Cash to 'inspire' dyslexic learners

16th December 2005 at 00:00
Jack McConnell, the First Minister, has added another twist to the debate over dyslexia by announcing pound;1.4 million for an inclusive studies project at Aberdeen University. A major focus will be dyslexia and other learning difficulties and how teachers can best handle them.

Mr McConnell, who opened a new pound;13 million school of education building at the university on Monday, said the five-year project would assess the best ways of working with pupils who had difficulties. Sir Jackie Stewart, president of Dyslexia Scotland, lent his support and pledged to raise funds to help the project continue after Scottish Executive financial support runs out in 2010.

The school of education is already pioneering new ways of training teachers, backed by the Executive and funds from the Hunter Foundation, and now adds at least four senior posts, including a professor of inclusive studies, to a roster that has a growing reputation.

Mr McConnell said: "Teachers must have the skills to inspire all children and dyslexia and other learning difficulties need not hold any child back.

That is why this new project is so exciting. It will ensure new teachers are expertly trained in how to help children with dyslexia and other learning difficulties."

The project aims to embed inclusive approaches within initial teacher education. There are currently 1,400 full and part-time students in the school.

The row over dyslexia, highlighed in The TES Scotland, surfaced in September after Professor Julian Elliot of Durham University challenged prevailing views about the condition. "There is no consensus about how it should be defined or what diagnostic criteria should be used," Professor Elliot argued. "Forget about letter reversals, clumsiness, inconsistent hand preference or poor memory - these are commonly found in people without reading difficulties, and in poor readers not considered to be dyslexic."

But Dr Margaret Crombie, director of Dyslexia Scotland, countered there was already a body of scientific knowledge to prove the condition's existence .

"People with dyslexia generally find it difficult to process and fully understand the sound system of the language they are learning," Dr Crombie stated in an article for The TES Scotland. "These difficulties, which tend to cluster around phonological awareness, short-term and working memory, and sequencing, don't just make learning to read, write and spell difficult - they also make activity which requires those skills more problematic."

In contrast, Jennifer Baker, an experienced teacher in the west Highlands (TESS, October 21), quoted the old staffroom aphorism: "Middle-class children have migraines, allergies and dyslexia; working-class children have headaches, spots and can't read."

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