Lancaster's International Dyslexia Learning Solutions on changing children's lives: 'It's all about having a positive impact on schools'
Since it was founded in 1986, International Dyslexia Learning Solutions (IDL) has gone on to help tens of thousands of students in this country and abroad. And, with some 6.5m people with dyslexia in the UK alone, their invaluable work is far from done.
A Lancaster-based business, IDL designs multi-sensory numeracy and literacy educational programmes to support children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), with their specially-tailored products developed in conjunction with leading experts.
"The best part of the job is working with schools and teachers so closely and having a day-to-day input on their work," explains Sarah Hyslop, IDL's International Interventions Team Manager. "What we do is so large-scale that it's easy to forget we have a real impact on teaching, but I've got friends who are teachers, so I see the influence we have on communities."
Morecambe-born Oli Knott, IDL's International Interventions Manager, agrees. "It's great when you can align success with helping people because we're helping to change lives," he says, having been with IDL since 2019. "You can't help but feel fulfilled by that kind of work because it has such a big impact and makes a difference in that manner is just so positive.
"Around 10% of people in the UK have dyslexia, so people slipping through the net without support is unfathomable," he adds. "It's gone unaddressed for too long - my own brother is dyslexic and he never got support, which impacted his confidence. Everyone deserves that identification and help."
A subsidiary of the North West-based charity Ascentis, IDL already offers a range of their programmes free of charge and provides free access to organisations such as Alder Hey Children's Hospital and Manchester Children's Hospital. With the business motivated to a considerable degree by social good, everyone involved felt a duty to step up during Covid-19.
"The whole team reflects the social drive which we have fostered - whilst income is important, the work is about making a change," says Sarah, who has been with IDL for seven years. "That's why, for the first six months of lockdown, we offered programmes for free. Things were already challenging for schools and the need was huge: we couldn't ignore that.
"Over the pandemic, the business has increased income by about 30% purely because we provide online resources, so we've been able to offer a substitute for in-person teaching," adds Sarah, from Manchester. "That's changed over the past couple of months with schools back in-person, but we're proactive and there's always going to be a need for online recourses."
It was important that IDL was there to offer support to students at an already-tough time, according to Oli. "In the initial rush of closing schools, I think some students were let down because so little was in place for them and I'm sure they felt it over that summer," he says. "There was a lot of work to catch up on but IDL is flexible - you can pick up wherever you are."
In recognition of their work during the pandemic and their efforts to increase reading, spelling, and mathematical ability in pupils with dyslexia, dyscalculia, and SEND, IDL recently won The Innovation Award for Technology at the National Association for Special Educational Needs' (Nasen) Awards 2021.
"It's amazing to win the award and to see an alignment of values between our company and Nasen," says Sarah. "It shows schools are confident in us, which is rewarding. The future is about growing internationally and developing products - one of our upcoming programmes will be focused on mental health and well-being.
"That area is absolutely enormous for schools - we've got research showing that 30%-40% of pupils in the UK are exhibiting some kind of mental health difficulties because of coronavirus and lockdown and that lack of social contact," she continues. "It all comes back to providing things which can help schools and have a positive impact."
"Everyone works so hard," adds Oli. "Things start young: your childhood development affects the rest of your life, so if we can offer students help to build resilience early, it'll enable them to be a positive member of society, which is better for us all."