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Schools must have the expertise and the desire to teach dyslexic pupils, writes Sue Walsh

As we left our interview, Jack said: “I think this school knows how to teach me”. They have since proved him right.

Jack is at a college in Llandudno doing his seven GCSEs, learning in small groups with dyslexic and non-dyslexics together. It is not a special school but the teachers are very special. And every one of them as standard is trained in dyslexia and dyscalculia.

Before this happy ending, there were 29 rejections and many tears along the way. Can head teachers really reject a child that many times? Yes, they can – particularly if you are presenting them with a dyslexic that has been in full foundation education and displays a reading level of six years and seven months. 

At eight years of age, Jack said: “school isn’t working, I’m not going back, I don’t know how to learn what they are teaching.” And so I asked for the school’s help. And they wouldn’t try, wouldn’t listen and didn’t want him in the classroom. So, at the age of 11, wearing his failures acquired over six years all over him, secondary schools had all the ammunition they needed to reject our application. The road to his present college was heavily tarnished with ignorance and educationalists that discredit dyscalculia and dyslexia. Our experience was daunting.

One teacher told us: “when Jack is cured” we could “re-apply”. A head informed me that: “parents use dyslexia as a fashionable excuse for academic failures and expect my staff to perform miracles”. Another teacher offered this insight: “parents would rebel if their child’s education was compromised by Jacks low aspirations”. Jack’s goal was to write his name; I didn’t even bother to tell this ignoramus that Jack’s achievements already outshone the “life-time” teaching awards on this individual’s wall. 

Pattern of rejection

If Jack, by law, has to spend another seven years in full-time education, then by “mothers law”, those educationalists had better have the skills, resources and staff to teach him the way he learns. But my attempts to secure those answers and that level of accountability was probably the cause of the rejections from another eight schools. 

Educationalists were never short of a defence for their struggles to find a place for Jack: “How many times is he medicated for his condition?” One Deputy Head even told me: “we can cure him but we don’t have the funds.”

Early assessment is vital to maintain a child’s self-worth and combat the serious issues an undiagnosed condition can trigger. With a diagnosis you have some answers. However, the real challenge is to find effective solutions when faced with non-skilled teachers, ineffective use of resources, and a lack of understanding and awareness.

At another school it was reported that Jack’s IQ level was not likely to fall within the range the school considered acceptable. Didn’t they realise that he had been in the education system for seven years and it hadn’t worked. Didn’t they understand that they should teach the way he and 375,000 others like him learn, instead of telling me that: “Our resources cannot be diverted for a child who has proven he does not want to learn” – tell this to those who put teacher training packages together.

As the dyslexic Einstein is quoted as saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” So please teachers, do something different – teach the way they learn. And if you can teach a dyslexic kid, my bet is that you can teach any kid.  

I have everything in education I could want for my son now but the personal cost is enormous. You see, I don’t get to hug Jack. His school is 250 miles away. 

Further information

You can follow Jack’s story, and national news coverage of it, by searching online on “Jack Harley-Walsh”, or by viewing these news stories:

Jack is a student at:
www.stdavidscollege.co.uk

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