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Screen pupils early for dyslexia

Rugby ace backs Assembly committee's call for more action on learning difficulty.

Former rugby star Scott Quinnell has backed calls for every six and seven-year-old in Wales experiencing learning difficulties to be tested for dyslexia.

The ex-Wales captain says he fully supports a national government-funded screening programme, a major recommendation of a new report, after his own battle with the condition.

"I used to cry because I didn't understand why learning was so difficult for me," said Mr Quinnell, who left school at 18 not realising that dyslexia was to blame for his reading, writing and spelling problems.

"If it hadn't have been for rugby, I don't know what I would have done," he said.

Mr Quinnell, now a TV pundit, believes he has been cured of the condition that affects one in 10 people by using the Dore method, one of five treatments being investigated by the Assembly's dyslexia rapporteur group.

The cross-party committee published its interim report before Christmas calling for the national screening, in Welsh or English, for all struggling pupils.

But the task group's report also criticises the lack of compulsion on trainees to study dyslexia and says all schools should have at least one expert in the problem. All infant school teachers, it says, should be able to detect the condition when pupils are in Year 1.

The report also hit out at a lack of consistency in the assessment and treatment of pupils with dyslexia, and recommended that a general definition of the syndrome should be adopted and followed.

Areas for further work outlined in the report include investigating good teaching practice in dealing with dyslexia and further opportunities for learning assistants and school nurses to support children with the condition. Members will also speak to the General Teaching Council for Wales about continuing professional development courses.

The four-person task group, which is attached to the enterprise and learning committee, was formed last July and has heard evidence from teachers, parents and other interested groups.

It has delayed making its final deliberations until more research on treatments are completed - the sixth and last recommendation.

Giving evidence to the committee, Mr Quinnell, patron of charity the Welsh Dyslexia Project, told how a physical exercise programme with bean bags had rid him of the condition that had made his school years a misery.

The Dore method claims to work by stimulating part of the brain's cerebellum but has proved controversial. Other treatments being investigated include the Raviv Method, phonic-based reading schemes, the use of tinted lenses and IT-based programmes.

Details on the exact number of dyslexic children in Wales are also called for in the report. Current figures are unable to separate those with the condition from other special educational needs.

The committee also wants more evidence on the amount of time children suspected of having dyslexia have to wait to see an educational psychologist.

It is already known that it affects 80 per cent of young offenders. But many famous people have worked around the problem, including crime writer Agatha Christie.

The most recent research by Cambridge Univesity, presented to the British Educational Research Association last year, claims the structure of GCSE science exam questions could affect a dyslexic pupil's chance of success.

Michael Davies, from the Welsh Dyslexia Project, welcomed the idea of a screening programme: "It would mean teaching methods could be used straight away instead of waiting for an educational psychologist."


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