Exclusive: Council won't back down over dyslexia

Warwickshire guidance backed by Durham professor, who says current dyslexia diagnosis functions 'like a horoscope'

Caroline Henshaw

Dyslexia Scotland offers advice on how teachers can support pupils with dyslexia

Warwickshire County Council says it is sticking with guidance that questions the science around dyslexia diagnosis, after it was endorsed by Durham University research.

The council withdrew the document after facing heavy criticism in the House of Lords for saying that “the diagnosis of dyslexia is scientifically questionable” and provides no helpful additional information.

But a spokesperson confirmed Warwickshire will still treat all children with reading difficulties the same, which, it argues, ensures a “more equitable” use of resources.

“Warwickshire’s policy is to do what is best for all of our children and young people. We do not wait for pupils to present with a diagnosis before we put a package of support in,” said Colin Hayfield, the council’s portfolio holder for education and learning.

“The purpose of the guidance, therefore, is to ensure that our schools are very well-equipped to recognise signs of difficulties not only with reading but with all aspects of literacy, and to put a plan in place.”

Warwickshire has been backed by Professor Julian Elliott, of Durham University, who argues that the dyslexia diagnosis functions “like a horoscope” with people picking and choosing symptoms that fit.

'There is no way to diagnose dyslexia'

“There is no way to diagnose dyslexia because it has 101 different definitions and meanings,” he told Tes.

“No one is saying there aren’t people who struggle to read because of biological problems… but there is no way of identifying a subgroup of that population which is dyslexic and which differs from other members of that population who are ‘garden variety’ poor readers.

“And there is nothing you could do as an intervention that is different from the other kids.”

He argues that dyslexia diagnosis has become a label that is used to give priority to some children in accessing extra support over others.

“The fact that someone feels better being given a diagnosis has nothing to do with the validity of that diagnosis,” he said.  

“If being diagnosed as dyslexic means you get more support and sympathy… it’s a zero-sum game, as there are many multiples of that number more who don’t get that… The kids who lose out tend to be the ones whose parents have the least voice.”

The NHS estimates that around 10 per cent of the population, or on average three children in every UK classroom, have some degree of dyslexia.

Debate over dyslexia diagnosis has been growing, with high-profile behavioural geneticist Robert Plomin recently telling Tes that the current approach is “wrong”.

Professor Elliott said he hopes more councils will have the “confidence and assurance” to follow Warwickshire’s lead. He has organised a conference on dyslexia diagnosis in London on Thursday.

But Helen Boden, chief executive of the British Dyslexia Association, said the council’s stance was “ludicrous” and vowed to battle its “regressive and demeaning approach”.

“As understanding has developed, it has become almost universally agreed that dyslexia is a complex neurological difference that affects people in many different ways, both positively and negatively, commonly including challenges around reading,” she said.

“However, dyslexia is not just ‘reading difficulties’ it can impact on spelling, writing, memory, speed of processing and developing automaticity as well as other areas.

"To suggest it is just a reading difficulty demonstrates a lack of understanding of the depth and breadth of challenges that it can bring to an individual in education.

“The complexity of dyslexia means diagnosing dyslexia is critical so that people with dyslexia can begin to understand the many ways it will affect them for better and worse, and get support to build individual coping strategies to manage the issues dyslexia presents.”

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Caroline Henshaw

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