As regular readers will know, Drive for Literacy our flagship literacy programme developed because of my experience as a parent of three dyslexic children in the state school system.  I’m going back some years now but I experienced defensive schools and teachers when I said my children were struggling to learn their first 100 words and finding it hard to progress through the ‘Biff and Chip’ books. The SENCos in the school had no mandatory specialist training of any sort, teachers told me my children were being naughty by not writing and my youngest missed multiple play times, art lessons and PE being kept in to ‘catch up’.

Things have definitely changed for the better now, but there’s still a long way to go.  That’s why with Drive for Literacy we talk about ‘whole school development’ and culture change where those that struggle are not hived off and given ‘sticking plaster’ sessions but rather, from the head teacher down, there is an expectation that teachers are responsible for those pupils and that their needs will be addressed through the Graduated Approach and Quality First Teaching and the school structure is set up to support this.

Well now my youngest is heading to University and whilst I kept a ‘weather eye’ on the older two, they generally navigated their way fairly successfully. However, Archie has more serious needs. He’s not a free reader and writer, will struggle with lots of text, finds essays hard to organise, hasn’t mastered Dragon Dictation (mainly because he can’t correct a word from the drop down list because he can’t read them!) and he uses a Reader and a Scribe for exams. Oh and by the way, he’s studying Economics and Politics at Manchester University!

Some people will say he shouldn’t be doing that because his course will consist of lots of reading and structuring essays whereas others (me!), say he’s definitely bright enough. Archie himself would say it’s what he wants to do and I would add that he’s the ‘best read’ person I know from all the audible books and podcasts that he listens to on these and other subjects. He shouldn’t be prevented from doing this course simply because he’s dyslexic and can’t read and write very well.

So we’ve started the whole process of getting in the right support and here’s where we are. Think of this list as ‘top tips’ and questions that have come up and I’m aiming to give up-dates and answers as we go along. Any feedback most welcome.

  • Start early. When deciding which offer to accept, Archie rang every university Student Support Services (SSS) to talk to them and ask what they could do to support him.
  • When you accept an offer – go back to the SSS and send them copies of your educational psychologist or specialist teacher reports if you’ve got them and/or any paperwork from your school if they applied on your behalf for adjustments.
  • Your issues – it helps to articulate exactly what you find difficult and what helps. Write it down and send it to the SSS (and your DSA assessor). People often mention recording lectures but that doesn’t always help if all you are left with is hours of lectures to re-listen to, without knowing how to extract what’s pertinent.
  • Apply for your Student Finance early – you need to have done this before you can start the DSA process.
  • Book your DSA assessment early, ideally in the summer holidays. It takes a few weeks to process and your university won’t start to action anything until it’s done. In addition, if it gives you software, you have time to try and master them before term starts when you’ll have enough on your plate. Send them your piece about what works/doesn’t work for you. Write down any questions you may have before you go. Take copies of all paperwork with you – when Archie went for his appointment, none of the paperwork had made it to the Assessor.
  • Book to go and see or talk to your SSS before term starts ideally with someone from the faculty/ies you are studying in. The SSS team may be great, but someone needs to translate their recommendations and make sure the lecturers and departments are actually doing what is needed.
  • Ask for your reading list so you can start over the summer. This will probably mean you have to choose your modules so ask for this list too.

Here’s what we learnt from Archie’s assessment.

  • There are 2 separate avenues of support.
    • 1 DSA funding, provided by the government to ensure disability associated costs are not prohibitive.  Note that it has recently been cut quite dramatically.  It is managed alongside your Student Finance.  Your assessment relates to this and their report generates the money that they deem you are entitled to.
    • 2 Your Higher Education Institution.  They are under a duty to supply all reasonable adjustments and will take account of any reports, your usual way of working and the DSA assessment report in putting a plan in place for you.

The Equality Act says – 

You must not discriminate against a student:

  • in the way you provide education for the student
  • in the way you give the student access to a benefit, facility or service
  • by not providing education for the student
  • by not affording the student access to any benefit, facility or service
  • by excluding the student
  • by subjecting them to any other detriment.

More information here.

If you are dyslexic, you are entitled to a maximum of 1 hour support a week. Archie’s assessor is going to ask for double i.e. 2 hours whereas in reality he will need much more than this.  This approach seems wrong to me – surely it should relate to your needs?

I have to say that so far Manchester University have sounded great and supportive so I’m hopeful that Archie will be okay.  However, I still think there are questions out there that need addressing so that every student going on to higher education gets the support they deserve.

I believe there is no further guidance on this which makes me wonder whether there are national differences in the support that universities offer their students?