Dore may have attracted controversy, but Sal McKeown thinks it's worth careful consideration
The Dore Programme for treating children with dyslexia with a series of exercises is controversial. It has been slammed in the press and derided as the "wobbly board" method. Critics claim that it lacks scientific validity.
However, some schools are beginning to look at adopting it as a solution for different forms of specific learning difficulties, so it is time to lay aside prejudices and take a closer look. And visitors to the Dore SEN open day, and to the TES Special Needs Midlands show in Birmingham, can check it out for themselves (details below).
Last year I visited the Dore headquarters in Stratford-upon-Avon as part of my quest to find different approaches to treating dyslexia for my book How to help your Dyslexic and Dyspraxic Child. I had heard a lot about Dore and thought it was interesting but I was not sure how or why it could work.
I am quite sceptical about "cures" for dyslexia. Cutting out additives, introducing fish oils into the diet and having the spine and skull manipulated have all been cited as solutions but I have never found these methods to be especially effective and they can make children unhappy. I spent a morning at the Dore HQ, shadowing a girl who was being assessed.
Dore assessment in action
Aisling was struggling in school and her mum Ann told me that these problems had started with early speech issues. She had found it hard to sound out words as a young child and to distinguish letters and sounds at school. Speech therapy helped but difficulties persisted.
Aisling had an assessment from an educational psychologist which confirmed she was dyslexic. The school allocated her three withdrawal periods of 45 minutes per week with a learning support assistant but there was still no marked improvement. By the age of 11 she was two years below her chronological age in reading. Her dad saw a feature in a Sunday supplement for the Dore Programme and the case study of a boy who was bright but totally frustrated seemed to chime with Aisling’s experience.
The Dore Centre does not work with children under 7 and the programme is not suitable for children with global developmental delay and some forms of autism. The aim is to stimulate and develop the cerebellum which is the part of the brain which automates skills and helps with co-ordination and concentration.
"It seemed like a long shot when we read about the Dore Programme but we were worried that she would come to grief in secondary school," said Ann. "The pace of lessons would be quicker and she would be expected to do more things on her own and would need to develop initiative."
She went on the wobbly board with balance sensors on her face and had to focus on a fixed point. The recommendations included throwing a bean bag from hand to hand while keeping the head still and following it just with the eyes and learning to improve tracing,.
Aisling is quite disciplined and did the carefully graduated exercises every day for nearly a year. She started the exercises in the summer after she left primary school and soon saw an improvement. By Christmas she was getting really good marks. "She managed better in mental tests, was more fluent in reading and independent in lots of new ways," said Ann. "It’s absolutely amazing. Best of all, Aisling has fewer tantrums and is easier to get along with now."
Schools that have adopted Dore
Recently there have been reports of two very different schools which are enthusiastic advocates of the programme. Bishop Douglass, a Specialist Science College in East Finchley, is a Catholic school with has a very diverse group of learners from many different boroughs, including many who speak English as an additional language. They have invested heavily in Dore and set aside a special room where the selected pupils do their exercises twice a day under supervision. Isabelle Goursaud, assistant headteacher responsible for inclusion says: “Parents have commented very positively about their children’s participation in the Dore Programme; they have noted the progress of their children in the areas of organisation and confidence and reported the impact on performance at school.”
Trystan Williams, headteacher at Springfields Academy, a special school in Wiltshire, was an early adopter. He took 13 pupils to be assessed and they were the first cohort in the school. On average, children's reading improved by 24 months and spelling by 22 months in a year. "No other intervention has had this impact," he said. "The Dore Programme is now at the forefront of our menu of interventions to ensure outstanding pupil progress."
What happens in the Dore programme?
A member of the Dore team will coach patients through the assessment to measure the saccadic movements of eyes to see where they alight on a line of text and to check if they move from target to target or overshoot. Assessors also check balance and see just how still a child can stand. They look at muscles and joints, the visual and vestibular systems so the child has to do various balancing exercises with eyes open and with eyes shut. They use the Fawcett and Nicolson dyslexia screening test to see what sort of problems the child has with print.
After my own observations I felt that the Dore Programme works well for some children. Aisling is one example and Ben, who is one of the case studies in my book, certainly benefited. The trouble is that it is hard to say that one individual factor is responsible for dramatic differences. Some children experience a sudden, almost inexplicable, leap in confidence and ability and sometimes this coincides with the transition to secondary school.
However, the methods interest me as they address some of the underlying issues of poor progress. If children cannot focus properly on a line of text because their eyes lack stability. then writing out a spelling three times will not improve their literacy this side of Doomsday. The cynic in me notes that look-cover-write and check is cheaper than a programme of assessments and exercises provided by a private company.
Children with dyslexia who I have worked with over the years have problems which go much further than issues with spelling, reading and writing. Their sense of left and right, their short-term and long-term memory and their ability to organise themselves are often weak. They are also the possessors of lively minds, look at the world in a different way and have a very creative approach to solving problems. These all need to be encouraged and harnessed. Unlike phonics programmes, Dore attempts to identify the underpinning causes of learning disabilities, rather than just treat the symptoms.
One of the most commonly cited criticisms of the Dore Programme is that it is expensive. It costs up to £2,000 for a programme which lasts between a year and 18 months. However, that's a lot cheaper than private education and, despite its detractors, Dore does seem to have plenty of satisfied customers.
Dore will be on stand 180 at TES Special Needs Midlands, June 29-30 at the NEC.
There is an information day on June 16 for Sencos, teachers and other education professionals interested in adopting the programme in their school at Bridgeway House, Bridgeway, Stratford upon Avon, CV37 6YY. In addition to giving teachers a walk-through of the Dore Programme, the Dore team will be on hand to discuss how the programme works in the school environment.