I have just returned from a short holiday in England, my home country, where I taught and worked as a psychologist and SEN Officer until 2011. I was shocked to read, while I was there, that the situation for children with reading and spelling difficulties appears to be getting worse. A blog in the Guardian newspaper, “The Secret Teacher” (24.03.18), described the scene in a Year 3 class from the point of view of a very well qualified support teacher: children with lowered self-esteem, motivation and concentration, too many children with additional needs for class teachers to have time to adapt lessons adequately and severe delays in statutory assessments.
I wasn’t very surprised: many state schools in England had similar problems when I was a teacher and psychologist. The statutory assessment system was modified by the coalition government a few years ago to embrace a wider range of needs (to include health and social care) but was also intended not to be used for straightforwardly educational problems like reading and writing. But it seems support for the bread and butter learning problems like dyslexia has not increased while statutory support has migrated to the more severe end. So a lot of children are missing out now.
England starts formal schooling at 5, and many kids whose language development is incomplete then struggle with early literacy and never catch up. Some say reading and writing difficulties cannot be described as “dyslexic” because there is inadequate evidence of a special condition. They need to demonstrate that normal teaching and learning support are enough to meet the needs of all but the most severely disabled learners. It looks as though it isn’t just the kids who are failing, it’s the schools, too. The English Children’s Commissioner has just said as much on behalf of children in some English regions. So those who care about kids learning to read and write well need to continue to advocate for the learning support needs of all dyslexic children.
Dr Tim Bunn
EdD, MSc, BA (Hons), PGCE
Consultant Educational Psychologist