Common issues for dyslexic young people on leaving school, and the options available to them
By the age of 16, many young people have struggled with dyslexia for a number of years. While some have had appropriate support from school or with a private tutor, many have gone without help or remained undiagnosed even at that late age.
At GCSE, it is possible that results may be disappointing and do not reflect the amount of revision or verbal knowledge of the subject. Without access arrangements, students may have been unable to finish in time. Others may have had problems with the deeper underlying meanings of text or found it difficult to answer the questions correctly, if they were unable to read them accurately in the first place.
If the results do not reflect the student’s ability, then there is the option to re-sit, either at the existing school or a sixth form college. Choosing the right subjects is important and the step up from GCSE is often a huge one in terms of the amount of reading and written work needed. Being able to use study skills effectively is vitally important here. These involve note taking and being able to find key words in text, as well as the skills of skimming and scanning in order to read information more quickly. Many dyslexic students do not have these skills automatically and tuition in them can make a huge difference at GCSE and A level, where the amount of text being read increases greatly. Mind mapping (using diagrams to represent ideas) either by hand or with the use of software, may help some students plan their work better.
Many students struggle with maths at GCSE – not just the concepts but the reading and processing of the question being asked. For others, maths can be real strength.
Dyslexia varies in severity and many dyslexics have average reading and spelling scores but struggle with their short-term memory, so they need to understand that cramming for an exam the night before is not an option.
Parents can support their children by understanding that people with dyslexia often do not perform according to their ability at this age, but do catch up a few years later. My own son nearly failed a unit at University recently, not because of lack of ability but because he was told to present a seminar “next Tuesday”. Due to his dyslexia, he could not work out what day that meant and missed the seminar. Luckily, his tutor was able to look at his notes and give him a partial pass.
Dyslexia is often co-occurring and may be found in conjunction with ADHD or Asperger’s syndrome. Research shows that 52 per cent of those with dyslexia have dyspraxia. This can mean added difficulties for this age group with tasks such as learning to drive, which is problematic if you have difficulties with sequencing, working out left and right and auditory instructions.
Parents can find support by attending parents’ courses, which are available free through a number of charities. These will help with practical advice and strategies for support at home. They will also signpost different organisations that can help with related difficulties. Parents can also become parent champions through the Empowering Parents and Carers project and pass on advice to other parents.
Many bright students start university without knowing they are dyslexic, as the strategies they have in place just manage to support them through GCSE and A Level.
If access arrangements such as using a lap top were not put in place for GCSE, then starting to use one as the main method of communication is important. A dyslexic with unreadable handwriting is able to use a laptop in exams so that the examiner can concentrate on the content rather than deciphering the handwriting. A post-16 diagnosis for those who suspect they have dyslexia, or for those already assessed, is imperative for further access arrangements or support at university. A diagnostic assessment can be carried out by a specialist teacher with a practising certificate and submitted to Student Finance England to obtain Disabled Students Allowance for Higher Education. The cost of this is around £400, though some universities still offer this free of charge. Lap top software which allows text to be scanned and read back, and specialist tuition, will then be available, as well as an allowance for photocopying and books.
The world of work
Work options at 16 for the young person who does not wish to continue formal education due to negative experiences of school because of dyslexia may be limited. Many dyslexics who left school at this age, such as Richard Branson and Lord Sugar, have made their millions, but not everyone can do as well as them. Interestingly, though, recent research from the Cass Business School in London found that more than a third of the entrepreneurs surveyed (35 per cent) identified themselves as dyslexic.
If dyslexics are able to gain employment after leaving school at 16, there is often a worry about declaring themselves as having a disability, despite the Equalities Act. Companies should, though, make reasonable adjustments and this could include extended training periods or making handouts available in advance of training days. Probably the best thing for an employer to be aware of is that dyslexics have good days and bad days and for the new employee this can prevent them picking up what a new job entails quickly, particularly if they have processing difficulties. If literacy skills are low, many companies will pay for additional specialist tuition or a work based consultation. Additional support may also be available through Access to Work.
At further education level, a practical apprenticeship may be a positive move for a dyslexic person. Post-16 education and training can provide many opportunities for the dyslexic individual, who may see such training as the opportunity to utilise the strengths and talents that s/he has. This is, however, likely to pose a range of challenges for the organisations involved. For example, they may be dealing with low levels of basic skills, low levels of self-esteem and confidence and disengagement from learning. With the correct support, though, the dyslexic individual is able to reach their full potential at any age.
First of all, the college needs to make sure that the appropriate accommodations are in place for the written tests for apprenticeships, as the design of some of these tests can be difficult for dyslexic candidates. Under the Apprenticeship, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2010, examination bodies are able to offer alternative arrangements where necessary for dyslexic students. Should there be any problem, they should contact the course provider about an alternative type of assessment.
There are many positive aspects to having dyslexia and a lot of 16-year-olds choose careers suited to their unique characteristics. Indeed, there are successful dyslexic role models in many walks of life, such as architect Richard Rogers and chef Jamie Oliver.
It can be hard enough being around the age of 16 without having dyslexia, but there is plenty of help out there.
Katrina Cochrane is Head of Education at the British Dyslexia Association:
For information on becoming a parent champion, visit: