April 2019 saw the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) meet and discuss the Human Cost of Dyslexia.  It made stark reading for many.  I’m sure the comments and anecdotal evidence were no surprise, in a climate where schools lack funding to be able to provide dyslexia assessments and intervention.

The APPG report was commissioned by the British Dyslexia association (BDA) and I’m proud to say my colleague and co-organiser of SEN Jigsaw Conference, John Hicks,  was asked to conduct research among parents of dyslexic children, where he saw a phenomenal response to his survey. The aim of the survey was to compel politicians in Parliament to take action to raise awareness about dyslexia and make available better support for dyslexic pupils not only academically but also pastorally.  The survey had 1300 responses with over 2500 comments collected from parents of dyslexic children about the emotional aspects of living with dyslexia.

John Hicks is a dyslexia blogger, parent of a child with dyslexia and provides life coaching, specialising in dyslexia.

The TES reported on the survey’s findings and you can read their article here . The BDA also report an overview of the findings here .

The full report can be downloaded here .

It is estimated that 10-15% of people in the UK have dyslexia. This equates to approximately 800,000-1.3 million individuals, in the school environment.

Sharon Hodgson MP and chair of the APPG reported, ”We need to do more to identify and support individuals sooner”.

95% of parents reported they ‘did not know how to support their child’.

82% of parents reported  ‘their child tried to hide their dyslexia’.

85% of parents reported ‘their child was embarrassed by their dyslexia’.

All these statistics point to children who may grow up to have anxiety related to learning.  However, in my own experiences of teaching adults and having a father with dyslexia, I know this goes far beyond anxiety related to learning.  The low self esteem which comes from struggling to learn to read and spell has  a wider impact; socially, on relationships, life choices as well as work and education related choices. Choices such as being able to read the TV screen or menu in a restaurant to make a different choice, life choices being able to read letters from the bank, utility company or access any information about health and finance, the confidence to enroll on a vocational college because they may ask them to fill in their name and address, that even at 60, they still can’t write, the desire to simply sit in a coffee shop and read a book, the ability to read a bedtime story to your child or help them read as they enter school, the reliance on their wife to organise the car insurance or write a cheque and the stress it places on their relationship because ‘she does it all’.  It’s  the resentment that he is reliant on her to do all these things and he can’t be independent and the stress it places on her because she has to hold it all together.  It’s the secret the individual keeps for all of their life because they are ashamed that they are not literate and  they’ve spent a lifetime hiding it.  It’s the fear that if they go to work tomorrow, the boss may have changed something that they know automatically and now they might need to read something to learn something new.  The fear their employer might find them out. It’s the choice not to have any children of their own, because they didn’t want to pass of the dyslexia gene.  These are all very real experiences of the people I’ve worked with. It’s not just one experience of each person but a multitude of their experiences, on a daily basis.

 Sharon Hodgson MP wrote,

Whilst dyslexia does not affect intelligence and the contribution of dyslexic thinking to our country is undoubtedly great, almost all adults you speak to with dyslexia however successful they have been – will tell you they have at times felt less than their peers in the general population and have irrational feelings of failure that hark back to their childhood.

The reason I work in this field is because I am passionate about not allowing the next generation of people, school leavers (and adults) experience these very life changing difficulties.  It’s not about passing a GCSE for these individuals, it’s about the pure ability to read and write which changes their lives.  Somewhat, there are chances later in life to gain GCSEs and go to university.  We don’t get second chances at childhood, enjoying going to school and feeling happy in the place we spend 6-7 hours a day for 11 years of our lives.  Many of these children endure daily anxiety, lack self esteem or are reported as having ‘behavioural difficulties’.

Pennie Aston, Director, GroOops Dyslexia Aware Counselling, said at the APPG for Dyslexia and other SpLDs on 24 April 2019:

“In the 12 years we have been operating we have identified a core matrix of
presenting problems that are common to all our clients. They are not
exclusive to neurodiversity but the frequency, intensity and energy required
to cope with them, is. Our investigations have also looked at the origins of the
presenting problems which we find firmly embedded in early years

The result is that dealing with the emotional repercussions of dyslexia is dealing with trauma.

I don’t write this attributing blame with teachers and schools, it’s about he government and its investment.  I’ve met headteachers, teachers, SENCOs and TAs in many schools who are passionate about supporting individuals. I’ve seen situations where even when a programme is supplied free, there aren’t the staff to deliver it.

The APPG research reports that in the current system of funding and assessment, many young people become reliant on their family to gain private diagnosis and support.  The reality is, many parents cannot afford the fee for assessments. As an assessor, I have to advise any family that an assessment is not the key that will unlock the door to provision.  The changes in the Children and Families Act 2014 did not make it easier for parents to gain appropriate support for their child.  Even with a diagnosis, children are not guaranteed the suitable level of intervention as it comes down to funding and appropriately trained staff within the school, who can deliver a dyslexia specific intervention.

The BDA make excellent recommendations that dyslexia trained specialist teachers should be available within schools or a cluster of schools. However, in reality, I’m not sure under the current funding situation that this would be met. If 10-15% of the students are experiencing dyslexia difficulties which require intervention, this means there will be a large number of students requiring intervention. I’m not sure that funding will permit to train enough specialist teachers or afford them.

Currently, it is TAs who are at the fore of intervention. Traditionally TAs might have been parents who came into schools to help reading.  Yet presently, we see TAs who have degrees from other subjects, TAs which have a number of years experience supporting teachers in class or providing individual support, TAs can be responsible for delivering a lesson for  a whole class.  There are a number of very able TAs who are overlooked for training, yet are the staff who are supporting the most vulnerable students in a school. I question why we do not provide effective training to TAs.

In 2019, I conducted a very quick and random survey in a education professional social media group.  I asked what their job title was, how long they had been in their role, what their highest level of qualification was and how long they had spent during their training, learning about phonics.

Over a third were SENCos and approximately 17% were HLTAs. Over 60% had been working for over 10 years in education. I asked how much phonics training had been received during their training.  A startling 56% had received no training and around 17% had received one day of training. Surely this is the equivalent to teaching someone to drive, are we simply passing on our own knowledge and experiences which aren’t always correct?

They were also asked if they had delivered a systematic synthetic phonics programme, 37.5% had done so. Only 15% had delivered a dyslexia specific or multi-sensory language programme.

Clearly, there is room for further investment and training for staff if we are to provide children with the best opportunity to develop literacy skills.

In a year long project (2018-2019) ran by CodeBreakers Dyslexia Programme, we aimed to demonstrate that;

  1. Children with dyslexia or at risk (struggling readers and spellers) could increase their reading and spelling ability with 1 hr a week, 1:1 intervention, using CodeBreakers systematic synthetic phonics programme
  2. These children would see an increase in their confidence and self esteem
  3. That an effective dyslexia specific programme can be delivered by appropriately trained TAs.

I agree with Dr Helen Ross. Commenting on the findings of the APPG report, Dr Helen Ross, dyslexia/SpLD expert and SEN practitioner, Helen’s Place, said:

“It is hugely disappointing to see the extent to which parents still feel that schools are not able to support young people effectively. As researchers and teachers, we find it is frustrating that we are still not equipped by the legislative environment to meet the needs of dyslexic children – particularly when the established strategies that support dyslexic learners work well for all

Using systematic synthetic phonics, with multi-sensory techniques and given ample opportunity for over learning, does work well for all. Given the number of SPLDs, it’s highly likely that the differentiation made for some would benefit more, without diagnosis.

These children are not children are bright individuals and have skills and strengths in their own fields, they are resourceful and many are doing exceptionally well, given the lack of intervention and could be progressing much further, with the correct intervention, which will allow them to access all of the curriculum. However, for some, we run the risk of them disengaging from the education system.

Parents have very real worries and concerns about their child’s prospects and as a result feel the need to fight for their child’s needs. As a dyslexia assessor, I know parents feel they need to gain a diagnosis to get the attention of their child’s school. The APPG report highlights that for some, they are told that they will need to gain a private report because funding is simply not available. Parents feel they need a diagnosis to enable them to unlock the support and intervention.  However, what if we viewed this differently and provided a good standard of intervention, as soon as a child was identified as struggling to access reading and spelling skills?

Over 70% of parents report feeling anxious and dis-empowered when dealing with their child’s school. I know for many in the role of providing intervention, they also feel anxious dealing with parents, unable to provide suitable intervention programmes or funding for assessments. For many this route ends in fractious relationships, EHCP applications and tribunals, which becomes costly and stressful for all. What if we provided a good level of intervention early, to avoid the cost, stress and breakdown in relationships?

In addition to the stress and anxiety felt by parents which needed to ‘fight’ for intervention, over 70% of parents felt exhausted by the situation and nearly 80% admit to losing their patience and were frustrated with their child, due to dyslexia. It’s this fractious relationship and memories of trying to do the homework at the dining table which I recall in my own home, with my family. It’s a scenario which can be eased if parents didn’t feel the responsibility to teach their child to read and spell, let alone the additional homework which they find themselves having to support their child with, as they can’t access the information. The situation affects family dynamics in so many ways, siblings might gain less attention or time with their parents, money needs to be spent on private tuition and parents working more hours to pay for it.  This is without the arguments which happen on a daily basis as parent and child battle with learning spellings and sitting down to complete homework. Parents have reported their changing role from parent to educator.

The APPG report highlighted over half of the children tried to avoid school, clearly there is a very close link to dyslexia and the negative impact on mental health where individuals are not supported correctly.  During the last 8, of a 12 month pilot programme, using CodeBreakers in schools, I have received not only amazing statistics and seen 75% of the students’ abilities grow in decoding and encoding I’ve also heard heartwarming anecdotal evidence from the staff involved, regarding the children’s confidence.

I spoke to the SENCO last week (May 2019) and she reported,

One of our students had experienced lots of other intervention programmes and was developing some ‘behavioural’ difficulties in school, I’m certain this was linked to his low self esteem around learning. After just a few months of 1:1, for 1 hour a week, I’ve seen an increase in his confidence and a decrease ‘behavioral’ difficulties. For the first time he’s realised he can learn to read and spell.

It’s the small changes that can’t be measured but which have such a great impact on an individual’s life, the SENCO told me,

Only last week one of my students came in with such excitement, telling me that they’d had a take-away over the weekend.  I was a little confused as this wasn’t anything unusual.  He then told me “But Miss, I tried something different for the first time ‘cos I could read the menu!”

Those confident moments can transfer to the classroom too and can have an impact wider on learning as a whole.

For the first time, one of my students using CodeBreakers put her hand up in class and was able to answer a question about spelling and tell the teacher and the whole class why the spelling was wrong.

The fabulous thing about this moment is, the student was able to clearly quote the rule behind the spelling errors, as she’d learned and retained it from CodeBreakers sessions. Not only that, she was able to transfer the learning from 1:1 into the classroom and apply it.

The programme has received praise from a headteacher, she identified, after just 20 weeks intervention, encoding and decoding skills had increased.

I just wanted to say a great big thank you on behalf of all the children that you have helped support at our school! These results are fantastic and I know that CodeBreakers has made a very real difference for our children and for our staff!

September 2019 will see the start of a second year project to identify CodeBreakers’ effectiveness in small group settings.  CodeBreakers can be delivered by TAs effectively and can also be sent  home to enable parents to participate and ensure that parents can see progress and intervention.

If you’d like your school to be considered for the pilot study, we are currently receiving expressions of interest from primary and secondary schools. Please contact us here. We will be happy to provide you with a webinar demonstration.

We’ll be talking about the pilot study and chatting to schools at the annual SEN Jigsaw Conference on Saturday June 8th In Stoke on Trent. There are a number of specialist providing morning presentations and afternoon on SpLD workshops. This is a ticket only event, Booking is essential by 30th May.