Dyslexic children 'failed by funding'

THE vast majority of dyslexic children could be taught to read and write in mainstream classes but are condemned to a lifetime of illiteracy by under-funding, a report by education experts claims.

The Literacy Commission is expected to report that up to 98% of Scots children with dyslexia could overcome their problems if ministers switched cash from current priorities, such as healthy eating initiatives, and recruited more teachers and classroom assistants.

There are thought to be about 80,000 Scottish children diagnosed with dyslexia, many of whom will leave school "functionally illiterate", meaning they have a reading age of less than nine-and-a-half.

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Last week, Manchester Blackley MP Graham Stringer said dyslexia was a "cruel fiction that leads to crime and should be put in the dustbin of history", saying the condition was used to disguise shortcomings in the teaching of reading and writing.

The Literacy Commission, set up by the Labour Party in June 2007, is made up of politically independent education experts, business leaders and other high-profile figures, such as author Ian Rankin.

The commission's report is not expected until later this year, but chairwoman Judith Gillespie revealed they were already agreed on how to tackle dyslexia, which is estimated to affect between 10% and 20% of youngsters.

Gillespie said: "There's only really about 2% of youngsters who have severe neurological problems, which means that they really do have great difficulty in learning to read."

Gillespie said the evidence from experts suggested the remaining children could and should be taught to read and write in much the same way as other youngsters.

She added: "We're not saying those children don't suffer from dyslexia.What the experts keep saying to me is we know how to teach children to read, but we're just not doing it.

"The real problem is sustaining (literacy] programmes and putting in place extra staff that you need to deliver them. It's funding and commitment.

"Every time school inspectors go into school, they seem to be looking for a new political imperative; have we got confident individuals, not have we got individuals who can read. It's getting buried. They go in to say have we got good lunches or have we got fitness programmes. The priority of literacy is not there."

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Gillespie pointed to literacy programmes such as the one developed by Professor Tommy MacKay of Strathclyde University as evidence that more classroom focus on reading and one-to-one teaching made a difference. In West Dunbartonshire, which adopted MacKay's method, illiteracy levels among primary school leavers fell from a peak of 29% to 0.2% in 10 years.

Dyslexia expert Margaret Crombie said: "There are quite a lot of dyslexic children not reaching the point they could reach because they are not getting adequate support. They are being let down. Often, if a dyslexic child's needs are not met early enough, they either become withdrawn because they become frustrated that they aren't able to cope or they play truant or become a disruptive problem in the classroom.

"By the time they leave school they have been switched off by the education system and a lot of youngsters get into crime, which is why we have such a high rate of illiteracy among prisoners."

She called on the Scottish Government to train every teacher in literacy to fulfil their promise of making reading and writing the core of the Curriculum for Excellence.

Famous dyslexics include Hollywood A-listers Keira Knightley, Tom Cruise, Keanu Reeves and Salma Hayek as well as Cher, Albert Einstein, Richard Branson and Mohammed Ali.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "Last year, the Education Secretary, the First Minister and Sir Jackie Stewart (president of Dyslexia Scotland] met the deans of the seven universities involved in initial teacher education and teacher continuous professional development. We agreed a two-year action plan to make education more inclusive, starting with dyslexia."

'They said I was a lazy no-hoper'

COLIN Williamson, 42, from Livingston, says he was written off by his school when he struggled with reading and writing at the age of five. After a lifetime striving to gain an education, he now works in teaching and is passionate about it.

"My dad taught me to read because the school gave up on me. They said I was lazy and I was labelled as a no-hoper. The school didn't recognise dyslexia in those days.

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"I internalised my learning issues as a child and developed a self-confidence problem. When I was 14 I had a breakdown. My formal education was a washout.

"I went back to school and passed one O-Level in history, which I loved, but the teacher wouldn't let me sit the Higher exam because he didn't think I could cope, so school and I were finished.

"I did labouring work, and went on to youth training schemes and job creation programmes, which ended up in unemployment. It took me years to recognise that I had a brain worth talking about. In my 20s I went back to college and did a course in social care. I had unfinished business with my education.

"It was very scary but once I had a bit of success and encouragement the whole world opened up. I did a diploma in Scottish history and went to Edinburgh University to major in Scottish ethnology, and I got an honours degree. Now I work as an interactive guide at the Real Mary King's Close in Edinburgh.

"I would like to see teachers being given training in dyslexia awareness, and resources to help dyslexic children being provided at school."