Dyslexia and a flat earth



Yesterday, I made the trip to London to the IOE for the dyslexia ‘debate’. At the end of last year, there was a furore in the House of Lords after Warwickshire Council had declared that a dyslexia diagnosis was ‘scientifically questionnable’.

I was hoping for an interesting debate and that I might learn something. The debate hinged around whether the label of dyslexia should be dispensed with.

Sadly, the event was disappointing. I did not learn anything and there was no debate.

The event kicked off with Jules Daulby, who was pro-label on the grounds of needing to be equitable. Next, came Julian Elliot who clearly relished being on stage and filled it like a pantomime baddy; sneering at the BDA and poking a stick at ‘so-called’ dyslexia who hadn’t had a robust defence. The word bully comes to mind.

Several claims were made which were inaccurate, one that the word dyslexia came first and then a set of characteristics to fit.

Fact: Dyslexia was ‘discovered’ by psychologists, presented with children with ’emotional difficulties’, they found these children had shared characteristics. If you want to learn more about the history, read Tim Miles: 50 years in Dyslexia Research.

Perhaps the problem is with SCIENCE after all and not dyslexia. Taking only a positivist stance: if I can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist – what evidence are we missing before our eyes. In measuring the small parts, how are we missing the big picture? Perhaps a more relativist approach is needed.

We all know that dyslexia is present in EVERY classroom. Do I think that money should be spent on costly assessments and support? Well, no – avoid this with early identification and intervention.

After Elliot came Jonathan Solity – who I hadn’t realised was at the heart of proceedings at Warwickshire. Again, I learnt nothing as I had seen the same presentation in the summer at the UCL. He did add some new buzz words: Direct Instruction, interleaving and spaced practice most notibly. It seemed ironic to me that after damning the ‘dyslexia industry’, this and what followed was essentially a plug for Solity’s services. Daulby also referenced a commercially available service.

The essence of Solity’s approach can easily be followed by schools:

  • teach fewer phonemes
  • practise High Frequency Words
  • do not stick slavishly to book bands, use picture books.

Finally, we had the team from the council. They presented data to support their stance on dyslexia (treat all children with reading failure the same and do not acknowledge the ‘label’). Dyslexia, throughout, was framed as a ‘reading failure’ only. The message: assess children and address the needs of all under-performing readers. Again, no argument with that.

The reading intervention was based around the procedural aspects of reading: fluency and word level. It did not look at comprehension. One of the tools used was the Salford which I have been advised against as the standardisation of this is too narrow, rendering it inaccurate.

I’m afraid that what Warwickshire Council proposes is not enough to support all dyslexic learners. The word ‘spelling’ kept being tagged on to the end of statements but there was no talk of spelling support or evidence of it.

As we know, the picture of dylsexia in the classroom is much broader than reading difficulties alone and schools that teach reading and phonics effectively, with a reading for pleasure ethos, will find their dylsexic children are reading! They still can’t spell or write though and will have difficulty in aspects of maths.

Elliott distilled dylsexia research into 3 (negative) quotes, in what was overall an outrageous display of propaganda, to a receptive audience. I was surprised at the vitriol.

Science has made a mess of dyslexia, medicalising and pathologising it…and now suggesting it doesn’t exist. Perhaps time to give it back to the teaching profession and ensure that teachers are supported with the knowledge and skills they need. Key for me is the Morton and Frith framework – consider how the environment impacts on dyslexia – it is highly receptive to the right intervention and support, if addressed early.

Maybe one day we can dispense with the label, but this will be when there are no signs of dyslexia in the classroom.


We are not there yet.



2 thoughts on “Dyslexia and a flat earth”

  1. Jennifer Hawkins

    Thank you for this valuable piece of qualitative research data. It tells us a great deal about where we are at, in understanding reading difficulties and I hope with permission to reference it at some point. Suzanne is not only a talented, perceptive and insightful teacher, but has also experienced the challenges of this problem within her own family. This makes her take a more open-minded and scientific research approach to this subject than many ‘theoretical experts’ and she is a leader in this field.

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