Tuesday, March 18, 2008


If it hadn't been for my eldest son's dyslexia - and the school's atrocious handling of it - we might never have home-educated.

(Well, I think we probably would, due to their similarly inept handling of my younger son's different educational needs, and my older daughter's need to go to the toilet - denied, at 6 years old, until she had to pee on the floor.) But the dyslexia thing was a key catalyst for the decision to deregister.

Reading this news story has brought it all back to me. But our dyslexia issues came to a head with the school in 1998 and 1999 - all documented and sent with the appropriate evidence to the then Secretary of State for Education (David Blunkett) and I'm sure I can't have been the only parent to have done that. It's been common knowledge amongst dyslexia experts for years and years that, for example, juvenile prison populations have an alarmingly high rate of dyslexia (about which more later). So why have the powers that be decided to address it in 2008, having studiously ignored it for so long?

Even now, people sometimes try to tell me that dyslexia doesn't really exist, as Tom's schoolteacher did. They imagine it's an excuse for the pampered children of paranoid, pushy parents, to cop out of making an effort to do the work. That's exactly how his teacher worded it to me. And the Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator confidently informed me that she'd assessed him and found no trace of dyslexia. But she had no specialised knowledge in the field, other than her teaching degree and 'lots of experience'.

And yet the school was telling me: "We can't understand it. We know he's intelligent from the way he contributes to discussions. But he just won't do the writing or learn his spellings." He was 10 years old and could explain the theory of relativity, but was unable to spell Thomas, his own name.

The school had him labelled as a disruptive pupil. My Tom, who wouldn't upset anyone! Ali was the disruptive one. He'd upset anyone if he thought it was justified. But not Tom. They thought he was being rebellious and pretending he couldn't do the work, when he really could. But they'd send his work home and I knew, from working with him at the kitchen table in the evenings, that he wasn't capable of doing what they asked of him.

If I didn't have Ali, a non-dyslexic to compare him with, I might have believed them. That argument (made always by people who do not have dyslexic children) that it's some kind of a scam, a convenient label, does have a logical sort of attractiveness. I kept an open mind. I wasn't trying to kid myself.

But the school was determined to force him to comply with its requirements. He was kept in during breaktimes and every sanction was used against him, to try to break his 'obsinacy'. They set him apart, repeatedly told him he was badly behaved for 'refusing' to comply and effectively criminalised him. If Tom's life had continued along that path I think he might well have become one of those juvenile prison statistics, because he was starting to become what they were accusing him of.

I scraped enough money together for a private diagnosis by an educational psychologist who found Tom to be profoundly dyslexic but with a high IQ. She said it was surprising he'd learned to read and write at all and, after she'd shown me examples of how dyslexic people see text, I agreed. She produced a 15-page report, which the school refused to even read. "If you pay someone to find something wrong with your child, they will find it," said the teacher.

This was the point at which I realised I had to give up my training and teaching career, deregister Tom and home educate him. I didn't see that he had any chance of surviving with his mental health - let alone his non-criminal status - intact if he stayed in the system. It's been the very best decision for all of us (Ali and Zara soon opted to leave school too.) Tom can read and write quite well now and has acquired enough techniques and tools along the way to be able to function effectively in the text-based world in which we live. Above all, he has his confidence and the knowledge that he's not a liar or a deliberate trouble-causer or a lazy person. Because he's not - he's one of the most honest and hard-working people I know.

Our story is by no means unusual. Dyslexia is real and is at the root of many of our social problems, I think, in school-based societies which relentlessly try force square pegs through round holes. To anyone who's had any experience of trying to help a person with dyslexia, the problem is blatantly obvious. I'm very glad if it's now being addressed properly, if indeed it is. I'm just wondering why it took so long.


Blogger Minnie said...

That's my son you've posted about!! Our situation exactly. Even the bit about not letting a 6 year old girl go to the loo and who ended up coming home in her soiled underpants.

The schools treated my boys just as shoddily and unprofessionally as they did your son. Uncaring, patronising and unskilled people who shouldn't have been in such employment. It's scandalous isn't it and I still haven't forgiven them for failing my lad so badly. There was a 35% special needs intake at that school and they probably all got dissed like my boy. A few of the sen kids ended up in isolation for days. Sat in a huge conference room, alone, with maybe the odd member of staff walking through. Great education they got, not to mention the socialisation!

When he went to college he finally got to see an ed psych...and the diagnosis you can guess. Except by then it was too late because he had completely given up. He really believed that he was thick and stupid...and he's not..quite the opposite. I kick myself all the time for not knowing about home ed then. I could have taken my kids out of all that.

And the education lot have only just decided that dyslexic kids exist and that they're going to do something about it? Pah! I'll believe it when I see it. Home edders are light years ahead of that lot.

Sorry for rant. Mrs Angry is now going for a relaxing bath:O))

2:31 pm, March 18, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

Hi Min. That thing about permission to go to the loo is just barbaric, isn't it? A complete breach of all that's decent and human. We wouldn't treat dogs like that, but we think nothing of institutionalising that kind of childcare. Bleurgh. I know quite a few children it's happened to :-(

Hey, rant away! You've every right to. I'm glad to hear your son got some help in the end. Not sure if Tom would ever set foot in a classroom again though, even now.

Hope you had a good bath!

7:04 pm, March 18, 2008  
Blogger Shirl said...

At primary school we had the "your daughter is bright but she is just so lazy! We'll be sending extra work home for her to do and you must make sure she does it".

Dee did eventually get a "diagnosis" of dyslexia after we changed schools but to be honest it didn't help her at all. She was just taken out of the lessons she enjoyed and made to go to a class full of children all with different types of learning difficulties which she just refused to go to. This earned her the tag of "difficult" and I could see the road she would end up going down. To add to this she was attacked by a boy at school and we took her out. Home ed has definitely been the right choice for us.

9:18 pm, March 19, 2008  
Blogger Carlotta said...

After all these years of reading your blog, I had no idea how you had actually come by HE! What a brilliant solution it has clearly proved to be.

It does leave me wondering how all those parents of miserably schooled children can carry on ignoring their children's unhappiness and struggles. What made you and your family the exception to the rule?

As for:
""If you pay someone to find something wrong with your child, they will find it," said the teacher."

Here's hopping up and down with irritation. Could that teacher possibly think to turn that statement on themselves, one wonders? Could they hell!

"If it pays someone not to see a problem, then they most likely won't".

Given that admitting that Tom might be dyslexic would have meant that they would either have to concede that they were very likely to fail with his educational provision, or that they would have to dedicate a huge amount of manpower to the problem, they are more than likely to see that they are better off attributing the problem to laziness.

ergh, almost an incitement to violence that teacher's statement!

10:23 am, March 21, 2008  
Blogger Carlotta said...

Oh, incidentally, I am occasionally tempted to think that dyslexia doesn't exist, probably for the simple reason that around here in the HE community, it appears not to! HE children around here just learn to read whenever they are ready, whether that be at age 2 or age 14...and they don't struggle in so-doing.

It becomes pretty easy to think..."hey what's that meant to be all about" from this perspective!

10:27 am, March 21, 2008  
Blogger Jenny said...

I too could have posted that, absolutely word for word.
My three are all like that, the eldest and youngest the most severely dyslexic.
My eldests difficulties have to be addressed in the private sector, only an independentday/boarding school is equipped and specialised enough to address her issues in a school setting( her wish, which she maintains and is very happy there)

My others, they are at home. No way was I leaving them in a state school with the "Hour a week" of help with a tutor ( ineffectual) and the reat from teachers, most of whom who frankly didnt have the inclinatiion, never mind the expertise to help.
I could have written your post word for word.. and the LEA's response "You are harming your children, your home life has caused these problems" and "They have special needs, you are deludung yourselves if you think they can achieve anything more than maybe a GNVQ and 'skills for life"

C sits her GCSE in IT in a year.... shes "too advanced" for her very talented IT teacher...shame that!

8:14 pm, March 22, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

"What made you and your family the exception to the rule?"

I'm not sure Carlotta. It's an interesting question and I've been wondering what the answer might be.

I think it could have something to do with the following factors:

- I'm single-parenting, so I didn't have anyone else to convince, just my own instinct to go by. There are advantages and disadvantages to this, of course, but re: deregistering Tom I think it went in our favour.

- I'd home-educated before (my stepson, in the early 90s) so I knew it was an effective and feasible option and that I was 'capable' of doing it.

- I was doing teacher-training at the time (adult ed) so was possibly more 'switched on' at the time to techniques and solutions in teaching.

But in the end it came down to instinct I think. Seeing the way Tom was going I couldn't have left him in the system and still been able to sleep at night. Perhaps most other families just have more confidence in the 'experts' than I did. Oh yes, and my stepdad (chartered accountant) had taught me about professional mystique when I was growing up. So that particular dream-bubble had already burst for me years before.

"they are more than likely to see that they are better off attributing the problem to laziness." Yes I think there was a big chunk of pragmatism in the school's policy (as it seems to have been) of consistent SEN-blindness. This particular school scores highly in the local league tables and wasn't going to let a piffling thing like individual children's educational needs stand in its way. I would imagine it wasn't the only school in the world to have that kind of ethos.

The children started their schooling, before we moved house, in a little village school. I don't think Tom's dyslexia would even have been an issue there. They'd have probably just found other ways to stimulate his learning and let the literary part catch up on its own. That school was very good at resisting the target culture in those days. I hope it still is, but am out of touch with it now. And all the escape routes for schools like that have no doubt been closed by now.

"I am occasionally tempted to think that dyslexia doesn't exist, probably for the simple reason that around here in the HE community, it appears not to! "

Yes indeed! I wouldn't have bothered with the diagnosis if the school hadn't been determined to destroy Tom's character to try to make him conform. Since deregistering, the diagnosis hasn't made much difference to him really.

"You are harming your children, your home life has caused these problems"

*Shakes head in disbelief, albeit resigned.* The thing that worries me, Jenny, is that they are allowed to set themselves up as so-called experts, so that when they come out with this kind of tripe it has some kind of credibility and takes real strength of mind to see past it. We are, by and large, conditioned to think the professionals know what they're talking about aren't we? So when they say it's our fault most of us are inclined to believe them. I'm sure it does irreparable damage to children and families. Who are then further blamed for behaviour issues when their children react badly.

"C sits her GCSE in IT in a year.... shes "too advanced" for her very talented IT teacher...shame that!"

LOL! Tom was thinking of going to our local uni to study graphic art this year, but changed his mind because of the course tutor's unfailing lack of enthusiasm in his own subject! Said he couldn't bear to spend so much time fighting against so much despondency and would rather keep studying under his own steam.

Good luck to your C! May she go far.

8:33 am, March 23, 2008  
Blogger info said...

I was very moved by your post Gill.

You might be interested in a Downing Street petition I have launched to reclassify dyslexia as a thinking style rather than a disability. The petition is at http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/honourdyslexia, further detail can be found on our blog at http://www.dyslexia-gift.org.uk

If you support the campaign, please pass the word on.

11:15 pm, April 11, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

Oops, I missed this comment! Have signed the petition now and plan to write a blog post about it. I think it's an excellent proposal. I'll also tell Tom.

9:33 am, April 15, 2008  

Post a Comment

<< Home