All Party Parliamentary Group Ondyslexia and Other Specific Learning Difficulties

All Party Parliamentary Group Ondyslexia and Other Specific Learning Difficulties

All Party Parliamentary Group onDyslexia and other Specific Learning Difficulties

Tuesday, February 7, from 4-5.30pm

Committee Room 20, House of Commons, Westminster


Attendees (APPG officers/members): Chair Sharon Hodgson MP (SH), Lord Storey, Kelvin Hopkins MP (KH), Lord Addington (LA), Baroness Hamwee. Other attendees: Tamara Cincik (TC), Parliamentary Researcher to Chair; Matthew Simkins; Dyslexia Action (DA) Interim Chief Executive; Stephen Hall, Former DA Chief Executive; Stephanie Anderson (SA) Secretariat Support/DA Policy Officer; James Bowen (JB), Director of NAHT Edge, NAHT; Sir Jim Rose (JR), President of NFER& Education Development Trust; Bernadette McClean (BM), Principal of dyslexia charity Helen Arkell; Primary Hartford Manor Primary head teacher Simon Kidwell (SK);Sue FlohrBDA Policy Officer; Dr Yota Dimitriadi, Lecturer in Education at the IOE (Reading) and Disability Officer; Kate Griggs, Founder of Made by Dyslexia; Mel Byrne, Executive Director of Made by Dyslexia; Tadworth Primary headteacher Justin Kelly (JK); Phil Wilkinson, Chief Executive of Ascentis, Nikki Baines, Business Development Manager (IDL) of Ascentis.


Kirsty Blackman, MP, Emma Lewell-Buck MP, Catherine West MP, Tom Tugendhat MBE MP, Barry Sheerman MP, Ian Liddell-Grainger MP, Debbie Abrahams MP, Caroline Lucas MP; Professor Jo-Anne Baird, Director of Department of Education, Oxford; Kate Fallon, General Secretary Association of Educational Psychologists.

  1. Minutes of last meeting

SA outlined that since the last APPG the DfE hadpublished its Framework of core content for initial teacher training which will be used as part of its quality criteria for funding allocations for the 2018/19 training year; further details are expected this spring/summer (2017). The Framework included the following wording:

Teachers must:

Adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupil; have a clear understanding of the needs of all pupils, including those with special educational needs.

ITT Providers should:

Ensure that trainees understand the principles of the SEND Code of Practice, adapt teaching strategies to ensure pupils with SEND (including, but not limited to, those with SpLDs) can access and progress within the curriculum. The Framework has been welcomed by Secretariat Dyslexia Action but implementation is something APPG members will need to monitor.

SA informed the APPG that communications had been received by Secretariat Dyslexia Action relating to concerns on the effect of the primary English writing assessment on children with dyslexia and the Secretariat had written a briefing on concerns raised by educationalists to the Education Select Committee Inquiry into Primary Assessment.

2. Inclusive Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Institutions as a Route to Excellence: LA raised the issue that he was disappointed that although the Government had promised to publish Guidelines for HEIs following the DSA changes that HEIs have been given very little guidance as to what is expected of them. Disabled students now have to pay £200 towards the purchase cost of a computer and this, along with having to fund a diagnostic report, would disadvantage dyslexic students. Dyslexic students will also being denied mentoring and note taking support when other categories of disabled students are allowed them.

3. The effect of the primary English assessment on children with dyslexia & potential solutions

James Bowen, Director of NAHT Edge, a union for middle leaders, told the APPG, that the primary assessment, in terms of writing, was ‘not fit for purpose’ and ‘disadvantaged pupils with dyslexia’. He called for the spelling criteria to be removed and the assessment process modified.

JB: When it comes to the teacher assessed element, the new ‘secure-fit’ approach, introduced last year, means a pupil has to spell complex words accurately to be judged to be working at the ‘expected standard’ in writing, which ‘is not appropriate for a child with dyslexia’. The additional writing test is split into two sections: Paper 1 tests grammar, punctuation and vocabulary, but guidance states ‘correct spelling is also required for the award of the mark (available) for the majority of questions’. Spelling Paper 2 contains 20 words and carries a potential 29% of the overall mark for English.We are effectively assessing spelling twice.

JB added: Previously, a teacher was able to award the level that best suited the child’s work – what they considered to be the best fitso they didn’t have to tick every single box and have 100%.This meant if there were spelling issues a child could still meet ‘the expected standard’ (then known as level 4) if their work matched the majority of the other criteria such as grammatical structure, writing for a specific purpose and conveying meaning. JB highlighted how head teachers are concerned that brilliant writers were at risk of being judged ‘below the expected standard of an 11 year old’ because of spelling alone and someone whose writing was relatively dull and unadventurous could score better overall. ‘It is incredibly demoralising for those children who nearly get to the bar but don’t get over it’.

JB said the old ‘best fit’ wasn’t perfect but under new system every single one of the criteria has to be ticked without fail which is why it’s called secure fit. Teachers are therefore advising children not to use ‘tricky words’ in their writing if they can’t spell them which doesn’t encourage effective writing.

LA: “We are putting children with dyslexia in an environment where they can’t succeed. Can you think of an instance where a child with dyslexia would stand any chance of passing this?”

JR questioned whether the arrangements had been well piloted and whether they are fit for purpose.

SH: “I think there’s a realisation that a message has been heard – the writing test for pupils with dyslexia has become increasingly challenging; it should be accessible by the majority of children.”

JB: suggested the Government takes the following action:

•remove the spelling criteria from the teacher assessment framework and also report the spelling and grammar scores separately in the test element.

•abandon the ‘secure-fit’ model and move back towards the former ‘best-fit’ approach

•explore other solutions such as a ‘comparative model’ type approach.

SH: I have been told that there are no pupils with dyslexia in a county whatsoever. For parents and children with dyslexia that’s a big problem. The problem is access to Educational Psychologists as there is a shortage of them. Teachers would notice various signs if they had the appropriate training in ITT and children may not need external help but when but when you go further along the spectrum that’s the stage when you need to call in an Educational Psychologist.

LA: If teachers were better prepared which seems to be what’s happening how does this tie in?

SH: Spoke of good work that had now sadly been pulled which was being undertaken in association with the DfE. She said they had funding to work with 1400 schools across the country to see what there keys issues are with a wide range of SEN and what their best interventionsare. The BDA did a fantastic job getting the work started.

JB: Teacher training is absolutely crucial.

JR: Suggested looking at what was happening in other countries. I can’t think of any primary school that doesn’t have some kind of intervention programme in school.

JK told the APPG he had written to Minister of State for School Standards Rt Hon Nick Gibb MP five times and had four replies and last time he wrote included a letter from his son who is dyslexic. Schools don’t tend to diagnose dyslexia unless you pay for a separate assessment.

JK said boththe current and previous assessments have their flaws but until the review of assessment (by the Education Select Committee) is complete, the Government should remove spelling as an expectation from the current standards. At least we can then celebrate with the child that they are a good writer. In a reply to one of my letters Mr Gibb said separating spelling from the assessment would place an unnecessary burden on schools. I’m a head teacher and it would place no burden on us whatsoever.

SH: Why can’t a child with dyslexia be separated from the spelling test as it’s obvious we are setting them up to fail.

JB: The long-term impact of this failure to a child is enormous.

SK: It can cause total disengagement. SK suggested replacing the label ‘working at expected standard’ with a scaled score. The results, in the ‘expected standard in writing’, had fallen from 80% in 2015 to 53% in 2016. Could the curriculum be that much harder?

KH said the assessment was going to discourage children. He said at age 10 or 11 you are very sensitive about what you are about and children will take ‘not meeting expected standard’ very hard and it will stay with them through life.

2. Research in cognitive psychology and neuroscience which is contributing to our understanding of how the brain learns to read.

SH introduced JR and BM and said she was looking forward to their contribution.

JR said he wanted to talk about the problems we are trying to fix and what the best findings are that feeds into this that we should get to grips with and should be fed into teacher training.

How many of you could describe orthographic mapping? That’s a good indication of where we could be helpful. JR mentioned efficiency in phonics and that phonics feeds very nicely into writing. We have moved on in terms of knowledge but failed to capitalise on it. Most of what we know has been confirmed not denied. We now have some of the best knowledge in the world working across neuroscience, cognitive psychology and genetics and looking at major possibilities of taking that game forward. What is it that rings true that we are capable of developing? The simple view of reading has been there for ages but not capitalised on. There are interdependent processes – the first is word recognition process where you need to document the words on the page. You need to understand how language composition operates. Language composition and word recognition work on a continuum. The most difficult situation is where we have poor word recognition and poor composition. Teachers need to be clear about this process as it should help if you spot this as early as possible.

JR said we no longer need to have a debate about whether dyslexia exists. Virtually everyone is saying the same thing – that it is a set of conditions of co-occurring difficulties which you can justifiably call dyslexia and it is an emerging condition that worsens as children get older so it’s important to identify it as early as possible. JR highlighted the work of Stanislas Dehaene as ‘leading edge’ in showing that during reading acquisition, brain circuitry recycles several of its pre-existing visual and auditory areas in order to reorient them to the processing of letters and phonemes. JR said Stanislas highlights 5 typical behaviours. The nature of this “neuronal recycling” process helps explain many of children’s difficulties in learning to read, such that this research has important consequences for how education should be optimally organised. He said that these difficulties are often confused with dyslexia but the teaching they receive is unfortunately not up to scratch. Dehaene’s work points to specific elements that distinguish dyslexia from other more general reading difficulties and so called ‘instructional casualties i.e. poor teaching.’ JR suggested reading the hand-out provided to fill in the gaps. He added: There have been some remarkable advances with dyslexia which we need to see applied more widely.

BM spoke of orthographic mapping which draws attention to the brains’ letterboxes.It explains how children learn to read words by sight, to spell words from memory, and to acquire vocabulary words from print. Children with dyslexia often don’t have a good grounding in phonological awareness so they don’t have the required sound knowledge. BM said she liked what James said about self-esteem.

SH spoke of how her son had dyslexia and therefore thought he wasn’t clever. She said how important it was for her son to receive specialist teaching from DA which helped to improve his reading age and boost his self-esteem.

JR mentioned ‘we keep having to say IQ is not related to dyslexia’.

TC questioned whether dyslexia was a deficit or an asset and suggested that we are stopping the genius by failing them at primary school.

SH said she looked up all the famous people with dyslexia and told her son how wonderful he was. The fact his dyslexia was identified transformed him.

SH said she was concerned about the reduction in funding for schools and consequently for reading intervention programmes such as reading recovery.

JR said questions needed to be asked in relation to what schools were doing by way of intervention programmes. He mentioned Letters and Sounds as a scheme that helped teachers to make judgements.

JB said he was concerned that cuts in school budgets could mean a cut in TAs.

SH: Called for action points. JB summed up three points:

  1. Remove the spelling criteria
  2. Abolish secure fit and go back to best fit
  3. Develop ‘comparative judgement’ as a move towards a better ‘best fit’ approach.

SH asked SA to coordinate the content of a letter on the matter raised in relation to the primary assessment testing of writing to th Rt Hon Nick Gibb MP; and to compile questions for the Minister.

AOB: Headteacher Simon Kidwell, Hartford Manor Primary School, Cheshire, apologised for being delayed due to travel difficulties. He was due to speakabout the project involving200 schools taking part in a KS2 comparative judgement trial where teachers compare children’s writing across schools. The system is a potential alternative to the current interim assessment framework for writing, where children are assessed using a ‘secure-fit’ across seventeen standards.

Next APPG in June. Details TBC.