Blossom and grow


EXG AUG 14 MEET THE HEAD - Credit: Archant

Head of the Sheila Ferrari Dyslexia Centre in Woodford Green, Fay Cookson may have enjoyed a life spent drawing plants, but instead her chosen career allows her to nurture her students and see them blossom

If you hadn’t become a teacher, what career would you have chosen instead?

I would have been a calligrapher and illustrator of botanical books. Lettering and the art of beautiful handwriting have always fascinated me. I was once a member of The Society of Scribes and Illuminators and taught calligraphy at evening classes. Having said that I would not want to change the career I have enjoyed as a teacher.

Who would you most like to have as a pupil, if you could pick anyone?

The Fonz! Whenever I watched Happy Days I always felt that every school needed a Fonz — he is such a great character with such learning potential. I had the good fortune to meet the actor Henry Winkler a while ago. He had just received an OBE for services to dyslexia and was on a nationwide tour promoting dyslexia awareness.

What was your least favourite lesson?

There were two lessons I disliked; maths and needlework. I have learned to enjoy the challenges presented by numbers but sewing still defeats me utterly.

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If you were Prime Minister for one day, what would be the first thing you’d do?

I would like to see our education system sorted out once and for all. Nothing ever seems to be allowed to run its course before something new is brought in to replace it. Consultation with teachers and pupils would be a sensible starting point.

Which record would you want with you if you were marooned on a desert island?

Core ‘ngrato. The English translation of this lovely Neapolitan song is ‘ungrateful heart’ and is perhaps better known as Catarí, Catarí. For me it would have to be the classical guitar version, played by John Williams.

What would you like to make disappear from this world?

Unfairness. The gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ is increasing all the time. Child poverty in the UK is on the increase. According to the Child Poverty Action Group there are 3.5 million children living in poverty in the UK today, that is 27% of children, or more than 1 in 4. That’s a terrible indictment in the 21st century.

Is there a television programme that you make sure you never miss?

Pointless — usually on catch-up TV. It’s a myth that teachers are home by 5.15pm. The banter between the presenters is very amusing and the challenge to come up with a pointless answer is addictive.

What is your favourite film of all time and why?

My favourite film is the 1959 epic, Ben Hur, adapted from Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ. It won a record 11 Academy Awards. I have watched it countless times and always love it because of its moving Christian message, its star Charlton Heston and that wonderful chariot race.

How do you relax away from work?

Books, music, theatre, spending time with my family (especially my new grandson Elias), going out with friends and making countless visits to Rome — the loveliest city in the world after London.

What is special about your teaching centre?

It is a unique centre of excellence, meeting the needs of dyslexic/SpLD students, where teaching and learning is a rewarding enjoyable experience. We work with around 35 schools and colleges and teach between 95 and 100 sessions per week. We also train dyslexia specialists, offer INSET sessions and counselling, and family therapy. In addition, we run a Parent Forum and hold an inspirational Annual Awards Evening, to celebrate the successes of our students whose ages range from five to adult. We now have Young Ambassadors in five local schools, raising dyslexia awareness on behalf of their fellow students from the centre.

Did you know?

The centre was started 32 years ago by Sheila Ferrari, a pioneer in the field of dyslexia after whom the centre has recently been renamed. It is on the same site as Avon House School, which also belongs to Sheila Ferrari. Triple BAFTA award winner, James Lamont, is among the school’s past pupils.

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