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Our education system doesn’t work for children with dyslexia

4 min read

With over 80% of dyslexic children leaving school without a diagnosis, more needs to be done to address the educational costs of dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties, writes Sharon Hodgson MP 

I’m hugely proud to be the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Dyslexia and other Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs), and particularly proud of our work this year.

As the parent of a severely dyslexic child, I am all too familiar with the challenges that people with dyslexia face throughout their lives.

Whether it’s facing difficulty getting a diagnosis in the first place, or a lack of support in the education system once it has been diagnosed, the impacts can be hugely detrimental.

This year, our group has been looking at the cost of undiagnosed and poorly supported dyslexia too, including the emotional wellbeing of dyslexics and their families, the educational attainment of young dyslexic pupils and the wider impact to society through issues like higher-than-average levels of criminality.

Following the release of our first report this year, The human cost of dyslexia - The emotional and psychological impact of poorly supported dyslexia, our second report focusses on the educational cost of dyslexia.

What this report highlights is just how many young people with dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties are being let down by the current education system.

For many parents or carers of children with dyslexia, it can often feel as though you are alone in the struggle to ensure your child gets the diagnosis and support that they need.

Until that is you meet other parents and carers (locally or online) going through exactly the same battle as you. Then you realise you are not alone, and it is not just you and your child. Instead, it’s the system that does not work to support your child as it should.

That’s why the work of our APPG and the report we have released is so important. It pulls together in one place the real cost of dyslexia to the education system and the young people who rely on it for the support they need.

Through the Equality Act (2010) and the Children & Families Act (2014), the law technically provides for identification and support for dyslexia. The reality is unfortunately very different – over 80% of young people with dyslexia leave school without a diagnosis, therefore going without the support that they need throughout their whole time in our education system.

The impacts are severe: a student with dyslexia or another SpLD is twice as likely to fail to achieve a good pass in English and Maths at GCSE.

Additionally, according to the 2019 Timpson Review of School Exclusions, 78% of permanent exclusions issued were to pupils who either had Special Educational Needs, were classified as in need or were eligible for free school meals.

The impacts can also be seen through the small number of university students with dyslexia – just 5% compared to the 10-15% in wider society.

These challenges are undoubtedly costing schools financially, but there can also be a direct cost to young people with dyslexia and their families.

If the school is unable to provide a diagnosis, families are often forced to pay for one themselves, costing between £500 and £700. Furthermore, if a parent or carer needs to provide evidence for an Education, Health and Care Plan process, this can also cost hundreds of pounds.

It’s clear that the current system is failing, and I hope that our report will re-invigorate the discussion about how we can best support young people with dyslexia and other SpLDs.

It’s important that we also look at the needs of teachers and schools who must provide that support on the ground.

The report contains some short, medium and long-term policy suggestions, including: the removal of Spelling and Grammar Marks from tests other than English language GCSE; allowing young people with dyslexia to use laptops/tablets in all classes and exams; introducing a specialist dyslexia teacher in every school; and training on dyslexia during Initial Teacher Training and as part of Continuous Professional Development.  

I look forward to working on the issues raised in this report, including with the Government, to improve diagnosis of and support for dyslexia and other SpLDs for young people.

Sharon Hodgson is Labour MP for Washington & Sunderland West, and chair of the APPG on Dyslexia and other Specific Learning Difficulties

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