Schools are failing children with dyslexia
By Connie Meades
‘There’s no point in revising, Mum – I won’t do well anyway.’ We’re only two terms into secondary school and this is the kind of comment my dyslexic daughter is regularly coming out with.
There’s nothing wrong with my daughter’s intellect or her thirst for knowledge and learning. But there is something wrong with her confidence levels, which have taken a nose dive - at least as far as her schoolwork is concerned. I believe that’s because her school – like many others across the UK – is failing dyslexic children.
We have worked hard to ensure Beth sees the benefits of her condition, recognising that her left field thinking, willingness to take risks and ability to see the bigger picture, among other things, are almost certainly a direct result of her dyslexia. Jamie Oliver is among those who calls those with dyslexia ‘lucky’. ‘If I’m in a meeting, I just see the problems differently and I obsess about things differently,’ he says. Thank God people are increasingly recognising that dyslexia doesn’t need to prohibit anything and being positive about it encourages children to find their unique strengths while working around weaknesses.
For Beth, these weaknesses include difficulty with learning the sounds of letters and struggling with spelling, particularly when it is unpredictable and inconsistent, as well as visual processing. She has difficulty taking notes and copying, she struggles to plan schoolwork and meet deadlines and she finds it completely alien to revise for tests, of which there are many in her school. So many.
For other children with dyslexia, the challenges will be different. Dyslexia, after all, manifests itself in different ways. Granted, this doesn’t make it easy for schools. Nor does it help that many children are not diagnosed with dyslexia, but clearly have some of the characteristics. Then there’s the harsh reality of ever decreasing resources.
But these are not new problems. So why in 2019, is the system for helping children with dyslexia in schools still unfit for purpose? Surely we can provide support that is more creative, individualised and takes into account the latest research. With studies showing that dyslexic children are more likely to suffer low self-esteem, poor motivation and concentration, this is no small matter.
I know that teaching staff get equally frustrated - they regularly tell me so when I visit schools. As one teacher recently wrote in the Guardian, most local councils’ dyslexia guidance stress the importance of early recognition and intervention (simplifying written instructions, using certain fonts, presenting only small amounts of writing, using audio devices etc) but shortage of time, staff and technical equipment can mean huge delays in assessments, children with no plans for help when they clearly need help, and the support just not happening on the ground.
Learning difficulties like dyslexia, teachers have confirmed to me time and time again, just aren’t deemed severe enough and so these kids slip through the cracks, with any support they do get being be ad hoc at best.
Beth’s school isn’t blind to her dyslexia. She has a ‘learning passport’ – apparently given to all her teachers, which outlines her need, for example, to sit at the front of classes and to be given handouts of work that others copy off the board. Moreover, Beth and I were invited to meet the SENCo in her first term at the school and I liked the way she talked directly to Beth (not me) and discussed practical suggestions like touch typing.
But the help Beth has received is minimal (the position in class and handouts are about it), reactive (it’s no good asking Beth what interventions she wants if she doesn’t know what’s on offer) and doesn’t take into account her specific needs as outlined in her educational psychologist’s report. Nor does it take into account the stigma she and other dyslexic children can feel about getting extra support (no wonder when I’ve never heard a single positive comment about dyslexia come out of Beth’s primary or secondary school) or the fact that much of the damage has already been done. In primary school, for example, Sats were a nightmare for Beth, with no specific support available for dyslexics in these tests bar extra time (and only then, if you have supporting evidence). As for outdated spelling tests, don’t even get me started.
Few, if any, would argue that those with dyslexia are getting enough support in schools and young people like Beth are falling behind in learning and, more importantly, losing belief in themselves. Children deserve better than this.