Adult education offers new hope to 'forgotten children'

6th June 2015 at 07:00
picture of adult education
An adult education tutor reflects on how FE offers a second chance to students whose learning difficulties went undiagnosed at school

A few weeks ago, I met an interesting and intelligent 52-year-old man. His topics of conversation ranged from politics and world affairs to cricket and antique maps. Much of his information came from the BBC World Service, which he listened to at every opportunity. I was assessing him to see whether he had dyslexia, but I found myself skipping over a number of the reading and writing exercises because it turned out he was completely illiterate.

He wasn’t the first person I’d met who struggled with literacy but he was the most severely affected. I teach English to adults and see a lot of people with reading and writing skills comparable to those of young children. In fact, many come to us because they can no longer keep up with their own children’s abilities. Often they fell behind at school because of an undiagnosed learning difficulty, or missed out on a consistent education. 

So I was interested to read about a recent report that says tens of thousands of children with special educational needs are being “forgotten” in school. Struggling with conditions such as dyslexia and autism, they fail to cope in mainstream education because teachers lack the expertise and training to support them. 

Two University of Cambridge professors, John MacBeath and Maurice Galton, visited 19 schools attended by more than 2,000 children. They found that some pupils with complex needs were dismissed as “lacking a work ethic” by teachers because they did badly in tests and had difficulty following lessons. One mother was told that her SEN child was afflicted with “lazyitis” and another that dyslexia was “just a fancy label”.

A percentage of these “forgotten” children return to education as adults and that’s when I meet them.

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