Dyslexia figures rise as debate on diagnosis validity continues
As schools are reporting larger numbers of pupils diagnosed with learning disorder dyslexia, many have begun to question the validity of the diagnosis and whether there is an over-labelling of pupils due to laziness of schools.
Dyslexia is a complex learning difficulty that affects a series of skills such as writing, spelling, maths, understanding sequences and patterns, knowing left from right, map-reading skills, organisation, short term memory, speaking and language.
In 2010 Philippa Stobbs, an expert on special educational needs (SEN), said teachers are “over-labelling” pupils to get extra funding. She claimed “perverse incentives”, such as extra funding and inflating their position in the new style school rankings, are in place for schools to claim their pupils are suffering serious problems when too many are simply dropping behind in their education.
“I don’t think it’s very helpful to infer that children behind in their learning have SEN. They are only working below the standards they should be achieving. It makes a school’s value-added scores look better if you inflate SEN, and there are also funding incentives,” said Stobbs.
Quoted in The Times Educational Supplement, she added: “We shouldn’t artificially manipulate the number of children who have SEN.” She also claimed the rise in diagnosis was due to “laziness” in mainstream education. In 2009, 46 schools claimed half or more of their students had SEN.
Some backbench MPs claimed in 2010 that a focus on the neurological condition at school was obscuring a wider problem with reading in the classroom.
The annual budget for SEN is approximately £5 billion. Officials say that such spending is outstripping the rate of inflation, so it would seem unsurprising that the government announced in this year’s Queen’s Speech that they are undertaking the biggest overhaul of SEN in 30 years.
Could the rise in dyslexia be, as a former government advisor on speech and language said in the Telegraph: “an excuse for failure”?
A statement, it would seem, echoed by former backbencher Graham Stringer in 2009 when he told the Mail that dyslexia is a “cruel fiction” and that “the sooner it is consigned to the same dustbin of history, the better”.
“The education establishment, rather than admit that their eclectic and incomplete methods for instruction are at fault, have invented a brain disorder called dyslexia,” claimed Stringer. “To label children as dyslexic because they’re confused by poor teaching methods is wicked,” he added.
His controversial comments caused backlash, as Katie Griggs, founder of the charity Xtraordinary People, said: “It amazes me that people can make comments like that when there is so much evidence about dyslexia.” Furthermore, according to Julie Williams, professor of neuropsychological genetics at Cardiff University: “His comments about dyslexia are simply wrong.”
Or could the rise in diagnosis be a new way for authorities to cope with a new bout of social deprivation?
Take, for example, the wealthy area of Richmond upon Thames which has a SEN rate of 11.8%. Then consider Liverpool, a place with higher unemployment and poverty levels, which has a staggering 22.6% of its children registered.
Perhaps the increase in dyslexia diagnosis is merely due to educational standards and methods of instruction continuing to improve, and new emphasis on teachers to spot and aid dyslexia, amongst other disorders, in children.
However, it is a neurological disorder of the brain and has no bearing on intelligence. Dyslexia is widely believed to be due to a network of cells that lie just beneath the surface of the brain in dyslexic people. In people without the disorder, these cells are found along the surface of the brain, not under it.