Youth Offending Teams

Working with Helen Arkell Dyslexia Centre and Dyslexia Action, under the direction of The Dyslexia SpLD Trust, the Youth Offending Team Project worked with YOTs around the country to improve their understanding of dyslexia.

The aim of the YOT was to spread dyslexia awareness to as many different Youth Offending Teams as possible.  We trained staff, teaching them to use checklists and screening tools to identify dyslexia in young people and to use dyslexia-friendly practice.


The SpLD Trust YOT handbook (pdf)

The Dyslexia Alert Card (pdf)

The Dyslexia Alert Card Evaluation Form (pdf)

The Dyslexia Awareness Presentation (pdf)

The YOT Training notes (pdf)

Liverpool Youth Offending Team (YOT)

The Background

The British Dyslexia Association has a good working relationship with Liverpool Youth Offending Team; based upon 10 years of collaborative working. The Liverpool YOT were initially aware that their cohort; in line with national statistics, showed that young offenders in Liverpool had a disproportionately high probability of having unidentified dyslexia. The education team were aware of this worrying statistic and wished to address the need that they felt their cohort had. The team therefore welcomed the input of the BDA to review their practice and begin to address this issue. Work ensued and once screening was undertaken at Liverpool YOT, their research showed that over 50% of young people who committed offending behaviour had strong indicators of dyslexia. The BDA continue to work with Liverpool as part of the SpLD Trust and have engaged thus far in two projects.

The commitment:

Objectives: Through the journey, discussions and a ‘trial and error’ approach have enabled a Road-Map or ‘blue-print’ to be devised based on the Liverpool YOT experience; thus creating a ‘how to guide’ for teams wishing to take on this work.
Key Objectives

  • Train all staff and link staff, including volunteers and appropriate adults, panel members.
  • Set up guidelines on what constitutes good practice
  • Review YOT policy and incorporate dyslexia into strategic planning.
  • Communication – review all communication outputs and incorporate the BDA Style Guide into existing practice.
  • Use a checklist on induction for all young people to ascertain whether they would require screening.
  • Screen young people who may have dyslexia to ascertain whether they may have dyslexia.
  • Signpost young people and advise school, college and training facilities if this additional need has been identified.
  • To develop a clear, reliable communication system between a young offender’s school and Children’s Service agencies to encourage joined up thinking and continuity of practice.
  • Work in partnership with other YOTs and relevant teams to ensure that good practice is shared and information regarding a young person is logged on the YOIS system; ensuring continuity of approach.
  • Set-up a Dyslexia Mentor and Dyslexia Champion team to ensure that dyslexia issues are ongoing and current.

Training Results

An anonymous questionnaire to determine the level of knowledge staff had of dyslexia and what they would like to gain from their training sessions was completed by 73 members of staff within Liverpool and Manchester.

The first question, ‘what did I already know about dyslexia?’ indicated that the majority (85%) had very little or no working knowledge of dyslexia prior to training, 10% knew a small amount due to internet search engines and television, leaving just 5% who believed they had a good working knowledge of the disability, due to personal first-hand experiences and/or studying dyslexia as part of a course.

The response from the second question, ‘what did I like to gain from training sessions about dyslexia?’ was 100% positive. All team members, including those who considered themselves well-educated in the area of dyslexia, felt that they gained from the training. It seemed that it helped one individual in particular, who suspected they may have had dyslexia, receive the confidence to discuss the matter with his manager. Collectively, team members realised the importance of dyslexia-friendly practice and of understanding the disability in general.

The third question, ‘how has my practice become more dyslexia-friendly?’ showed that all staff had made adjustments to their practice in some way as a result of the training. This was through use of different paper, the introduction of overlays and being able to identify when communication was not correct, owing to Top Tips. However, the biggest change was in attitude amongst members, who felt that they were now confident enough to discuss learning difficulties with YPs and could therefore signpost more YPs for further help. When asked how they will check whether their practice is dyslexia-friendly, 100% of staff mentioned checking with colleagues, managers and the team’s dyslexia mentor, 30% mentioned researching dyslexia further and using the BDA website, 25% asked for an audit they could use, 50% mentioned having dyslexia as a constant item on staff meetings do that it could be discussed further and 75% mentioned using the ‘Top Tips’ as a checklist to measure their practice against.

The results strongly highlight the benefit to awareness training and during the current project, YOTs from across the country who have engaged so far have had similar positive experiences, thus highlighting the need for this work.

Specific Results

A study submitted by Liverpool YOT focuses on a 14-year-old boy who entered the system due to irregular attendance and erratic and aggressive behaviour.

During his induction into YOT, both an initial and advance screening (LADS) highlighted that there was a high probability of him having dyslexia. The mentor entered this information onto the revised shared database (also accessed by other professionals) and contacted his school to discuss the issues with the SENCO, who explained that she had not had any dealings with him – it is probable that his poor attendance was a reason for this.

His experiences of school in general were mostly negative and his reading and writing skills particularly poor – he became both aggressive and argumentative when asked to write anything. When the prospect of having dyslexia was discussed with the YP, he said that he displayed similar attributes to his friend who had been diagnosed with the disability, and so believed he may also have it, but was unsure on what to do. The YP also mentioned that his primary school teacher had suspected that he may have dyslexia, but no further action was taken. As he recognised his own characteristics in the PowerPoint presentation, the YP was excited, and it was moving for the mentor to be witnessing his ‘light-bulb’ moment. The dyslexia mentor liaised with the Alternative Provision Team who encouraged the young person to employ dyslexia friendly strategies in order to manage his needs. It was also discovered that a blue overlay improved his sight when looking at words, so YOT gave one to the YP and provided one for his school, who were alerted to his dyslexia and who planned to conduct a further assessment on him.

He was also offered the opportunity to use Toe-by-Toe to improve his literacy skills, but became argumentative and declined. Despite this, the team felt that learning that he most probably has dyslexia and being comfortable with this was a huge personal breakthrough. This was just one example of the procedures that were in place at Liverpool YOT to ensure that young people’s additional needs are identified and met. The aim was for the same protocols to be taking place in Manchester at the end of Year 2.

Intervention Programme: 2011 – 2013
During 2011 – 2013 Liverpool YOT worked with the SpLD Trust on a project based on sharing good practice with Manchester and the use of Toe-by-Toe Literacy Intervention strategy. This project focused on sharing good practice from Liverpool through to Manchester YOT and was well received. Manchester YOT met regularly with Liverpool team members and all Manchester team members received awareness training. The use of Toe-by-Toe was also trailed and although there were challenges connected to this initiative; mostly in part due to the changing nature of the Service’s objectives, there were numerous positives as can be seen from a Manchester YOT Learning Mentor’s statement below: “When the department were handed 25 copies of Toe-by-Toe, it was decided that they would stay in the department as the educational focus on YOT had diminished over the last few years and they no longer had time to carry out this type of work. It was agreed in a team meeting that young people who displayed the trait of dyslexia would use the Toe-by-Toe programme, but instead of waiting for a formal diagnosis, it would be decided using the team’s own discretion.

In total, there were 9 YOs using the books and although initially reluctant, they did appear to have gained a lot from the experience. The programme is designed in such a way that a YO can feel they have achieved quite a lot, which is really important for the children. The shorter bursts suit the YOs who often find remaining focused a difficult task. The Learning Mentor’s also felt that it was important that they allow a YO to choose whether to commit to Toe-by-Toe rather than take a compulsory approach, as this had proved to be a more effective method in past initiatives. The challenge that confronted that LM’s was that the YO did not stay within their reach for the duration of the programme, so it was decided to allow copies of the book to follow the young people as they move on from systems and return to education or training. Twenty-five copies of Toe-by-Toe would be gifted to the YOs and replacements would be made using their own budget.

It was particularly pleasing to hear that the programme had given one YO the confidence to start trying to read again by sounding out words. In fact, he discussed Toe-by-Toe so much at home that his parents contacted the team to find out where they could buy a copy – and were delighted to hear that he would be keeping his! This experience has certainly proved to be positive and alerted the team to the use of Toe-by-Toe for their diverse cohort”

Despite the services being influx, with Government cuts and changes in Service provision aims, the project worked well. Project manager Donna Stevenson spoke of the key achievements: ‘I have been extremely proud to be associated with this project, work has occurred during this year that would not have occurred ordinarily. I was privileged to be present when Liverpool YOT showcased their good practice to Manchester (a meeting that was a direct result of this project). Liverpool has also offered their time and expertise openly to Manchester to support the team in making some of the changes to practice. Manchester have also been very welcoming of this new information and very grateful for Liverpool’s support during the process. This project has therefore enhanced the YOT team’s co-operation. Year 2 will build upon this as liaison at top level cascades throughout the service and further changes to practice are made.

Despite a very changeable service, fatigued by cuts, team members have been enthusiastic and eager to engage with the project. Pre-intervention questionnaires in Manchester have shown a lack of understanding by staff around dyslexia and so the value-added of this project is great. Some areas of success are difficult to quantify and have a legacy far beyond the 2 year life of this project, however that is not say they are not real. I hope in Year 2 to work more with Liverpool in evaluating the ‘soft’ outcomes of this work; in order to showcase this project and hopefully provide further evidence as to the effectiveness and impact of developing dyslexia awareness’ YOT Project 2013-15 Overview. Working with Helen Arkell Dyslexia Centre and Dyslexia Action, under the direction of The Dyslexia SpLD Trust, the Youth Offending Team Project is working with YOTs around the country to help improve their understanding of dyslexia.

The aim of YOT is to spread dyslexia awareness to as many different Youth Offending Teams as possible. Thirty teams have been selected and staff will be trained based on the Liverpool approach. Other objectives from Liverpool will be used, for example using a checklist, followed by a screening tool (if necessary) to identify dyslexia in young people, which will lead them to get the help they need. The project will culminate with a one-day national conference, appropriately held in Liverpool.

Liverpool YOT set the precedent with this work and the project is directly based on the objectives set by Liverpool at the beginning of their journey, as they remain a Dyslexia Friendly Beacon Service. As an exemplar of excellent practice they have achieved the British Dyslexia Association’s Dyslexia Friendly Quality Mark twice in 2009 and 2014.

In recognition of this unique commitment, Lord Mike Storey and Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, have both visited the team to congratulate them and learn more about their practice. Lord Addington also sits on the project’s Expert Reference Group; again in recognition of the unique nature of this work. The Mayor praised the city’s Youth Offending Service for its dyslexia friendly provision: “I was very impressed by the work the Youth Offending Service does in this field. “Many of the young people they work with have dyslexia or difficulties with literacy so it is extremely important that we take this into account with the service we provide. “All the staff have been trained in this area and mentors have been appointed, However, we are conscious that we need to maintain the levels we have set and where, possible, improve them. “The team is recognised as an example of good practice in dyslexia service provision and other councils ask them for advice. “I have congratulated the staff on receiving the award – it is very well deserved and I am very confident that the service will continue to develop its provision.”

They are also delighted with the fact that all Merseyside YOTs are part of this project: Wirral, Cheshire West, Sefton, Knowsley and St Helens. As these teams are part of a Consortium it further reinforces Liverpool’s commitment to dyslexia as their sister teams will now have this awareness and understanding. Due also to the transient nature of the families that the teams often engage with, this will also assist in continuity of care and practice, across the geographical regions. Feedback has so far been incredibly positive. Education Officer for Cheshire West, Catherine Scott commented: “I found the Dyslexia Training to be informative, useful and presented in such a way as to be accessible to all. The training has given me the knowledge to be in a position to take dyslexia awareness to the wider team and will enable the Youth Offending Service her to develop strategies and practices incorporating dyslexia awareness”.