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Going, going, gone ..

A literacy programme is `wiping out' a lot of illiteracy and dyslexia, according to its architect. The educational psychologist behind the West Dunbartonshire 10-year literacy programme has made the dramatic claim that it is "wiping out" a lot of dyslexia, as well as eradicating illiteracy. But the council is taking a more cautious view.

Tommy MacKay told The TESS that the effectiveness of the literacy programme at the early stages meant that learning difficulties were being picked up before the age most children labelled as dyslexic are sent for assessment.

Dr MacKay believes only a very small number of cases can accurately be described as dyslexia. He says some children are labelled dyslexic around the ages of seven or eight - the stage when assessments for dyslexia are carried out - because that is when it becomes clear that a child is having problems responding to reading instruction.

However, he argues: "If you have a programme that is so good it identifies problems and addresses them very early, most of that dyslexia won't get to the point of being identified."

Dr MacKay, who works in the independent sector as an educational psychologist and specialises in autism, argues that the 10-strand reading programme he put in place in West Dunbartonshire will be successful with virtually all children, short of those with severe learning difficulties.

He attributes this to the intensive early intervention work involved and the individual support offered later on in the programme.

Lynn Townsend, head of service with responsibility for educational support at West Dunbartonshire Council, baulked at Dr MacKay's suggestions of dyslexia being effectively wiped out. However, she accepted that the programme was probably picking up and addressing learning difficulties that would otherwise have been diagnosed as dyslexia.

The education authority had not specifically looked at figures for dyslexia because there was a lack of clarity about how it should be defined, she said.

The accepted definition of dyslexia by the British Psychological Society is where a child has failed to make progress in reading after appropriate teaching and support.

Ms Townsend said: "If part of the definition is around appropriate teaching and support, and we start that early enough and it is good enough, we have to wipe out the early neurological difficulties."

She also argued that the Toe by Toe reading programme used in West Dunbartonshire to support older pupils was also effective with children with more severe learning difficulties. "There has always been evidence that good teaching for children with dyslexia is good teaching for everybody - and vice-versa," Ms Townsend added.

The project and its architect (p4-5).

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