TES letters

7th March 2014 at 00:00

The dyslexia label: lifeline or damaging distraction?

It may seem odd that I, the headteacher of a specialist dyslexia school, support Professor Joe Elliott's claim that the word dyslexic has become meaningless ("Why the dyslexia label may do more harm than good", 28 February). But dyslexia has come to be used as an umbrella term, covering a whole host of symptoms. Because of this, many people instantly associate any form of reading or writing difficulty with it.

The diagnostic process often determines how severe problems are by measuring how far behind a child is. This results in the assumption that underperformance defines dyslexia, when really it is an inherent difficulty with matching sounds to symbols.

Nowadays, the term means so many things to so many people that it has lost all educational relevance and perspective. Moreover, it encourages a "deficit" approach: focusing on what a child cannot do, instead of finding out what they can do and using this to enable their learning.

Labels can be useful. In this case, however, diagnosis fails to trigger a solution, which brings us to the real problem. If dyslexia is a fundamental difficulty with matching sounds and letters, why does phonics continue to be so prominent in mainstream education? If phonics ceased to exist, so would dyslexia.

Dr Daryl Brown

Headteacher at Maple Hayes Dyslexia School, Staffordshire

I could not disagree more with the idea that diagnosing dyslexia is not worth doing. As evidence from brain imaging shows, the existence of dyslexia is now irrefutable and it can affect all classes, ages and levels of intelligence. The idea that it is a "middle-class disease" is so wrong, and this outdated view does nothing to assist those who have the condition.

Working in further and higher education has highlighted for me the number of adults who struggled through school unaware of their dyslexia and convinced themselves of their general inabilities. When their difficulty is given a label, their relief is palpable and they are able to accept support to change their lives.

Children in privileged homes will most likely have literate parents who can help them if they struggle to read. For children from less well-off homes, whose parents may have their own literacy problems, the dyslexia label is a lifeline to support.

Dr Carol Hayes

Staffordshire University

Teachers have a duty of care on FGM

I am astounded by "Leaving FGM prevention to teachers is criminal" (Editorial, 28 February). To suggest that teachers have little or no responsibility for preventing or identifying cases of female genital mutilation is absurd. Teachers have a statutory duty to report any concern about student welfare.

The suggestion is not that teachers personally inspect students or approach their caregivers. But they must report concerns, however small. In addition, educating children, especially those from high-risk backgrounds, will lead to greater awareness and hopefully more reporting, which will weaken the culture of FGM.

N Faulder

Biology lecturer, INTO Manchester

China's lessons must be put into context

Yes, of course we can learn from China. But, as was pointed out in last week's TES, international rankings tell only part of the story ("Chinese whispers: does Shanghai's formula translate?" and "Emulating Asia risks crippling childhoods", 28 February).

To learn, we need to understand. I taught for two years at a teacher training college in China. Every aspect of life, society and education there is different from Britain, even in "Westernised" Shanghai. Not necessarily better or worse, just different.

As Dr Bernard Trafford wrote in his Comment piece, "learners are children, bringing to school a whole host of experiences". A robust fact-finding approach would not look at education in isolation. Culture and social issues are no excuse for underperformance, but ignoring them is a scientific and moral mistake.

Mary Dawson

Chief executive, Springboard for Children

Want intellectual challenge? Try early years

I agree with Kate Townshend that academic success and primary school teaching are widely seen as "odd bedfellows" ("Am I too clever to be a primary teacher?", Comment, 21 February). But try telling people that you are an early years teacher if you really want to baffle them.

High-quality early years education is the foundation on which all other learning is built. The difficulty lies in making visible the subtle, skilful process of developing young children's learning.

Unfortunately, Ms Townshend's off-the-cuff comment about the lack of intellectual challenge offered by The Very Hungry Caterpillar does much to illustrate this - any early years teacher worth their salt can tell you how much thinking can be built on to a classic text such as this. The bottom line is that you can't be "too clever" to be an early years teacher.

Polly Shields BA (Cantab) MA (IoE)

Reception class teacher, London

I'm not stuck in an ivory tower

This hands-on professor finds the accusation of being representative of out-of-touch academics ironic ("Teachers' voices are being heard", Letters, 28 February). Having led the development of classroom-based national assessments in 1989, monitored the national curriculum for the government and supplied evidence of it being skewed in primary by a focus on test scores, and vainly attempted to convince England's education secretary that teacher training should focus on learner-centred techniques, I am still hands-on in supporting reforms in half a dozen more enlightened countries where models for effective teaching and learning have moved past coaching for grades.

Professor Bill Boyle


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