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Early tests for literacy disorders

FRANCE

A new screening system will provide much-needed help for youngsters struggling with dyslexia and dysphasia

Nursery pupils will be screened to identify language learning difficulties as early as possible, under measures to start in September.

A 30 million-franc (pound;3m) plan aimed at helping the estimated 600,000 children who have problems learning to speak (dysphasia) or to read and write (dyslexia) was last week introduced by education minister Jack Lang, health minister Bernard Kouchner and state secretary for the disabled Dominique Gillot.

The affected children represent between 5 and 10 per cent of pupils - on average one or two in each class - with 1 per cent of them experiencing severe difficulty.

The ministers are acting in the wake of a report last year by Jean-Charles Ringard, an education inspector who found France was lagging behind other countries in helping these children (TES, July 14, 2000).

Mr Lang said: "By ignorance, fatalism or indecision, it seems our schools refused to take the right steps to deal with considerable, indeed crushing, difficulties met by some children affected by more or less severe problems of speech, reading and writing. The great majority of these children were doomedto school failure."

There was "no specialised expertise" to help them master the language. "Without official recognition, with no research or training programme, teachers were helpless," he said. The plan includes:

* better screening, to start in the final nursery year, for four and five-year-olds, with follow-ups at primary and in the first year of lower secondary;

* improved diagnosis and assessment procedures, with tests to help teachers, doctors and child welfare workers detect language problems;

* new specialised course units for trainee teachers and doctors;

* special conditions, such as extra time, for teenagers taking exams;

* social security benefits to cover speech therapy and other expenses;

* improved research into dyslexia and dysphasia, with a centre linked to universities and teaching hospitals which will develop material and advise teacher-trainers.

Except for cases of severe difficulty, ministers rejected the creation of special classes - an idea supported by some parents - which they said could lead to "ghettoisation".

Mr Lang said separation "would risk shutting the children into their difficulties, spell death for school integration and endanger schools' cohesion".

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