The voice of the children

A group of 10 and 11-year-olds in Islington have taken up their pens in support of a dyslexic classmate. Emma Haughton reports
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If anyone needs proof that modern-day children can be selfless,they should look at the actions of an entire class of 10 and 11 year-olds in defence of a classmate denied a place in the secondary school of his choice.

On Tuesday morning a bundle of 25 letters landed on the desk of Andy Marshall, head of Islington's Central Foundation boys' school. The carefully hand-written pages came from top-year juniors of a local primary, expressing their support for a dyslexic classmate who had been refused admission to the school after taking an English test. All the children demanded an explanation; many threatened to contact the local newspaper.

The pupils of Ecclesbourne primary in Islington rallied around 11-year- old Dean Meah after he took to his sick bed on hearing that Central Foundation had rejected him. "All his friends are going to Central Foundation and Dean had set his heart on going there," says his mother Doreen. "He felt very confident after the test. He was so excited waiting for the letter. When it arrived he just burst into tears. He got so stressed he started getting migraines and had to stay off school for a week."

The letters from his schoolmates pull no punches. "If I am wrong correct me. I heard you gave Dean an English test! Now how is someone with dyslexia going to get a good mark?" asks Emma. "As you should know Dean has dyslexia this means he doesn't see words as you do," explains Robert.

When Doreen heard about the children's letters she cried at work. "I was so choked, so overwhelmed that they cared so much." Dean, too, is surprised and grateful for his friends' support. "I felt really happy about the letters, and shocked - I didn't know they would do that.

"I really want to go to Central Foundation because it is a small school which will help me with special needs, and because my best friends have got in. At first I thought the test was easy, but I think it was my handwriting that did it."

Those who know Dean say he is a model pupil. "He really is a lovely boy, and works so hard," says Ecclesbourne head Christine Cosker. "He has been diagnosed as dyslexic but he is very clever, although in some areas he has to work twice as hard as anyone to achieve the same levels."

Andy Marshall says Central Foundation received 320 applications for 150 places this year,and that the selection system is as fair as they can make it.

"The reading test is traditionally used in London to ensure a fully comprehensive intake. Unfortunately we didn't know Dean was dyslexic."

Marshall has had parents write in before - some even offering the school money in return for a place - but never classmates.

"It's rather nice," he says. "It shows they care for him. We'd be happy to have him here because it obviously means a great deal to him. Unfortunately, it's not my decision, but I'm sure his parents will have a strong case on appeal."

Had the school known about Dean's dyslexia beforehand, it might have been able to make special arrangements, he adds. "Perhaps we need to get people to tell us if they have special circumstances. It's something we should look at next year"