Minister Seeks More Help For Dyslexic Pupils

The government has ordered a review of how schools should educate the country’s estimated 300,000 dyslexic children, after admitting that many are being left to flounder without tailored teaching.

The schools secretary, Ed Balls, said he wanted to disprove sceptics who questioned the existence of dyslexia, but too many parents were not getting the help their children needed to learn to read and write.

The review will be led by Sir Jim Rose, who is also undertaking a separate review of the primary curriculum. It will address calls for a national screening programme to ensure that children with reading and writing problems do not slip through the net, Balls said. Parents and dyslexia groups have been campaigning for such a screening programme.

Separately today, a coalition of thinktanks will back the idea in an in-depth analysis of provision for children with special education needs. The report, by CentreForum and the Policy Exchange, will argue that as well as screening, parents should be given individual budgets to spend on private tutors and the system of recording children’s learning problems should be overhauled.

Only 5% of local authorities are fulfilling a legal duty to provide clear and transparent information to parents on services, the report finds.

Balls said: “The fact is that in too many parts of the country parents and children are still not getting the help they need, and certainly not quickly enough.”

He said he wanted the review to provide “firm evidence as to the way forward, convince the sceptics dyslexia exists and tell us how best to get these children the help they deserve”.

Rose is due to report early next year and has been asked to assess reading recovery programmes, intensive catch-up support for pupils who are struggling at a young age with reading and writing.

The Conservative party has put the issue of special educational needs on the political agenda, arguing against the government’s policy of including children with special needs in mainstream education wherever possible and for the expansion of special schools.

The CentreForum and Policy Exchange report will say the UK has one of the highest incidences of special educational needs in the developed world, with 20% of pupils having some form of learning difficulty, which includes dyslexia, autism, physical disabilities, speech and language problems and behavioural and emotional problems.

The report will claim the system of allocating funding has been corrupted because the same person at the council assesses pupils then allocates their funding, meaning they could be tempted to change their assessment according to their budget.

Parents should be given the funds and allowed to go private if they want and schools should have annual screening programmes to identify children with problems, the report will say. School admissions should move to a “first come, first served” basis to empower parents desperate to get a better school place for their child and give all families an equal chance.

Academy sponsors should have their £2m fee waived if they agree to expand dedicated provision for pupils with special educational needs, the report will suggest.

A survey of local authority websites for the report revealed that only 5% were meeting the requirements to set out all the information for parents of children with special educational needs.

Dyslexia charities welcomed the government’s review but said there was long-standing evidence which suggested that the best way to help pupils was to have a dedicated teacher specially trained to teach dyslexic children. The British Dyslexia Association, Dyslexia Action, the Professional Association of Teachers of Students with Specific Learning Difficulties and Xtraordinary People said in a joint statement: “Our organisations strongly believe that the country should be implementing a simple system where each school would have one teacher trained as a dyslexia/SpLD [specific learning difficulties] specialist who can recognise and support children with dyslexia/SpLD.

“Each review and pilot merely adds to the delay in implementing the solution. They have been getting it right for years. We want to see this in all schools in the public sector.”