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Neil MacKay
Dyslexia Friendly Strategies & Support

Dyslexia - disability model insulting to dyslexic learners

This article is a copy of a letter to the Times Educational Supplement.

Having just returned from New Zealand after launching the Dyslexia Foundation's Action Week it is interesting to read your coverage on the Rose Report presenting dyslexia as a disability. Disability implies cure, something school based practitioners recognise to be an insult to the many successful pupils, students and adults who owe their success to the "dyslexia mindset." The search for this cure, which can apparently only be achieved through specialist teaching, may well be the reason for the well documented numbers of dyslexic people in prisons in the UK. . A key element to "creating a dyslexic criminal" appears to be to ensure that dyslexic learners are ignored in the classroom, where they spend most if not all of their time, and are instead referred for specialist help which, due to costs/cutbacks etc, may not be readily available.

Rather than viewing dyslexia as an disability may I suggest that we follow the lead of the Dyslexia Foundation for New Zealand and see it as a learning preference which, for the majority of dyslexic pupils, responds to quality first teaching available from dyslexia aware class and subject teachers trained through their schools and local authorities to "notice and adjust" in response to dyslexic type learning needs. Dyslexia as a learning preference means pupils have the right to be dyslexic and so have the right to receive, process and present information and concepts in preferred ways. Coincidentally, preferential approaches are enshrined in OFSTED imperatives for increased personalisation, differentiation and assessment for learning.

So it is quite possible that this current initiative may actually prevent dyslexic learners from being the best they can be. Media coverage also managed to ignore the splendid work of schools and local authorities successfully meeting needs in the classroom and through small group/1:1 support. For every documented school apparently failing to meet needs there is another going above and beyond what is required, recognising that to get it right for dyslexic learners is to get it right for all.

It is clear that Professor Rose is unaware of or ignoring the excellent work taking place in the North of England through the Dyslexia Aware Quality Mark (DAQM). One specialist teacher for every five schools will make a small contribution over time, whereas the commitment to whole school dyslexia awareness, driven through the OFSTED and DAQM agenda of "looking for trouble" through the use of tracking data is making a difference now, something missed by your coverage. In schools and local authorities engaged with DAQM, "stuck dyslexic pupils" are identified and their needs addressed though a staged or graduated response which already includes needs driven 1:1 and/or small group support - failure to make this available will deny a school access to the Quality Mark.

This process is making a difference now in schools and participating local authorities in the North of England, including the Isle of Man, because whole school/whole class approaches are perceived as being the key to ensuring that no dyslexic pupils are left behind. Schools which adopt the paradigm shift from disability to preference also enjoy the total trust and support of the parents of severely dyslexic children.

By all means train extra specialist teachers but please do not lose sight of the excellent work being done in dyslexia aware schools which are successfully helping individuals without always needing to give individual help.

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