In a recent report commissioned by the British Government, the need to respond more effectively to students struggling with dyslexia was identified as a priority requiring immediate and substantive attention. The report – Identifying and Teaching Children and Young People with Dyslexia and Literacy Difficulties (Rose, J) – was completed in June, 2009 and the Government have subsequently approved all 19 recommendations arising from the report.
At the heart of these recommendations are two important understandings. Firstly, dyslexia exists and is identifiable as a developmental disability of language learning and cognition. Secondly, in order to respond effectively to students with dyslexia we must ensure that all children are provided with high quality early instruction and that evidence-based intervention is offered to every child identified as at risk of literacy failure.
Pressure for the Dyslexia Report came from many sources but was driven by both parents and adult learners desperately seeking numerous changes to the education system. Of most importance was the early identification of dyslexia and an improved response once identified; two factors seen as being of paramount importance in reducing the impact of dyslexia on developing literacy skills. Many adult learners described the frustration and anxiety associated with their education, and the importance of assessment.
‘‘For years as a kid, I just knew that I couldn’t read properly. I didn’t know why I couldn’t read, but it was always like this big problem that was just sitting there at the back of my head, just waiting and it never went away, in fact it only got worse’. (pg.57)
…. and ….
‘At long last one of the teachers at my school got someone to come and assess me. They said I had dyslexia; well it was a great relief to actually know that there was a name for what I had… it was important for me to be able to say to myself, well that’s why you couldn’t read and now I have to get on and do something about it’. (pg. 42)
Many parents and teachers expressed concern about the adequacy of school provision, suggesting it was ‘too little, too late’ in terms of assisting students to overcome the impact of dyslexia. The following comment from a parent illustrates this point:
‘I gave up on her school. I was literally banging my head on a brick wall. Everyone knew she couldn’t read to save her life and that’s what was causing all her other problems, especially at home, it was a nightmare.’(pg. 2)
Early in the report it is suggested that “the long running debate about its existence should give way to building professional expertise in identifying dyslexia and developing effective ways to help learners overcome its effects.” (pg. 9) Many of the report’s 19 recommendations are in line with this objective. They are designed to improve teaching, learning and literacy outcomes for children with literacy and dyslexic difficulties and are grouped under five key headings:
- Strengthening teaching and learning;
- Assessing children’s progress and identifying children’s difficulties;
- Further strengthening intervention programmes;
- Guidance for parents and others; and,
- Assuring the quality of provision.
Most of the recommendations have policy and practice implications for Australian educators and should be given strong consideration; particularly as dyslexia remains an area that is both poorly understood and inadequately dealt with throughout Australia. The following is a summary of the recommendations made with some changes to nomenclature; designed to suit the Australian educational landscape.
Strengthening teaching and learning
Education Departments should fund a number of teachers to undertake appropriately accredited specialist training in teaching children with dyslexia, in order to provide substantially improved access to specialist expertise in all schools and across all education districts.
Education Districts should consider with schools how they might form groups which could share the resource of a specialist dyslexia teacher.
Education Departments should commission short courses for teachers on selecting and teaching literacy intervention programmes. These courses should:
- cover the definition and characteristics of dyslexia (see figures 3 and 4);
- equip participants with the expertise to select, implement, monitor and evaluate literacy interventions;
- ensure those trained are able to advise other teachers and support staff on delivering high quality interventions;
- provide links to on-line training materials.
Education Departments should develop, or commission the development of, dyslexia-relevant materials in light of this review. The materials should continue to be promoted for in-service and pre-service teachers, and other members of the workforce involved with teaching literacy, such as teaching assistants.
Education Departments should ask appropriate organisations (e.g. DSF) to review their accreditation criteria for training courses for specialist dyslexia teachers so that courses cover good practice in Wave 1 teaching of reading and writing, and how a child’s literacy would normally develop if s/he is not experiencing difficulties.
Education Departments should ask Universities and other organisations involved in pre-service teacher training to build on initiatives for strengthening coverage of special educational needs and disability (including dyslexia) in initial teacher training courses and through continuing professional development.
Education Districts should set out how schools can secure access to sufficient expertise to meet the needs of children with literacy and dyslexic difficulties (see figure 1 for recommended model).
Assessing children’s progress and identifying children’s difficulties
The first step in identifying that children may have dyslexia is to notice those making poor progress in comparison with their typically developing peers, despite high quality Wave 1 teaching. Therefore, Education Districts and Departments should work with schools to make sure that they have in place good monitoring arrangements to ascertain that Wave 1 teaching is of a high quality, especially in teaching word recognition and language comprehension skills in keeping with the ‘simple view of reading’ (see page 20 for a detailed description of the ‘simple view of reading’).
In a review of early childhood education, consideration should be given to how language development can be carefully monitored so that where children have emerging difficulties with aspects of language and literacy that may be obstacles to their progress, practitioners can take steps to overcome them and tailor provision more carefully to individual language needs.
The development of national assessment protocols should be linked to early years screening and assessment, thus assisting with the identification of literacy difficulties; a first step towards identifying dyslexia (see figure 2 for a model on the steps towards diagnosis of dyslexia).
Further strengthening intervention programmes
Education Departments should work with partners to develop the following:
- Effective Wave 2 provision that is systematic in its approach to phonic work;
- pre- and post-intervention phonemic awareness assessment that picks up the word level skills children should master (based on a thorough review of published assessment materials);
- guidance on how class teachers, and the intervention teacher, should share information so that children’s progress through the phonic phases (as in Letters and Sounds) can be tracked, and interventions and in-class support planned as complementary responses.
Guidance for parents and others
Education departments should commission clear guidance for parents and schools on the policy and purpose of interventions. This should include explaining how effective interventions, for all school age groups, are to be made available for children with literacy and dyslexic difficulties, and how children’s progress will be monitored. The content and implementation of this guidance should be independently evaluated.
The guidance should be placed on an interactive website covering literacy and dyslexic difficulties, on which there should also be:
- regular updates on successful ways of helping children to overcome literacy and dyslexic difficulties;
- links to inclusive education materials, and to the short course materials which feature in the third recommendation.
- A copy of this review and key background papers that contributed to it.
- A copy of ‘What Works for children with literacy difficulties? (G. Brooks’ 2007) guidance, which should be regularly updated –
All schools should:
- keep parents informed of the plans for, and progress of, children with literacy or dyslexic difficulties;
- publish the procedures they follow to identify and support children with such difficulties.
Education Departments should provide appropriate support for students with learning disabilities and should develop and promote guidelines for parents, so they are better placed to understand and question provision being made for their children. This should refer directly to provision for reading difficulties, including dyslexia.
Education Departments should continue to fund a helpline that provides advice to parents and people working in schools on dyslexia and literacy difficulties.
Assuring the quality of provision
Principals and School Councils should audit school provision to make sure that it complies with ‘The Disability Discrimination Act (1992)’ and the ‘Disability Standards for Education (200?) and use their best endeavours to ensure that the necessary provision is made for any student who has special educational needs. By definition, this will include identifying and making necessary provision for children with dyslexia.
With the help of Education Departments and School Districts, all primary and secondary schools should evaluate their intervention programmes, and make sure that where the expertise required for these programmes needs to be strengthened, steps are taken to do so.
Education Departments should consider commissioning an independent survey to evaluate the extent to which, and with what impact, primary and secondary schools are using interventions to advance the progress of children and young people experiencing a wide range of literacy difficulties.
In a written Ministerial Statement to the House of Commons all 19 recommendations were officially accepted and endorsed. Ed Balls, Secretary of State, described the report as “excellent” and “a well-crafted distillation of research evidence and the concerns expressed by children with dyslexia and their parents”. The Government intend to work closely with peak bodies in the UK to ensure the recommendations are translated into practice and have committed over £10 million towards improving outcomes for all students with dyslexia.
Australia is the only English-speaking country that does not have clear policy and practice guidelines on dyslexia and the current improvements taking place in the UK, the USA and New Zealand serve to leave Australian children and adults struggling with dyslexia even further behind.
DSF Executive officer
Identifying and Teaching Children and Young People with Dyslexia and Literacy Difficulties, Rose, J. (2009), http://publications.dcsf.gov.uk/eOrderingDownload/00659-2009DOM-EN. pdf
An explanation of the ‘Simple View of Reading’ (see page 20 of this Bulletin)
‘What Works for children with literacy difficulties? (G. Brooks’ 2007) – http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/search/earlyyears/results/nav:46163