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.

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.

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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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Challenges of remote learning: a tutoring agency’s perspective​

nasen Connect September 2020

A director discusses tutoring under lockdown in an article published in nasen Connect magazine Sep 20.               

SEN agency director & education specialist

John Salmon

Director John Salmon, M. Ed,  examines how tutoring evolved during lockdown and how tutees responded.

nasen Connect magazine (Sep 20)

John Salmon, director at Bright Heart Education, reflects on how support for tutees had to be adapted during lockdown and how tutees responded to a new way of working. This article was published in the nasen Connect September 2020 edition.

nasen Connect September 2020
nasen Connect is distributed to schools, SENCos and parents across England

Challenges of remote learning: a tutoring agency’s perspective

Unlike schools, tutoring agencies arguably experience closer contact with the everyday reality of many households as they directly partake in both the academic and emotional vicissitudes of families. Our first-hand knowledge has shown that adapting to online schooling has been an onerous challenge for families (as well as schools), but at the same time it has offered a more personalised learning opportunity for many
students, especially those with SEN.

As a tutoring agency that supports many students with SEN, we have naturally been concerned about the emotional and academic impact of lockdown. Lately, we have received a number of calls for help from concerned parents, which shared a common pattern: their child had lost interest in writing, reading and numeracy and no longer tried to fulfil school expectations. Parents reported unattainable assignments
amidst mounting levels of frustration, anxiety and disengagement. The lack of structure left children fending for themselves, with minimal assistance, save for that provided by their parents – who cannot be expected to play the role of trained teachers. Traditionally, our agency had focused on in-person tuition, so we had to transition to online tutoring to adapt to the lockdown.

For some, the physical presence of a facilitator was necessary, but many tutees with SEN embraced online sessions and realised that, with the right guidance and nurturing support, much could be gained. Far from being emotionally affected by the lack of traditional schooling, many felt perfectly at home (no pun intended) with the new situation, as social interaction at school was often a cause of anxiety.

Case study

One such case was a Year 7 tutee with ADHD, who was not affected by feelings of isolation, but by lack of motivation when faced with the sudden prospect of doing all his work without the solid support system provided by school. Worse still, he was being asked to complete assignments using the very electronic devices that distracted him in the first place. Overstimulation led to distraction, which in turn led to frustration and eventually refusal to work.

Our adaptation to remote learning with him proved to be fruitful. First and foremost, as a student with ADHD he was less prone to distractions at home, as opposed to the myriad of stimuli in a school setting. Restricted internet access was necessary, but technology allowed for better differentiation, by addressing individual learning events; one specific topic could be delivered in multiple ways and be adapted to his unique style. Thus, a multimedia history session could include videos, downloadable materials, audio and interactive games. He was also able to work at his own pace, being free to view lessons and materials at his convenience, allowing for maximum flexibility. Since deadlines were relaxed, he had extra time to complete tasks. Additionally, his workspace was adapted to suit his preferences, creating an environment conducive to learning. 

He liked technology because he found it more impersonal and nonthreatening. There were no peers there to judge him, no teachers there to pressure him with impending deadlines. He dreaded the idea of completing mammoth projects under severe time constraints, but smaller chunks no longer seemed insurmountable. His innate curiosity for technology developed into a learning opportunity, as he experimented with the different features in PowerPoint, Word or Google Drive, mastering the subject matter in the process. He learned to be less dependent on text-based learning when using audio books and videos online and felt at ease with no one watching over his shoulder. 

A way forward

This experience has taught us that the value of direct support from well-qualified teachers is irreplaceable. But we also know that online learning is here to stay, not only for children who are home schooled full time, but also as an integral part of school life.

The technology industry takes giant leaps much faster than most industries, to the point where it permeates all human activity, including education. Lockdown prompted an impromptu trial for teachers, tutors, parents and students and learning from this can surely guide us when moving forward, but not by simply replicating lessons in the shape of online lessons, with ensuing workloads that must be completed by students autonomously. When managed appropriately and combined with optimal support in the hands of capable, well-trained instructors, applying technology in a student-centred learning environment can bring forth a wealth of benefits, including for those with SEN, as it provides the flexibility and sense of ownership that can be lacking in traditional classrooms. However, a balance must be struck between digital and screen-free activities and independent and teacher led activities.

With the right support, combining pedagogical and technological expertise, students with SEN can meet learning targets in nonthreatening, customised environments.

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A new ethos for tutoring students with SEND

nasen Connect September 2019

Dr Stevenson considers how tutoring can evolve and the opportunity this presents -published in nasen Connect magazine Sep 19.               

Bright Heart

Bright Heart

Director Dr Ryan Stevenson considers how tutoring can evolve and the opportunity that it presents in this contribution to nasen Connect magazine (Sept. 2019)

Bright Heart director, Dr Ryan Stevenson relates his story of working with SEND students and the valuable opportunity that tutoring presents. He argues a new approach is needed.  This article was published in the nasen Connect September 2019 edition.

nasen Connect September 2019
nasen Connect is distributed to schools, SENCos and parents across England

A new ethos for tutoring students with SEND

Being a billion-pound industry, there are a multitude of tutoring agencies and private tutors in the UK. In addition, there are multiple combinations of subjects and exam boards to specialise in and tutors are varied in their nationalities, ages and eccentricities. This was the sub-culture I awakened to in 2012 when becoming a maths and science tutor in London.

After approaching several agencies, I soon began working and familiarising myself with the lingo of the curriculums and student levels. It was clear to me from the beginning that tutors can play an important role for families and schools in delivering education.

In those early days, I was matched with students needing tutoring in science or maths, but I would often find that students also presented with additional learning challenges. This experience was initially quite difficult for me as I came to grips with different ways of learning, the learning environment, the different SEN labels and student behaviour which often left me feeling the need to walk on eggshells.

The objectives for tutoring were most often expressed as simply improving grades. Preparation and training were not high on the agenda and little regard was given to the tuition process, other than ensuring the tutor had the required subject knowledge.

This simplification was an eye-opener. It is premature to launch into rigorous academic work when the student is not yet at ease in the learning environment; studies highlight the lack of retention when the mind is in a stressed state. In fact, a negative relationship with learning can be exacerbated if a student is feeling pushed or cornered into working by a tutor who does not first establish some rapport with them or who does not consider their specific needs.

Observing and learning from student interaction

With increasing referrals of students with SEND, I carefully reflected on what made for effective tuition. I found building rapport and trust with the student and being aware of the learning ‘space’ to be very important. This space is beneficial when tutors are aware of the student’s specific needs and know how to work with them, but also by tutors being calm, receptive and expressing warmth. Psychologist Carl Rogers describes this as ‘positive unconditional regard’, which he noticed made a significant impact on patients’ improvement rates.

Once rapport and trust has been developed, the student is often willing to work more diligently. In positively affirming the unique presence of the student, there is also an increase in their self-esteem and self-worth. All of this leads to greater confidence and a ‘flowering’ of the whole individual. This development is particularly apt for students with SEND who may have lower self-esteem. These positive changes help to promote academic progress and a more stable individual.

Moving away from traditional ideas about tutoring and solely being a subject expert, it is important to give attention to the ‘softer’ factors which make the above process possible. It is suggested therefore, to parents and schools, to look for the following qualities in a tutor:

This approach aligns well with the SEND Code of Practice (2015) where person- centred working is central. Sometimes, however, what is most crucial is the mindset of the tutor. It is important that they have the intention of creating a safe space for the student from the beginning and are mindful of the role played by his or her own emotions.

Meeting the challenge and implementation of ethos

Seven years later and now the co- founder of a tutoring agency of my own, we have looked to implement a more personal tutoring approach to ensure effective tuition for students with SEND. In addition to providing tutors with detailed guidance on our tutoring ethos, we’ve met this challenge by selecting high quality, experienced tutors who exhibit empathy and understanding, while also preparing them with respect to the SEND landscape. Specially commissioned training videos have been provided for tutors which cover the current context of SEND, the four broad areas of need, person-centred working and specific needs and strategies. Face to face training has also been planned. While not a substitute for direct experience, this knowledge base allows tutors to gain an immediate context and a selection of useful tools. We also ensure we gather as much information as possible regarding each student’s learning preferences. This is something schools and parents can be aware of to enhance the tuition experience.

Tutoring, as outlined here, is not merely the transfer of knowledge to meet a specific educational target. It is a golden opportunity to engage with the child in a way that can further their whole development and one to which I hope I have brought some attention. With this intention, much can be accomplished.

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