Helen Ross looks at the role of SEN specialists in supporting families with dyslexic children
SEN specialists in education are under greater pressure and are more poorly resourced than at any time in recent history. As a result, parents are having to pick up a lot of the work with their child that might formerly have been provided by schools.
I recently worked (with John Hick, Parenting Dyslexia, the BDA and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Dyslexia and other SpLDs) on a survey1 to look at the emotional and psychological impact of growing up with dyslexia, and how it affects families. The survey, of over 1,300 parents of young people with dyslexia in the UK, confirmed a lot of the anecdotal feedback that we as educators get about the impact of having a child with dyslexia in the family.
The data suggests that many families bear significant financial and emotional costs related to their children’s dyslexia, despite dyslexia being recognised in statute and the SEN Code of Practice. It shows that the current system for supporting our children and young people with dyslexia does not meet their needs.
Relationships between parents and schools can often be fraught with difficulties. According to the research, 76 per cent of parents felt the school was not doing a good job in supporting their dyslexic child; 55 per cent felt they were unable to communicate effectively with their child’s school and most worrying of all, 82 per cent of parents said they sometimes feel angry with their dyslexic child’s school.
Of course, this perception is not a reflection of a lack compassion for young people with dyslexia among the teaching profession; teachers want to see pupils thrive but they are constantly balancing competing demands on their time and resources.
Working with parents
What came across most strongly from the survey was that parents care deeply about their child with dyslexia succeeding and they want to be empowered to make this happen. In an ideal world, parents want schools to take the bulk of the responsibility for their child’s academic achievement, because teaching staff are the experts in education, but parents know we do not live in an ideal world.
The challenge for schools is to take the time to explain honestly to parents what support the school will offer, how they as parents can complement what the school does, and how their child can make the most of the support available. This should mean less stress for everyone involved and better outcomes for children with dyslexia.
The British Dyslexia Association recommends that parents are proactive in securing a meeting with the relevant teachers, and particularly the SENCO or headteacher, if they suspect their child is dyslexic. Regular follow-up meetings should then also be scheduled. The aim should not be to pile ever more pressure on teachers; rather, the focus should be on ensuring tensions between the school and the family can be defused early on before they become disruptive, and that ways of supporting the child can be agreed so that everyone is pulling in the same direction to achieve the best for the child.
Clearly, schools also have a responsibility here. If they have a clear policy of meeting, at an early stage, with parents whose children may be dyslexic, they will probably find that, even if a silver bullet cannot be offered, parents will become a help to their work rather than, as is so often the case, a hinderance. When families and young people are included, they feel valued and empowered to engage further with their school support system2.
The simple truth is that unless a parent can afford to pay for a private diagnostic assessment for dyslexia it is unlikely their child will get much specialist support. Even with a diagnosis, they may well have to fight their way through the education, health and care (EHC) plan process to get what they are entitled to by law.
Nearly half of parents in the survey reported spending over £1,000 extra per year because of their child’s dyslexia – with many spending far more. It’s a grim picture and this isn’t something we can solve as individuals with scant resources.
Early Identification of dyslexia is the best way to ensure that young people develop literacy skills and make academic progress. A priority must be to diagnose dyslexics more proactively to allow for that early intervention.
Dyslexia is most commonly supported in the classroom through quality first teaching. Evidently though, it is not working. Whilst many classroom interventions help, pupils with dyslexia need additional specialist support.
Ultimately, we need a specialist dyslexia teacher, trained to Level 7, in every school, so they can diagnose as well as support pupils. Whilst there is a cost to this – about £3,700 for the training plus their salary – the return in terms of attainment, standards and better mental health far outweigh the small investment required by the Department for Education. This funding is not going to be provided overnight but if we all keep the pressure on and push for more dyslexia support, ultimately it may be forthcoming.
Dyslexia Awareness Week
7 to 15 October 2019
This year’s Dyslexia Awareness Week will focus on empowering people with dyslexia. Organisations, schools, colleges and universities are being encouraged to run sessions celebrating the contribution dyslexics are currently making to them and exploring how they can be empowered to do more.
About the author
Dr Helen Ross is an adviser to the British Dyslexia Association, the founder of Helen’s Place and Chair of the Wiltshire Dyslexia Association.
1: All-Party Parliamentary Group for Dyslexia and other SpLDs (April 2019) The human cost of dyslexia: The emotional and psychological impact of poorly supported dyslexia.
2: Ross, H., (2018) Supporting a child with dyslexia: how parents/carers engage with school-based support for their children. British Journal of Special Education. DOI: 10.1111/1467-8578.12254.