat vegetables, fruits, grains, healthy fats, and protein-rich foods every day. We should also aim to eat at least 2 portions of fish a week, including 1 portion of oily fish. For each meal, there should be one-third fruit and vegetables, one-third protein, and one-third carbohydrates on our plate.

As mentioned earlier, we need to eat a balanced diet and not cut out any food groups. This is especially important for teenagers who can often have deficiencies.

Oily fish is nutritious for your child's brain and learning
We should aim to eat two portions of oily fish per week.

Food and mental health

Research shows a link between what we eat and how we feel. We have lots of bacteria in our gut which are important and impact our mood and our health. Some foods can help us feel better. A Mediterranean-style diet (one with lots of vegetables, seafood, fresh herbs, garlic, olive oil, cereal, and grains) supplemented with fish oil can reduce the symptoms of depression.

Research has also shown that our gut can reflect how we’re feeling. For example, if we’re stressed, it can speed up or slow down. Healthy food for our gut includes fruit, vegetables, beans, seeds, and probiotics.

Nutritious foods help your child's health and learning
A selection of healthy vegetables and grains does wonders for your gut bacteria

Nutrition for learning

Our brain is made of 60% fat, and it is important we include lots of healthy fats in our diets to fuel our brains and to make up the cell membranes of cells in our bodies. Healthy fats can be found in chia seeds, walnuts, avocado, oily fish, Greek yoghurt, and almond or peanut butter.

Many people think it is healthier to choose low-fat rather than full-fat options, but this is not always the case. Low-fat foods such as yoghurt can contain more sugar. Full-fat foods, as part of a balanced diet, stop us from craving junk food and improve our complexion.

Too much sugar can affect our ability to concentrate, drain our energy, ruin our teeth and make us crave more sugar.

It is better to eat a little bit of sugar throughout the day at small intervals rather than eat something with a lot of sugar which will pass through your system too quickly and cause your blood sugar levels to crash. When this happens, we can feel hungry, weak, nervous, nauseous, or tired.

Hydration for learning

Water is very important when it comes to learning. A study found that drinking 300ml of water during an exam improved teenagers’ academic performance and mood. Our bodies are mostly made up of water, and dehydration can lead to headaches, dizziness, and low energy levels. Water can also help with digestion and weight loss.

It is very important to drink water throughout the day rather than sugary drinks or caffeine and energy drinks. For example, one 500ml energy drink can contain up to 17 teaspoons of sugar and the same amount of caffeine as in 2 cups of espresso.

Sugary energy drinks usually contain no nutritional benefits but can cause weight gain, sleep issues, and childhood obesity.  

Fizzy drinks are not nutritious
There are 39 grams of sugar in a regular can of Coke

Common deficiencies in children and teenagers

We outline some common deficiencies for parents to be aware of below. 

75% of people consume less than recommended daily allowance of magnesium. This can cause irritability and anxiety, sleep issues, loss of appetite, muscle cramps and spasms, facial or eye twitches, and periods of hyperactivity.

Foods that are rich in magnesium include dark green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, fish (mackerel, salmon, tuna, white fish), legumes (all variety of beans such as black beans, kidney beans, white beans, chickpeas, lentils), avocado, bananas and dark chocolate.

It can be common to have a calcium deficiency and this can cause insomnia, muscle cramps, weak and brittle nails, and the late onset of puberty. Calcium-rich foods include dairy products, tofu, seaweed, dried figs/apricots, almonds, sesame seeds, soya milk, supplements and tahini.

It is very common for teenage girls to have low iron levels. This can cause pale skin, tiredness, breathlessness, poor concentration and affect our ability to learn & recall information.

Good sources of iron include red meat, beans, such as red kidney beans, edamame beans and chickpeas, nuts, dried fruit and fortified breakfast cereals.

It is very hard to get enough vitamin D in our diet and a supplement is recommended by the NHS for all children.  A vitamin D deficiency can cause stiffness and achy bones, depression, weight gain, dark circles under the eyes and gut problems.

Sunshine provides Vitamin D to help your child's brain and learning
Exposure to sunshine promotes the production of Vitamin D in our bodies.

Foods to aid sleep

Sleep is really important (see Sally’s blog on the importance of sleep here). It restores our energy, improves our mood, and processes memory and learning. It also balances our hormones and boosts our immunity.

It can be hard to fall asleep, especially at times of stress such as exam season, but certain foods can help us to fall asleep more easily.  Tryptophan is an amino acid that’s believed to induce sleep and when eaten alongside carbohydrates these foods can help us to feel sleepy. Tryptophan-rich foods include chicken, turkey, milk, dairy, nuts & seeds.

Vitamin B6 is needed to make the sleep hormone melatonin and therefore eating foods rich in B6 such as bananas is a good idea as a bedtime snack.

Next steps

In summary, we should eat a wide range of foods and ensure that we are not deficient in key vitamins and minerals. Following this advice will help to optimize our well-being and academic potential. 

If you are concerned about your child’s eating habits or are worried they are developing eating issues, help and support can be found here.

Contact us

Please get in touch if you would like to discuss anything in this article or would like to find out more about our nurturing tuition.


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A tutor’s insight on exam preparation and student engagement

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Bright Heart tutor Harris discusses his passion for tutoring. He explains how he motivates students who struggle with maths, and his experiences with neurodiverse students. He also offers advice in general and tips for exams.

A tutor's insight on exam preparation and student engagement

As many exams are now taking place and many students get nervous about maths, we held a Livestream with Bright Heart maths tutor, Harris. He is an experienced maths tutor who works with students with a range of needs

In this video, we cover how he started tutoring, tips on exam techniques and advice for students who find maths difficult. The session was hosted by John Salmon, M. Ed., with questions timestamped below.

Bright Heart's livestream

Key questions covered in the livestream

We hope this video was helpful!

Please feel free to get in touch with us should you have any questions about tutoring, for maths or other subjects. We enjoy talking with parents and helping our students by tailoring learning to their individual needs.


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What is an EHCP and how to get one

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We discuss EHCPs and EHC needs assessments and consider what the law says one is entitled to. We also cover when the process is delayed or refused and offer sources of help.

All about EHCPs

Many anxious parents ask for our help with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs). 

We hope to help parents of children with special educational needs (SEN) by covering the main aspects of EHCPs in this blog.

Woman frustrated with EHCP
The EHCP journey can be challenging. Don't be afraid to seek help.

What is an EHCP?

An EHCP or Education, Health and Care Plan assists children and young people (aged up to 25) who have SEN, including disabilities. The government introduced these plans in 2014. They are used to improve the outcomes for children that require extra support and assistance in the current school system. 

EHCPs bring each aspect of health, social care, and education together to promote the best outcomes for children and young people. They replace the previous statement of special educational needs.

A child or young person requires an Education, Health and Care (EHC) needs assessment to gain an EHCP. Local authorities (LAs) write these assessments.

Who can get an EHCP?

EHCP’s are available to children and young people up to 25 with SEN, whose needs cannot reasonably be provided through available resources at an early years provider, school or post-16 institution. Most children and young people with SEN are not expected to need an EHCP.

SEN definition

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice (the “Code”) defines special educational needs (SEN) as follows:

A child or young person has SEN if they have a learning difficulty or disability which calls for special educational provision to be made for him or her.

A child of compulsory school age or a young person has a learning difficulty or disability if he or she:

To also read more about SEN and SEND definitions, please have a look at this popular blog: What does SEN or SEND really mean?

What is the process for getting an EHCP?

A parent initiates the process by approaching their local authority (LA) with a request for an EHCP. The LA has 6 weeks to determine whether to advance the process by carrying out an EHC needs assessment. In considering whether an EHC needs assessment is necessary, the LA should consider whether there is evidence that despite the educational setting having taken relevant steps to meet the child’s needs, expected progress has not been made.

Note that young people over the age of 16 and certain other professionals, for example, a teacher, can also initiate the EHCP process.

The LA will determine whether or not an individual needs an EHC plan in place by carrying out an EHC needs assessment.

The EHC needs assessment may not result in an EHCP being issued. In this case, the report may decide that the child’s school or college can meet their needs without one.

What is an EHC needs assessment?

An EHC needs assessment is the first step to securing an EHCP, following a request for an EHCP.  The process of an EHC needs assessment involves collating information and advice on a child or young person’s needs. Your LA carries this out.  A school or college cannot undertake the assessment or ask for payment for any part of it.

There is a list of information required to be set out in Regulation 6(1) of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations 2014. This includes:

If your child is hearing or speech impaired, you should seek advice from a qualified person.

If following an EHC needs assessment, it is necessary for special educational provision to be made through an EHCP, the LA must prepare one.

How long does it take to get an EHCP?

The process from the first request to a completed EHCP should take no longer than 20 weeks (other than in exceptional circumstances). A draft EHCP should be issued within 14 weeks to allow 15 days for a parent to study the draft and request a school or education provider to be named in it. The party named also has 15 days within which to respond to it being named in the EHCP.

The LA must respond within 6 weeks of an EHCP request to advise whether it believes an EHC needs assessment is necessary.

If following an EHC needs assessment, the LA determines not to issue an EHCP, it has 16 weeks from the EHCP request date to inform parents.

See a useful summary of the EHCP timeline below:

EHCP Process
Process for EHC application with statutory timescales (source: the Code)

What can I do if my child’s EHC needs assessment or EHCP is delayed or refused?

Delays

If your assessment is delayed, contact the LA to enquire about the reasons for the delay. If they fail to provide an explanation, contact your local SENDIASS (SEND Information Advice and Support Service) to seek advice.

The LA must send a draft plan within 14 weeks of the request for assessment and the completed EHCP within 20 weeks of the initial request. If it fails to do so, you may write a complaint addressed to the most senior person at the LA.

Refused EHC needs assessment

If a child or young person has or may have SEN and it may be necessary to have a special educational provision made in an EHCP, they are entitled to an EHC needs assessment, regardless of the level of attainment.  If the LA refuses the request for an EHC needs assessment, the parent or young person has the right to appeal to the First-tier Tribunal.

When considering an appeal from a parent or young person, the First-tier Tribunal must consider the Code. The tribunal will expect LAs and educational settings to explain any relevant departure from the Code.

Refused EHCP (following an EHC needs assessment)

The LA should give reasons for refusal. It should also inform parents of the right to appeal this decision and the timeline for doing so. Appeals are made in the SEND Tribunal under section 51(2)(a) of the Children and Families Act.

Before an appeal, it is advisable to speak to a mediation advisor. The LA refusal letter should include the advisor’s information. You should get a certificate to show you have done so. You can contact IPSEA (Independent Provider of Special Education Advice) to ask them how to prepare for the mediation process. The deadline by which the SEND Tribunal must receive your appeal is two months from the date of the LA letter or one month from a mediation certificate.

You should state reasons for the appeal in your form and collect supporting evidence for your case. Such evidence can include teachers’ comments, documentation from school, previous assessments, advice from educational psychologists, or your own observations. This evidence can support your case that the appropriate educational help for your child relies on the provision of an EHCP and that without it, the child’s needs are unlikely to be met. You should submit the form as soon as possible. More information, together with email templates for information requests to build your case, can be found here.

How long does an EHC plan last?

Once received, an EHCP is reviewed annually to determine further needs or modifications to the plan.

A review meeting is organised between everyone involved in the child or young person’s education, including someone from the LA’s SEN department. The school may also invite other people, such as a speech and language therapist, advisory teacher, tutor or teaching assistant. The meeting will consider the progress made and include any recommendations for changes to the plan alongside setting targets. This process may also determine whether the child or young person still requires an EHCP.

The LA has 4 weeks following this meeting to make decisions based on the recommendations. It could either make amendments, leave it as it is, or end the plan.

What kind of support does an EHCP provide?

Personal budget

When you have an EHCP, your LA will set out the funding for your child, which is called a personal budget. Personal budgets are typically arranged with the school, and money is paid directly to them to provide extra support and assistance in the school setting. Extra provision is generally delivered by one-to-one in-person support or via online tuition. Additional help is available at all curriculum levels from Reception to A-Level.

The personal budget is an amount of money that covers the cost of implementing the support and outcomes, as noted in the plan. This money is not available unless you have an EHCP.

Direct payment

In some cases, LA’s may make direct payments to parents or caregivers to arrange this provision independently. The LA may determine which of the money to issue as a direct payment. Still, they can refuse this request if they deem the provision cannot be met appropriately. A refusal can also happen if the direct payment negatively affects other services provided by the EHCP.

Selecting an education provider

Parents have the right to choose an education provider to carry out the plan. They have the option to select a third-party provider that aligns with the EHCP and who can support them. This is a crucial part of the Code, which provides parents with a greater say in their child’s education and resource allocation. 

Bright Heart Education currently acts as an LA-approved education provider for some of its students’ EHCPs. Consequently, we can support parents during their difficult journey and in delivering the plans.

You can arrange direct payment by your LA to the educational provider as agreed in the plan. 

special needs support
An EHCP paves the way for funding and support for your child

What are the different parts of an EHCP?

The EHCP must follow the code set out by Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations 2014. The plan must include specific sections, and if the child is in Year 9 or above, this plan must also contain strategies to help them prepare for adult life and independent living.

An EHCP must contain the following sections:

There is a legal requirement to keep everything in each section separate so that the provision of funding is clear. Section F of the EHCP is critically important, as it determines the key area of the provision. If this section is unclear, it may cause delays to funding or, in some cases, it may mean support is not received.

Checking a draft EHCP

When you receive a draft EHCP, it is essential to check the details and communicate any issues within 15 days.  It is crucial to ensure that the special educational provision in Section F meets all the needs outlined in Section B.

If you are not happy with any aspect of the plan, you can ask for areas to be changed, but only if you have a draft EHCP or an upcoming review. If a child or young person’s circumstances change dramatically (such as if they get worse and need additional provision), you can request an early annual review or a re-assessment of their needs. 

Where can I find advice and support to help me get an EHCP for my child?

Bright Heart's livestream - 'All about EHCPs'

EHCP topics covered on the livestream


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Homeschooling tips for students with dyspraxia

DR Ryan Stevenson - Home Learning Tips and Advice

        

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A livestream event was held this month by the Dyspraxia Foundation. One of our directors was a guest and covered homeschooling tips and general organisation for school pupils and university students.

Livestream with the Dyspraxia Foundation -
Home learning: tips and advice

Dr Ryan Stevenson, Bright Heart’s co-founder, was the Dyspraxia Foundation’s featured guest on a Livestream Q and A. This was hosted by Claire Cripps, the Youth Information Officer, earlier this month. The event was held as the Dyspraxia Foundation was inundated with queries asking for help for homeschooling and how students can manage their own work online. 

Students with dyspraxia may struggle with executive functioning and organisation, so the lockdown does pose additional challenges with their own online learning.

We have summarised key questions below so you can find the right place of interest in this video.

DR Ryan Stevenson - Home Learning Tips and Advice
Click on the picture to watch the video discussing home learning tips

The Dyspraxia Foundation also created a list of resources to help their members. Some of these were covered in the livestream. Here is the free download.

 

What has been your experience with homelearning and how have you been managing your day?

We would love to hear about it on our Facebook page. Alternatively, feel free to get in touch with us to speak to one of our education specialists and find out how an experienced Bright Heart special needs tutor could help you or your child manage learning at home.


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What does SEN mean?

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The terms SEN and SEND are used often. Here we discuss what they mean, considering ‘neurodiverse’ and ‘neurotypical’ brains along with the 4 broad areas of needs. 

What does SEN or SEND really mean?

For parents who have children in school or who are just looking into taking on the mantle of homeschooling, there’s a great deal to learn, and it can feel overwhelming, more so when it comes to technical language.

If your child has been given the label “SEN” or “SEND” by the school, you may be wondering what exactly it is and what it will mean for your child throughout their education and into their adulthood. In very simple terms, SEN stands for Special Educational Needs. In contrast, SEND means Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. While it may feel like SEN and SEND are the same thing, and there are many times where SEN and SEND are used interchangeably, this is not right.

The key difference is that SEND is for children (and adults) who have specific disabilities, whether or not they have special educational needs. It is common for children with disabilities to have extra educational needs, but not all disabled children fit into the SEN category.

Does SEN always mean the child has disabilities?

This is a tricky topic to explain in one article, but no, SEN does not always mean disabilities.  However, many of the special educational needs that students have may also be classed as a disability, even though it doesn’t fit into our traditional perceptions of what a ‘disability’ is.

To be classed as having a disability, there must be a significant and long-term impact on the day-to-day life of the person concerned. Where the needle falls is very different for each person, but there are many disabilities recognised by the Equalities Act 2010 that fall into the SEN category.

Learning disabilities, like dyslexia, are counted as disabilities because the impacts of dyslexia are recognised across a child’s life and even into adulthood. Traditionally, this has been seen as a negative, but there are many outspoken advocates for people with learning difficulties, which is changing perceptions and changing the language.

The phrase ‘learning difficulty’ is being replaced with ‘learning difference’ in some educational settings because it’s more descriptive of disabilities like dyslexia.

What is classed as SEN in a school setting?

In an educational setting like school, homeschool, or tutoring, SEN can cover a wide variety of educational difficulties or differences.

It’s important to note that a difference and a difficulty are not always the same thing. When students are assessed for special educational needs, it’s vital to find out how they learn and how they can be assisted to learn. For parents and educators alike, this can be the difference between education being ‘difficult’ and education being ‘different’.

Some examples of special educational needs currently recognised in UK schools and tutoring include:

Boy raising his hand in classroom
It is important to cater lessons and learning to individuals in classrooms.

Neurodiverse and neurotypical brains

If your child has been diagnosed with one special educational need, there is a high chance that they may also qualify for a diagnosis for other needs too. For example, those children who are diagnosed with ADHD are more than 60% likely to also be diagnosed with ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder). There is also a good chance that the child may also be living with a specific learning difficulty too, the most common being dyslexia.

The reason why children are at higher risk of having two or more medical conditions is not currently very well established in medical literature. However, it seems to be the difference between neurotypical and neurodivergent brains. Neurotypical brains are what we don’t like to call ‘normal’ brains (in truth, no one is ‘normal’) – they would be the people in the class who react to stimuli in the way in which we’d expect them to. They are usually able to regulate their emotions and their attention more easily.

Neurodiverse, or neurodivergent, brains are the rest of the children in the class. It’s not simply a case of neurodivergent being the opposite to neurotypicals, but there are key differences that make teaching neurodivergent students more challenging for some (and more interesting for others!).

purple flower
Students who think and perceive differently have much to offer the world.

How teaching / tutoring SEN students is different

SEN students require a different teaching / tutoring approach from your average student and, in most cases, they will need a different lifestyle approach too, to help them reach their full potential.

It’s vital that both parents and educators learn to understand the different learning styles so as to adapt lessons and home life to the needs of the child in front of them rather than the ‘typical’ child. This is not easy for a standard classroom teacher to do, but as homeschooling parents and tutors, we can offer our children the very best opportunities to learn by adjusting lessons and learning time to suit their needs and their abilities.

It is important to note that many students with SEN are not ‘unable’ to do their work. In fact, many are just as intelligent on a cognitive scale, and some even more so than their neurotypical peers. It’s just a case of finding out how they learn so that we can best embrace that.

A dyslexic student example

Take a dyslexic student, for example. Traditionally, dyslexic students have found reading difficult. For a long time, it was thought that the actual act of reading was hard for dyslexics, but after years of research, it was discovered that many dyslexics suffer from Meares–Irlen Syndrome, a condition that affects the processing of words on a page.

Black decorated letters (even serif fonts like Times New Roman) on a white page can be very challenging, but the simple act of changing the font to a sans-serif font and changing the background colour to one the child is comfortable with can make a world of difference. Equally, learning with phonics and the Latin roots to words has been shown to really improve the spelling issues many dyslexic students face, allowing them to work out the spelling from logical theory.

Oliver Twist novel
Black font on a light background with dense paragraphs (Oliver Twist), is difficult for students with dyslexia.

Many dyslexic students are much better at processing images and auditory learning and, as tutors, we can use this to our advantage by using video and audiobooks to help the child access learning.

With both the language and processing difficulties of the average dyslexic student, simple changes in the way we approach learning can mean the difference between a child who is chronically undermotivated and has low self-esteem, and a child who is supported with their learning, their abilities, and has access to materials in a way that works for them.

For all SEN students, there is a way to help them learn. While schools may prefer to go down the route of trying to make them learn the school way, as tutors, we prefer to take the approach of helping the student to find their own way of learning and using that to get the best out of them.

Toe by Toe
Toe By Toe is a small book designed for anyone who finds reading difficult.

The four broad areas of SEN

When thinking about SEN from an educational aspect, there are four main areas that educators will consider. These areas are the parts of a child’s life that will be impacted the most by their specific learning differences and educational need. They include:

In broad terms, all students will have some kind of special educational need or requirement. All children and all people are different; we have different interests and different strengths. When we do the work to recognise those strengths and work with them, we can have a big impact on both our lives and the lives of our students.

What has been your experience embracing the way your child learns to help them achieve?

We would love to hear about it on our Facebook page. Alternatively, feel free to get in touch with us to speak to one of our education specialists and find out how an experienced Bright Heart special needs tutor could help embrace your child’s unique learning style.


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