Dyslexia and the Education System

April 29th, 2013 by Narinda

...things your SENCO never told you!

"I am a parent first, and secondly a... (in my case 'tutor')"

Many parents say that, don't they?

But when it comes to having a child with dyslexia - the two roles have to become inextricably linked, not just for professionally trained teachers/tutors, like me, but all parents. The problem is that even though dyslexia has been recognised as existing for the past 30-odd years, the progress with regard teacher training in this area has not. I trained in 2002 at The Institute of Education in London completing an English/Drama PGCE and received one lecture on special educational needs. It did briefly go through all the different issues such as autism, aspergers, dyslexia, dyspraxia etc, but did not go into much detail about how to recognise these issues if they had not yet been recognised, much less how to teach them!

In my naivety, as a new Secondary School teacher, I kind of thought that by the time I got hold of students, they would have all their needs recognised; I would be privy to all the information and be given advice as to how to help them from the SENCO. Silly girl! I went on to teach students who definitely did not have their needs recognised; particularly those struggling with literacy (reading/spelling/writing) as they can still be classed as 'just a bit thick', and don't cause problems to anyone in the classroom bar themselves. I was not privy to any information (if there was any) about their learning needs, and nobody gave me any advice as to how to help them... In fact I cringingly admit that I was one of 'those' teachers I now berate; I remember telling a child to 'do that piece of work again' not understanding why he child could not write neatly due to what I now recognise as dyspraxia and 'you must concentrate' when a child couldn't follow my numerous instructions due to what I now know was most likely auditory processing issues.

But I didn't know any better - the fact is teachers are not trained in this stuff - and parents do not know this!! They imagine that the trained professionals know how to recognise specific learning issues and how to deal with them. They do not! In 2012 the British Dyslexia Association campaigned to the Government to get dyslexia training included into Initial Teacher Training. They got more than 10,000 signatures, so the Government had to consider it, they stated:

"The Government agrees that teachers should be well prepared to meet the needs of all pupils. However, the Government does not require Initial Teacher Training (ITT) providers to deliver particular sessions within their programmes. Instead, the Secretary of State's Initial Teacher Training Criteria specify that: "All accredited ITT providers must ensure...that the content, structure, delivery and assessment of programmes are designed to enable trainee teachers to meet all the standards for QTS across the age range of training."

What a cop-out. So we are no further on. Dyslexic pupils are still going unrecognised in Primary Schools - which is when they should get the help they need - after all, if they can't read/write/spell or complete basic maths/sequencing tasks when they get to Secondary School, what happens? They become either disaffected, 'naughty', school refusers and get nowhere; or they just think they are stupid and concentrate on things they can do... sitting placidly in the English & Maths classes doing nothing. Either outcome is totally unacceptable.

As a mum, I knew that something was 'wrong', when my extremely bright, personable daughter, who never wanted to do anything wrong started getting 'bad' reports with comments like 'needs to read more' (she read every night - I am an English teacher after all!), 'lacks concentration,' 'not achieving expected levels'. I have undergone a nightmarish experience over the past 3 years: see my blog (URL below) for more details. I have endured self-doubt about my own abilities as a professional and a parent, resistance from the education system to provide my child with the education she deserves, and the final realisation that the only way I could 'save' my child from disaffection & self-esteem issues would be to remove her from an education system that allows failure to be a daily routine for dyslexic learners.

So, I found an alternative approach; flexi-schooling through private tuition (done by me). I took her out of school on a part-time basis to help her catch up and she can now read/write/spell & do basic maths... she is also, most importantly, happy. It's been so successful that I now offer tuition to other children. If something as big as Dyslexia Action can't change the Governments approach to recognising and helping children with dyslexia through appropriate teacher-training, this 'mum' sure can't - but I can help in my own small way, and who knows - in the future, maybe my approach & ideas may grow!

Does anybody else have similar experiences, thoughts on this issue? Please comment on this blog post of visit my blog.

Thanks for reading!

Narinda is a qualified teacher, a tutor, a spokesperson for increased SEN support, and the founder of Algar's Academy. Her blog can be found here.