When we released our latest research report Hide and Seek: Where are all the specialists?, we sent a copy of the report to Sir Jim Rose. The report looked at the recommendations of Sir Jim’s 2009 Rose Review, and investigated the outcomes of the promised £10million fund for specialist dyslexia teachers. This week, Sir Jim sent us his response to our report:

“Ed Balls, the erstwhile, highly estimable, Secretary of State for Education, is likely to be remembered by most of the voting public in England for his hugely entertaining, but hardly gold-standard, TV performance in ‘Strictly Come Dancing’. Less spectacular but far more important was his triumph in battling for children who struggle to learn to read. As the DYT Report reminds us, he it was who, following our 2009 Dyslexia Review, secured £10 million to improve the quality of training and increase the numbers of skilled teachers for dyslexic children. 

The DYT Report is a powerful enquiry into how well that substantial sum of money was spent. Did it deliver the looked-for improvements in the quality of teacher training? Did it lead to an increase in front line, specialist teachers capable not only of providing high quality teaching directly for dyslexic children but also in supporting other teachers in their schools to do likewise?  

The Report gives a resounding “NO” in answer to both questions. It uncovers a considerable number of systemic weaknesses in the delivery of services for dyslexic children and others who struggle to learn to read. In short, it underlines an obvious truth, notably, that whatever ministers and policy makers might do to raise standards of literacy and tackle the scourge of illiteracy, they can only do so much.  The £10 million for tackling dyslexia is a telling example of ministers providing financial backing for high quality, professional training only to find that many schools could not afford to employ those who had been so trained. 

 As Margaret Thatcher said in 1975: ‘Many of our troubles are due to the fact that our people turn to politicians for everything’, thus raising the important question: what might ‘our people’ reasonably expect of our politicians in order hold them to account?  

Such is the importance of reading to education, and much else, that the least ‘our people’ might expect of our politicians is to provide schools which strive relentlessly to teach all our children how to read successfully, irrespective of their specific learning difficulties and socio-economic status (SES). The DYT Report highlights the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) mantra that ‘no school can be better than its teachers,’ hence the quality of teaching and of teacher training must be subject to scrutiny and kept under review. Further, because teaching is a person- to- person service, there are many players in this game who need to co-ordinate their services.  Moreover, the rules of fair play require the users of these services to be accountable, as in the case of parents for the quality of parenting. The last Labour Government in its ‘Children’s Plan’ proclaimed that ‘Governments do not bring up children, parents do.’  

 An eminent Professor of Education once said: It is good for teachers to remember that parents brought up their children in the life of the tribe long before schoolmasters were thought of, and for professors of education to acknowledge that they are a recent excrescence on the educational structure’ (M.V.C. Jeffreys, Professor of Education, University of Birmingham 1950). These days, however, many parents find the life of the tribe so disconcertingly complex and increasingly fast moving that they need all the help they can get from the rest of the tribe. This is all too apparent in helping parents to obtain optimum support for children with learning difficulties. Although the DYT Report does not get into this territory we need to ensure that the rights and roles of parents are fully recognised and for parents to recognise that they can do a great deal to pave the way for reading in particular, and children’s language development in general. 

The DYT Report is also especially concerned that so much ‘confusion’ still persists in the award system governing specialist training … ‘people are confused, as there are many examples of awards available in the specialist teaching and assessment arena where a clear determination of credit and level is not provided. In addition, if nationally defined course descriptors are not adhered to there may be added concern about the validity of such awards.’’ 

Despite considerable efforts to ‘raise awareness’ of dyslexia, so called ‘dyslexia denial’ – the claim, by a vocal minority, that dyslexia does not exist – remains an obstacle to progress. Even more worrying is that, despite the huge sums expended over the last decade on robust research into reading and dyslexia, the findings all too often do not get through the classroom door and impact on the quality of teaching. 

Aspects of traditional practice, including responses to interventions may need to change in light of new evidence.  The term ‘neurodiversity’, for example, has become something of a buzz word. It is often used to support the view that ‘every child is different’, and subject to different ‘learning styles’. However, these views are not supported by leading-edge neuroscientists, such as Stanislas Dehaene who advises that we should: 

“Rescind the idea that all children are different. The idea that each of us has a distinct learning style is a myth. Brain imaging shows that we all rely on very similar brain circuits and learning rules. The brain circuits for reading and mathematics are the same in each of us, give or take a few millimetres – even in blind children. We all face similar hurdles in learning, and the same teaching methods can surmount them. Individual differences, when they exist, lie more in children’s extant knowledge, motivation, and the rate at which they learn. Let’s carefully determine each child’s current level in order to select the most relevant problems – but above all, let’s ensure that all children acquire. the fundamentals of language, literacy and mathematics that everyone needs.’’

Stanislas Dehaene – How We Learn – The New Science of Education and the Brain 2020

In sum, while much has been accomplished, especially in primary schools, to raise standards of literacy in general and of reading in particular, the teaching of dyslexic children, has not matched those improvements and is stubbornly resistant to change. This DYT Report, though hard-hitting, is constructive and timely. Its recommendations deserve to be taken seriously by policy makers, and the newly hatched multi-academy trusts of schools that now have a seminal part to play in raising standards of reading and provision for our most vulnerable children.

Jim Rose 

27 October, 2020