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What diagnosis?

Q I watched the recent Channel 4 programme on dyslexia with interest and am largely sympathetic to the views you and your colleagues are putting forward. However, as a secondary school Senco, I am often approached by parents who ask me if I would assess their child for dyslexia. Any advice?

A For those who have not followed the debate, it is important to reiterate that it is not a case of whether dyslexia exists or not (this is not really a meaningful question) but, rather, that it is essential that everyone is agreed about what we mean by this term.

At present, dyslexia is used as a catch-all construct that has no significant value for guiding educators to the most appropriate forms of intervention beyond those approaches that are suitable for all struggling with literacy. However, the label often has an important function for families that transcends its relevance to everyday educational practice and you need to be alert to this.

My advice is that, as Senco, you should emphasise to parents that your role is principally to help ensure that children have their special educational needs met. For this reason, you (and support services, where appropriate) will undertake a detailed assessment in order to ascertain the specific nature and degree of any difficulties. Having gathered this information, you will work with teachers to ensure that any difficulties are addressed.

You need to explain that, by itself, a diagnosis of dyslexia won't provide helpful information to guide intervention.

Particularly important, you should emphasise that you will, as Senco, seek to ensure that school staff do not underestimate the child's cognitive powers because of any literacy difficulties. Many parents hear horror stories of bright poor readers who are labelled as "thick" and are understandably fearful that this may be the fate of their own offspring.

You need to reassure them on these grounds, perhaps, if appropriate, by asking an educational psychologist to examine the child's general intellectual functioning.

Finally, you need to explain that, if the child has special educational needs, full consideration of suitability for public examination dispensation will take place. You may also need to point out the local authority's position on providing statements for children with such difficulties. As with some other forms of SEN, for example, moderate learning difficulties, local education authorities are increasingly delegating resources to schools rather than tying-up funding in the statementing process.

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