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What’s going on with dyslexia and literacy in the ‘shire?

This is quite a close-to-the-core kind of post, where things that tie into my professional and academic knowledge to my own experiences of learning and education meet.

I grew up in Leamington Spa and went to a really blooming good comprehensive school in Warwick, where I was supported by great teachers and my parents to do very well academically at KS4. I then continued on to 6th form and that is where my ‘dyslexia’ was picked up through my mum liaising with my maths and German teachers and all of us realising together that I found reading and interpreting/processing information really, really hard.

It is thus with some trepidation that I’ve been watching the situation in Warwickshire evolve since February this year, when the Council published guidelines on how to support learners with literacy difficulties. I am a member of the Local Association Board of the British Dyslexia Association (part of the governance structure) and the West-Midlands Representative, who is also based in North Warwickshire raised the matter as a point for discussion. Yesterday, I saw that the issue had reached the national press via the TES website. Dyslexia and the questions of its definition/existence are raising their heads again.

Specific Learning Difficulties vs Dyslexia.

I struggle with this one. I always have. I have a report from when I was 17 that says I have a dyslexic profile. My brother also has one that says he has a dyslexic profile. I can’t remember the exact phraseology, but it is along those lines. For me, that report explained 10 years of feeling ‘thick’ and not being able to read well, why words floated about in front of my eyes like specks of dust in the sunlight. My brother felt the same.

However, our reports, whilst both saying we were dyslexia described profiles that bore no resemblance to each other. Our ‘dyslexias’ are totally different, as are we as people, for the record! The information that was useful was where our strengths and weaknesses were and what the Educational Psychologist suggested may be done to support us. Again, each of these read very differently. The specifics of our learning profiles were what mattered and what informed practice in the classroom. From my own perspective as a SEN teacher and dyslexia expert, I would say the same counts. The specifics of a learning difficulty are what informs practice and intervention, which underpin progress. This aspect of the guidance does not trouble me- indeed question 10 on page 10 appears to advocate the same standpoint.

I do understand that dyslexia is a contested term and found that was the same when I did my PhD, my MRes and continues now I am doing specialist teacher training. I do tend to feel that there is no ‘harm’ in the label as it can explain difficulties, and acknowledges its importance for some. Warwickshire does not appear to dispute this, on paper at least.

I’m not entirely happy with the ‘shire

For me, the troubling aspects of the Warwickshire guidelines start at section 5.1 where the view that cognitive assessments are not useful when planning interventions. Yet on the following page, in sections 8.1-2, reference is made to such assessments as supporting planning and development of intervention programmes to young people. This undermines the position outlined in the document in the appendices, where the LA essentially renders specialist dyslexia teachers redundant stating that “The techniques used to teach reading to children diagnosed with dyslexia are the same as those used to teach any other struggling reader and can be provided by all teachers” (pp 8).

It is these sentiments that trouble me significantly. I have not seen any case studies or documentation, but I do wonder whether these sections are used on the ground, by schools and arms of the LA to refuse parents access to assessment and specialist teaching. Interestingly, specialist assessment and teaching is not the ‘cheap’ option either. Cynically, I have to say that I think my home ‘shire is  setting itself up to scrimp and claw back expenditure

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