Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

DfE Stance on Writing Spells Failure for Dyslexics

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

DfE Stance on Writing Spells Failure for Dyslexics

Article excerpt

Headteachers and literacy experts concerned over 'ignorant and cruel' decision

Thousands of high-achieving dyslexic children are expected to be marked as failures under the government's controversial new primary writing assessments, TES can reveal.

Pupils must be able to spell most of the 200 words on government wordlists (see graphic, opposite) if they are to reach the "expected standard" for writing at the end of Year 6.

But teachers and leaders are furious because the Department for Education has said that no allowance will be made for the tens of thousands of pupils with dyslexia. Experts in the condition predict that they will all fall short on the spelling requirement.

Heads argue that failing bright dyslexic children who trip up on spelling - even if they pass all the other 17 elements of the writing assessment - will unnecessarily damage their self-esteem. One former government literacy advisor describes the emphasis on spelling as "ignorant and cruel".

The NAHT headteachers' union and the charity Dyslexia Action are warning that the DfE's stance could be discriminatory and are demanding that it is changed.

Janet Marland, head of Cavendish primary, West Didsbury, Manchester, said: "It would be great if we were allowed to use professional judgement with a child with specific difficulties. But discretion has been taken away.

"[Pupils] work on computers, but we have to remove the spellcheck. It's like taking a wheelchair off a wheelchair-bound child - you are taking away what helps them."

The news comes in the week that the DfE was forced to issue a clarification following widespread anger about the new writing assessments (see bit.ly/DfEclarification).

Teaching unions have said that the standards were set higher than people expected and that the assessments will unnecessarily add to teachers' workload.

There are also concerns that pupils must demonstrate legible and fluent handwriting to be judged to have reached the top "working at greater depth" standard (see box, "Good handwriting doesn't make a good writer", opposite).

The DfE stance over dyslexia is revealed by John McRoberts, head of teacher assessments at the government's Standards and Testing Agency (STA), in a DfE video filmed to offer schools guidance on the new assessments (watch it at bit.ly/DfEwritingvid).

He was asked how teachers should apply the assessments to "high-achieving dyslexic pupils" with "specific issues related to spelling".

"Regarding spelling, it is a quite a simple response, which is that there is no change to how you approach a child with dyslexia or without, regarding the statements within the standard," Mr McRoberts replied.

"So if a child cannot meet those standards because of a spelling concern, or is unable to show consistent evidence against the parts of the standard that referred to spelling, they cannot be given that standard, and they will have to be given the standard below."

Dr John Rack, director of education at Dyslexia Action, says that around 10 per cent of children have dyslexia and he expects all of them to struggle to meet the new spelling requirement. That amounts to around 58,000 pupils in England's current Year 6 cohort.

Dr Rack predicted that even dyslexic children who "do fine in class with modest amounts of support" could be "tripped up badly" by the assessment.

"It's invidious and it's possibly discriminatory," he said. …

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