Recession curtailed Sir Jim's plans to increase specialist dyslexia support

26th June 2009 at 01:00
Economic downturn put paid to main recommendation for 1:1 programme because staff training costs were too high

Major changes to the teaching of dyslexic pupils announced this week would have been more extensive if the recession had not cut back the associated training programme for teachers, the expert behind the reforms has admitted.

Plans for one-to-one specialist support for dyslexic pupils have been axed in favour of spending Pounds 10 million on training a small number.

The changes have been ordered following a report by Sir Jim Rose, who has said the recession prevented him from recommending more far-reaching programmes.

The news comes after warnings that schools could see their budgets squeezed as the downturn hits spending in the public sector.

But the changes remain the first time the Government has funded a national scheme to help dyslexic children. Many support groups have welcomed them.

Sir Jim said the state of the UK economy was "hardly favourable" for meeting his recommendation of high-quality training. He hopes local authorities will pay for more and there will be better use of existing resources.

"If there wasn't a recession and times were easier, more resources could have gone in," he said.

The number of small schools means it is not practical to have a dyslexia specialist in every primary and secondary school, he said.

Shirley Cramer, chief executive of Dyslexia Action, said the "training gap" existed because schools and local authorities hadn't been encouraged to invest.

"This is the first big support for those with dyslexia, but we do worry about how many people organisations like ourselves can train," she said.

Lynn Greenwold, chief executive of Patoss, the specific learning difficulties organisation, and chair of the Dyslexia-SpLD Trust, said: "The message is clear: dyslexia training is essential - for quality-first teaching in the classroom and to provide specialist teachers to work with more complex pupils. The sooner we embed these skills in all schools, the better."

Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, asked Sir Jim a year ago to report on how best to introduce a specialist programme for dyslexia after making commitments in the Children's Plan. The expert group assembled by Sir Jim said it was "very difficult" and unreliable to diagnose dyslexia in the early school years and set up blanket screening.

Sir Jim said secondaries are now bearing the brunt of the problems caused by the condition not being diagnosed or addressed when pupils are young. Teachers would have to provide more help for those who struggle with reading and writing.

Trouble with words

Experts have argued for years about whether dyslexia even exists, but Sir Jim says it is now "widely accepted" that it does.

The learning difficulty primarily affects skills for accurate and fluent reading and spelling. Those with it have difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed, but it is not related to intelligence. They also experience difficulty with motor co- ordination, mental calculation, concentration and personal organisation.

Support schemes prioritise phonological skills for reading and writing and encourage children to work frequently and in short bursts. Many schools use Partnership for Literacy, which takes dyslexic children out of lessons for intensive support.

Jo Fiddes, head of Five Lane Primary in Leeds, has trained teaching assistants to run the programme. "Children need help little and often - it's no good one day a week," she said. "Our biggest problem is lack of space. You need it to run things like this."

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