This week is dyslexia awareness week. Its theme this year is about debunking the myth that dyslexia is just about struggling with reading and spelling. There are some interesting and useful resources on the British Dyslexia Association’s website that you could use in school from posters and assembly sideshows to information for teachers and staff about how to support pupils with dyslexia.
I have to admit that I was rather surprised as I clicked and downloaded all these resources, not from what I was reading about dyslexia but because they were free. Free! Several free resources later the biggest myth surrounding, not dyslexia but dyslexia support was being debunked…some of it is freely available!
I could not believe my eyes. You see, I live in an almost constant state of annoyance around dyslexia support: now wait a minute, don’t judge me, I’m not being dyslexicist. Read the title: some of my best friends are dyslexic. I recognise dyslexia and will always look to see how I can support people with it. What I also recognise is that private dyslexic support centres within my local authority area (I probably can’t name and shame but I live in a city with a suspended bridge built by a man who wore a tall hat and has a middle name that quite frankly beggars belief) are, in my experience, useless when it comes to helping schools support pupils with dyslexia.
There are some massive myths surrounding dyslexia but in my experience they are mainly peddled by the organisations who actually claim to be the champions of dyslexic support. The main myth seems to be that schools have no idea how to support dyslexia and some even actually go out of the way to not recognise or support pupils with dyslexia.
Are you serious?
Do you really think as a school we would turn our backs on a child’s need? Do you think we sit there twirling our Victorian moustaches inventing ways in which we can actively punish and humiliate our dyslexic pupils? Do you think we stand in front of the class pointing at the child saying ‘Nonsense, that modern disease of dyslexia doesn’t exist: you’re just lazy.’ And then make them stay in at break time copying tiny printed letters onto a white background? Why would we do that?
And yet, parents who have accessed your service seem to have this perception that this is a standard approach that all schools adopt and I can assure you…they haven’t got that from me. So why would an organisation that wants to support dyslexia do this? More on that later but let’s take a step back from dyslexia for the moment.
Now in my opinion the whole broad spectrum of SEN can be terrifying for parents (and some teachers) and the more experienced I become in education the more I understand where this fear comes from. It mainly comes from the unknown and worrying that the particular type of SEN that may have just crash landed into your life, is so incredibly complex that only the most senior professors at CERN are capable of understanding it. For me the first step in supporting pupils, parents and teachers in matters of SEN is equipping them with knowledge. Often, even the most worried people about the most complex SEN issues can calmed and reassured once they know a) a little bit more about the issue b) what it looks like in the real world and c) how to get the right support in place (which in many (not all) cases consist of simple but consistent measures).
Right, back to dyslexia. Given the above sentiment it never fails to amaze me how after paying approximately a million pounds for an ‘assessment’ by an independent body (who also just happen to make their living by supporting dyslexic kids) the parents receive an assessment report which is so staggeringly complicated it makes raise online look like ‘Miffy draws a graph’. Is it any wonder that the parents are then panicked into feeling like they have to do more to support their child? And where do they go to? Why their child’s school of course.
This seems to be a totally rational and sane suggestion. Yet when they hear how our classrooms are dyslexic friendly and that we have a range of teaching strategies in place that will support any child with dyslexia and how we will target that child for additional reading/phonic/spelling support: this doesn’t seem to be enough. Now why is that?
Is it because the same people that wrote the assessment report have also concluded that the only solution is to attend their organisation at significant cost to the parents? Interesting that they are still more than happy to encourage children to miss whole mornings and afternoons from schools; I would have thought that in this brave new world of performance related pay this could start to get tricky. If I have a pupil who spends 10-20% of their time away from my school shouldn’t I receive regular assessment updates, shouldn’t the parents hold them accountable for 20% of their child’s achievement or underachievement? The parents don’t seem to think this appropriate…I wonder why?
If only there was something I could do that could put the parents’ minds at rest that we really were a dyslexic friendly school…maybe there is an award I could get the school. Well it just so happens there is. On the British Dyslexia Awareness website you can request to get an accreditation: brilliant I thought that could be really useful and if it strengthens our practice all the better. I clicked on the download and waited, and waited….and waited. Why was it taking so long? Oh it’s because the Dyslexia accreditation action plan is the size of the yellow pages. Do you remember when SEFs first came out and they took almost two years to complete: that’s pretty much how long it would take to fill in this action plan. Seriously, I’ve seen Bristol Local Authority’s post Ofsted action plan and there is less to do across the whole city than there is for me to get my school a Dyslexia friendly icon for my letterhead.
It concerns me that there is this huge barrier being erected between parents worried about the support their children are getting and the schools who are trying to do their jobs. It angers me that this barrier is being put up on purpose for what I see as financial greed. I am not perpetuating myths about dyslexia but the dyslexia organisations up and down the land are spreading the belief that schools neither know or care enough about their pupils to support them effectively with their dyslexia and that my friends is wrong.
(Having said that I do recommend looking at the resources on the British Dyslexia Association website as they are rather good and could be very helpful for teachers and parents)