What we do

Dyslexia literally means “difficulty with words” and was first associated with difficulty in reading and spelling. 

The BDA has adopted the Rose (2009) definition of dyslexia:

Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling. Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed. Dyslexia occurs across the range of intellectual abilities. It is best thought of as a continuum, not a distinct category, and there are no clear cut-off points. Co-occurring difficulties may be seen in aspects of language, motor co-ordination, mental calculation, concentration and personal organisation, but these are not, by themselves, markers of dyslexia. A good indication of the severity and persistence of dyslexia difficulties can be gained by examining how the individual responds or has responded to well-founded interventions.

BDA (2020)

More information on Dyslexia can be found in ‘Useful websites’.

Our journey

In 1982, Sheila Ferrari opened a Dyslexia Clinic at Avon House School. As the work of the Clinic was established it grew into what it became, known as the Avon House Dyslexia Centre.

In 2013, to celebrate more than 30 years of the Centre’s work and in honour of its founder, it was renamed The Sheila Ferrari Dyslexia Centre (TSFDC).

Today the Centre still supports individual dyslexics and their families. The testimonials you will find on our website bear witness to the legacy that was left behind by Sheila Ferrari.

Our Story by Fay Cookson

To understand The Centre it is necessary to explore its history and to indulge in adding a little of my own. Education has taken place, for around a hundred years, on the site where The Centre and Avon House School now stand; starting with Essex House. This was the establishment my parents sent me to in the 1950s. A Ministry of Education inspection, at the time, described it as happy place. It was!

In the 1960s the school was purchased by Mrs Boreham, the owner of a private school in Woodford. She amalgamated the schools and moved to the High Road site; Essex House became Avon House.

In 1965 I took a ‘gap year’ before teacher training. Aged 17, I asked Mrs Boreham if there was any work at the school. She employed me, at the princely sum of £6 per week, to be the Year 2 Class teacher. Goodness knows what the parents thought, but I was in my element. The Ferrari boys, Stephen, Jonathan, Miles and Andy were all at the school and so it was that Sheila Ferrari and I were properly aquainted.

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Towards the end of the 1960s Mrs Boreham planned to sell the school to developers. Parents, including the Ferraris, stepped in and bought the school, Sheila became Head and eventually the sole owner.

Fast forward to the 1980s. Whilst teaching locally, I heard that Sheila had opened a Dyslexia Clinic in the attic of 490, High Road. This pioneering step was motivated by Sheila’s concerns for children with learning differences. She sent one of her staff, Ros Ellis, to Bart’s Hospital to study under Bevé Hornsby. Having qualified in the teaching of dyslexic students, Ros was appointed as the first Head of the Clinic. I attended an open day at the Clinic, was fascinated by the teaching methods, and soon afterwards joined the team, as a tutor, whilst studying for a Post Graduate Diploma in teaching students with SpLD.

The time came when, after a successful career, Ros retired and I was asked by Sheila to take on the role of Head. What a privilege! What a challenge! What fun! Sheila and I changed the name from Clinic to Centre, reflecting its educational focus.

When Sheila acquired 492, High Road The Centre moved into more spacious accommodation and relaunched itself as The Sheila Ferrari Dyslexia Centre. This was in order to give Avon House School and the Centre separate identities.

The move to number 494, where the Centre is now housed, took place in 2013, finally giving The Centre a self-contained building. The Centre was the jewel in Sheila’s crown. Having retired as Head of Avon House some years previously, she continued to be a presence at The Centre, known and loved by all who entered its doors but most especially by the students.

Sheila’s death in July 2017 was a shock to us all; it had seemed that she would be here for ever. However, her legacy continues in the lives of so many students who have attended The Centre, in the past 40 years, who have found pathways to successful learning.

Over the years I have had the joy of seeing the Centre flourish and reach out into the local community and beyond. Although the teaching and administration teams have naturally changed over the years, the quality of specialist education has never faltered. Of course it is the students who are the focus and highlight of everything we do.

When I retired in December 2020, after 23 years as Head, I was delighted to hand over The Centre to Annelize Alfredo, who became Head. The Centre is in a safe pair of hands and Sheila’s vision will continue to be upheld. My connection to The Centre is not over; I remain as a Governor; inextricably linked to a place which has been close to my heart for most of my life

The Centre’s history continues to be added to daily, with the arrival of each new student, just as Sheila hoped it would…..



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