Categories
Advocacy Media News

Opportunity to Improve Support for Students with Learning Disabilities

In a recent media release The Hon Peter Garrett, Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth announced the formation of a working group to provide early advice on assistance for students with a disability. Minister Garrett is specifically interested in identifying strategies that could assist school students with special needs both in the classroom and at school generally. He indicated the working group will identify effective, priority approaches to improve the educational experience of students with disabilities.

At this early stage there is no specific mention of dyslexia, dysgraphia, or any particular disability type, within the working group’s terms of reference. It is, however, viewed as an important opportunity to raise the significant issue of students with dyslexia, and other learning disabilities, in schools and the current level of disadvantage they experience. In order to ensure that this issue is raised and considered by the working party, please send a submission (no matter how brief) to schoolsfundingreview@deewr.gov.au or write to:

The Secretariat
Review of Funding for Schooling
Location C16MT4
GPO Box 9880
CANBERRA ACT 2601

The closing date for submissions to the Review has been extended to Thursday 21 April 2011.

Alternatively, please send your comments, thoughts and suggestions to support@dsf.net.au and we will include your comments with our submission.

More information on the review of schools funding is available at
http://www.deewr.gov.au/Schooling/Programs/Pages/FundingReview.aspx).

Categories
Advocacy Media News

Cynical Exploitation of Special Needs Children

Baroness Mary Warnock laid the foundations for special needs education thirty years ago. Here she reveals how her seminal report has been betrayed by schools who have exploited children to meet their own financial ends.

Thirty years is a long time in politics. It is high time that a Committee of Inquiry, or even a Royal Commission, were set up to recommend a fresh start on Special Educational Needs. This was the recommendation of the All-Party Commons Select Committee under Barry Sheerman in 2007 and it should be followed up now. This week’s damning Ofsted report is enough by itself to justify starting again.

When, as chairwoman of the Committee of Inquiry in 1978, I published what became known as the Warnock Report, things were totally different. It was only a few years since severely mentally disabled children had been deemed educable at all, and the concept of a continuum of educational needs, from the most severe and permanent to the relatively minor and remediable, was new. The educational cuts of the Eighties were a mere cloud on the horizon. We were still, just about, in the era when things could be recommended on the grounds of their educational merit, without too much calculation of costs.

So though the committee knew that its recommendations would not be cheap, it never thought that, as the Ofsted report appears to show, children’s supposed special needs would be exaggerated and exploited in order to attract more money for schools; still less in order to allow schools to slither out of their responsibility to ensure that as many children as possible achieved a respectable standard of literacy and numeracy, and a reliable understanding of how they ought to behave.

It was the idea of the continuum of needs that gave rise to the belief that the committee had recommended that all children, whatever their disabilities, should be educated in mainstream schools. What the committee actually recommended was that the large number of children with moderate learning diffculties already in mainstream schools should be identified, and their needs provided for where they were. We also thought that this would enable more children to be taught in mainstream rather than special schools because provision for their needs would now be better, and would become part of the recognised mainstream provision.

But the commmittee as a whole never proposed that all children should be taught under the same roof or that special schools should be abolished. This was, and remains, an extremist position.

We worked on the assumption (the figures being provided by the then Department of Education and never challenged) that about two per cent of school-age children had severe learning or other difficulties that affected their education. But that as many as 18 per cent more than these had educational needs that went beyond the “normal”. It was these children (briefly known as “Warnock Children”, rather to the dismay of my own five) who had hitherto been much neglected and who were supposed to have their needs met in mainstream schools by the provision of extra help and extra monitoring of their progress.

It was for these children that mainstream schools would be given extra money, for specialist teachers or for classroom assistants, for adaptation of school buildings or even for the setting up of units or withdrawal classrooms on the campus, for use by the mildly autistic, or what used to be called the “maladjusted”. We had been warned not to discuss the needs of the dyslexic, dyslexia being at that time widely regarded as a condition invented by the middle classes as a cover for the stupidity of some of their children.

Nor, unbeliveably, were we permitted to point to social deprivation as the cause of many special educational needs, though the link between deprivation and the development of language was as obvious then as it is today, and indeed the number of children eligible for free school meals was then, as now, taken as a rough indication of how many children in a school would have special educational needs.

This link between deprivation and educational failure or special needs struck me then as of the greatest possible importance. And in this respect things have not changed. We were not allowed to mention the link because the myth still persisted that social services and the teaching profession were two completely different sources of provision, dealing in completely separate things, or meeting totally different needs.

And though we on the committee continually urged the two services to work in partnership (what in Blair-speak became “joined-up thinking”) we failed, as did the Blair government, to make any difference to this insane dichotomy. If you believe, as I do, that education is the only way out of the under-class, then you cannot help believing in the link. But this also has a profound effect on the duty of teachers to engage their pupils in the educational process, and to inspire them with educational ambition.

By this I do not mean that they should encourage them all (or even half of them) to go to university, but that they should instil in them a desire to do things well, and understand them better and discuss them articulately. When pupils are thus excited by what they learn, not bored, they behave better, and can indeed be taught to do so. Linguistic poverty is a prime cause of boredom and of disruption and violence in the classroom.

Teachers have a huge responsibility for developing the language of their pupils, both spoken and written. I do not believe that teacher-training puts enough emphasis on this, nor on the connection between linguistic poverty and behaviour. Teachers have to tackle both together, and must be ready themselves to articulate the limits they will impose on rudeness, violence and disregard for the feeling and interests of others. If teachers are not explicitly to introduce, by precept and example, the basic rules of civilised, morally good behaviour, then they should quickly leave the profession.

But of course a teacher who teaches in this way, though she recognises that she will have far more difficulty with some children than with others, is fundamentally optimistic. She believes that most children can become engaged in and excited by the process of learning, can want to succeed, can like their teachers enough to want to please them, can therefore improve their performance, even if by halting steps and slow.

There will be some children who face obstacles too great for the ordinary teacher to remove, but these will be relatively few. For them, specialist help is required, either in the short or the long term. (For instance, only specially trained teachers can help severely dyslexic people, children or adults; without special training, a teacher may do more harm than good, but when she has had it, she may achieve wonders.)

Therefore it is absolutely necessary for the non-specialist teacher to be able to identify those children who genuinely need specialist help. Perhaps the greatest obligation of teacher-training is to make such identification central, a matter of routine but constant vigilance and good judgment.

But this is a far cry from the present trend, if the Ofsted report is to be believed. A good teacher believes in her ability to engage the imagination and therefore the co-operation of her pupils, however unpromising they may seem. A good teacher and a good school flourish on hope. A bad teacher gives up at the first setback and runs to the school Senco (special educational needs coordinator) asking for help. And now she is positively encouraged by management to do so, for the sake of a cash injection, and so that her pupils need not be counted among those whose examination results will be made public.

This is institutional pessimism, an institutional announcement that the pupils for whom extra is sought are, deep down, beyond hope and so little worthy of respect that they may be used merely as a means to an end.

The concept of special needs and its related statement (the supposed guarantee to a parent that her child will get the help he needs) must urgently be overhauled. It may have been inevitable from the beginning that these ideas would live on to be abused. At least from the 1981 Special Educational Needs Act, which made clear that no extra funds would be available for its implementation, we should have foreseen the future. However that may be, the Ofsted report suggests such a cynical reversal of the benign intentions of the original committee and the subsequent legislation that it cannot simply be overlooked. A fresh start must be made.

By Baroness Mary Warnock

17 September 2010

www.telegraph.co.uk

Categories
News Research

Seeking a New Deal on Dyslexia

Australia can take some tips about learning disabilities from schools in other countries, writes Elisabeth Tarica. This article was originally published in The Age on May 31st 2010 and is reprinted with permission.

A nation as self-confident as Australia doesn’t expect to receive lessons in advanced education practices from such humble places as Irvinestown, a small village two hours west of Belfast in Northern Ireland. Yet that’s what Nola Firth found this year when she visited the 250 students at the village’s St Paul’s Primary School, where sophisticated and effective strategies were being used to deal with dyslexia. St Paul’s is one of many schools in the UK that have been awarded dyslexia friendly status by the British Dyslexia Association.

Dr Firth, a research fellow at the Royal Children’s Hospital’s Centre for Adolescent Health and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, travelled to the UK, the US and Canada to visit dyslexia-friendly schools as part of a Churchill fellowship. She found that in these schools students spoke freely and without stigma about having the learning difficulty, the hurdles they face and what support they need to help them cope. They had easy access to text-to-speech and predictive typing software and specially trained teachers.  Each school formed its own dyslexia policy. One of these set down that students with dyslexia would not be asked to read aloud, would have access to alternative assessment methods and would receive assessment that did not include spelling accuracy. ‘‘There’s an awareness that you don’t have to be necessarily doing things that are written down to show that you have knowledge,’’ Dr Firth says. ‘‘They were still getting the best of literacy but on top of that there was this awareness that there are some people who need other ways of expressing information and getting information in. It works for everyone, not just the kids with dyslexia.’’

Since the initiative was introduced at St Paul’s in 2007, literacy results had jumped higher than the Northern Ireland average. This picture is in sharp contrast to the way dyslexia is treated in Australia — where, apart from New South Wales, it is not legally recognised as a learning disability and debate still centres on whether the condition really exists. Used to describe a range of persistent difficulties with reading, writing, spelling and sometimes mathematics that result in a child performing significantly below their chronological age, dyslexia is a lifelong genetic condition that has a neurological cause. It is often referred to as an invisible disability because it manifests differently in each person. It is estimated that one in 10 struggle with dyslexia yet few are assessed and given support.

Experts say teachers have limited training to identify dyslexia and learning difficulties, and are generally unaware of dyslexia’s genetic and permanent nature. It is why many students arrive at secondary school struggling to read or write. Research shows that, without intervention, students with dyslexia risk developing behavioural problems at school, giving up, withdrawing socially and eventually dropping out and suffering delinquency, depression and unemployment. Most Australian schools do not have a tailored program to deal with dyslexia, which falls under the general umbrella of specific learning disabilities (SLD) and does not attract separate funding.

‘‘SLD/dyslexia teacher education is compulsory for incoming teachers in the US, Canada, and the UK but this is not the case here in Australia,’’ says Dr Firth. ‘‘Many teachers do not know that SLD is a particular phenomenon that is inheritable, independent of intelligence, so that children can also be gifted, and that it is often highly resistant even to skilled teaching, including synthetic phonics teaching.’’ Because it isn’t recognised as a disability, dyslexia’s isolated symptoms — such as problems with reading — are often addressed in reading recovery programs that do little to overcome the underlying problem. Dr Firth says Australia is being left behind in its response to the condition. ‘‘What really struck me is that it is recognised and specifically stated as a disability in America, Canada and England,’’ she says. ‘‘Policy and practice have followed from this legislation, most of which either do not exist or exist in a much weaker form in Australia. These legal and practical supports indicate significant commitment to giving equal access and opportunity for success for those who have dyslexia.’’ Compared with Australia, there is far greater acceptance and awareness of dyslexia in the educational and general community in these countries. ‘‘When I told a school principal and a teacher educator at the University of Toronto that in Australia we do not recognise specific learning disabilities, including dyslexia, as a disability, the surprise on their faces was memorable,’’ she says. ‘‘They were truly astonished because they think of us as a progressive country and we are . . . but they were truly astonished that we didn’t have dyslexia categorised as a disability and that these people were not being systematically found and supported.’’ The US and Canada, for example, have schools dedicated to students with SLD. ‘‘They cater for students who cannot be adequately catered for in mainstream schools and are dedicated and set up for people who have SLD including dyslexia not intellectual disabilities,’’ says Dr Firth. One such school, the Frostig School in Pasadena, Los Angeles, catered for 120 students, each with an individual education plan. There was a ratio of 10 students to one teacher, plus a teacher aide. Five professionals including a speech therapist, educational consultant, psychologist and counsellor, were on-site. Dr Firth says recognition of the problem and extra school support are urgently needed. She was a member of the national dyslexia working party that in January presented a report on the shortfall of services for people with dyslexia to the federal parliamentary secretary for disabilities and children’s services, Bill Shorten. It calls for national recognition of dyslexia as a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act through legislation at state and federal level and for the dyslexia friendly school model to be implemented in Australia. It also recommends mandatory teacher training to help in identifying and supporting students with dyslexia. The introduction of dyslexia-friendly practices in workplaces was also flagged. ‘‘I experienced the widespread and significant positive change these initiatives can make,’’ she says. ‘‘The dyslexia friendly school model is something that could be translated here easily . . . it is about teacher training and teachers are dying to know what to do about these kids. They know about these clever kids they’ve got who have trouble with their reading and spelling.’’

LINKS

www.ldaustralia.org/359.html

www.churchilltrust.com.au/fellows/detail/3340

Categories
Events Media News

Successful Dyslexics in the News

Jessica Watson recently became the youngest person to sail non-stop and unassisted around the world. She completed her voyage three days before her 17th birthday. Jessica’s mother has discussed the difficulties Jessica experienced as a result of her dyslexia and the motivation it gave her to take the risk of circumnavigating the globe solo.
Jessica was diagnosed with dyslexia early in her schooling. She struggled to learn the alphabet and found reading very difficult. At age 11, her mother Julie read Jessica Lionheart, which detailed Jesse Martin’s solo world voyage at the age of 18. Julie Watson said her daughter had not let herself be held back by her dyslexia, but that she does need to be careful not to confuse numbers when conveying the coordinates of her location. Jessica has not been limited by her learning difficulties and her mother believes her courageousness is related to having to overcome her weaknesses in reading and spelling.








Dr. Carol W. Greider is a scientist at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA. She was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine along with her colleagues Elizabeth Blackburn and Jack Szostak for their discovery that telomeres are protected from progressive shortening by the enzyme telomerase. This finding is important to our understanding of how chromosomes are affected by diseases including cancer.
As a child, Dr. Greider thought she was stupid because she couldn’t spell and had a lot of trouble at school. She learned to compensate by utilising her strong memorisation skills. She enjoyed biology and thinking in a scientific way. Dr. Greider attributes her success to finding a way to channel her problem-solving skills into scientific investigation.




Orlando Bloom is an English actor famous for his roles in Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean. He spoke about his experience of having Dyslexia at the Adam Katz Memorial Lecture in New York on June 2nd, 2010. Orlando recalled his early childhood as being full of anger at times, as he experienced great difficulty coping with schoolwork, despite having an underlying feeling that he was smart. He acknowledges his passion for performance and the creative arts as helping him “get through”.
Orlando’s dyslexia was identified when he was young and he states that the support he received from his family was critically important to the success he has had. Acting allowed him to put his mind to work in a different way to that which was required at school. Orlando noted that having dyslexia can seem like a big obstacle, but that it takes challenges for us “to learn, grow, be better”.




References
A conversation with Carol W. Greider on winning a Nobel prize in Science, Claudia Dreifus, The New York Times, 12-10-2009.
Challenged and gifted: A lesson on Dyslexia from Orlando Bloom, Harold Koplewicz, Need to Know on PBS, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/voices/challenged-and-gifted-a-lesson-on-dyslexia-from-an-erstwhile-elf/1359/ (Accessed 29-06-10).
Jessica Watson, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jessica_Watson, accessed 05-07-2010.
Solo sailor Jessica Watson battles dyslexia, Kathleen Donaghey, The Sunday Mail (Qld), 31-01-2010

Categories
News

Opportunity to Improve Support for Students with Learning Disabilities

In a recent media release The Hon Peter Garrett, Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth announced the formation of a working group to provide early advice on assistance for students with a disability. Minister Garrett is specifically interested in identifying strategies that could assist school students with special needs both in the classroom and at school generally. He indicated the working group will identify effective, priority approaches to improve the educational experience of students with disabilities.

At this early stage there is no specific mention of dyslexia, dysgraphia, or any particular disability type, within the working group’s terms of reference. It is, however, viewed as an important opportunity to raise the significant issue of students with dyslexia, and other learning disabilities, in schools and the current level of disadvantage they experience. In order to ensure that this issue is raised and considered by the working party, please send a submission (no matter how brief) to schoolsfundingreview@deewr.gov.au or write to:

The Secretariat
Review of Funding for Schooling
Location C16MT4
GPO Box 9880
CANBERRA ACT 2601

Alternatively, please send your comments, thoughts and suggestions to support@dsf.net.au and we will include your comments with our submission.

More information on the review of schools funding is available at
http://www.deewr.gov.au/Schooling/Programs/Pages/FundingReview.aspx).

Categories
Advocacy News

A ‘Not To Be Missed’ Opportunity for Change January 2010

During 2008 the Hon Bill Shorten, Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services, met with representatives from dyslexia interest groups who expressed concern that dyslexia is not recognized as a specific disability under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and that the education and employment systems do not recognize or support people with dyslexia.

Following these meetings the Parliamentary Secretary requested the FaHCSIA convene a roundtable Forum to discuss these issues.

This Dyslexia Stakeholder Forum was held at Parliament House, Canberra on 16 June 2009. The Forum consisted of 24 people, who are scientists in the areas of reading or learning disabilities, technologists, people with dyslexia, clinicians and practitioners, or representatives from DEEWR and FaHCSIA. It was decided that a representative Working Party of 8 Forum members should be formed, charged with the task of writing a report proposing a national agenda for action to assist people with dyslexia. AUSPELD was represented on the Working Party by two members of the executive, Angela Weeks, President and Mandy Nayton, Treasurer.
The Working Party consulted widely and in particular benefited from comments on a draft report that were received from the following authorities (all of whom have expressed very strong support for the recommendations we have made):

• AUSPELD (The Australian Federation of Specific Learning Difficulty Associations)
• LDA (Learning Difficulties Australia)
• ALDA (The Australian Learning Disability Association)
• Speech Pathology Australia
• The DDOLL (Developmental Disorders of Language and Literacy) network, which was established with funding from the Australian Research Council.
• Sir James Rose, author of the Rose Report on Dyslexia commissioned by the UK Government.

I am delighted to share this report with you and invite you to contact the Hon Bill Shorten directly at http://www.billshorten.com.au with your comments. I think this is a ‘not to be missed’ opportunity for the Dyslexia Community to petition for change and have their voices heard. I shall keep you posted through the website of our progress.

Angela Weeks
AUSPELD President