Your Views

Click to follow
The Independent Online
I was deeply moved by Jane Goldsmith's article ("Joe's permission to fail, EDUCATION, 8 October) as our son's experience was so similar. Like Joe, he was identified as having a high IQ, coupled with dyslexia and dysgraphia, a discovery made by our decision to have him assessed privately by an educational psychologist because of his increasing difficulties at school.

He was, like Joe, not judged sufficiently poor at his work to merit any extra help, despite his obvious frustration. Clearly his abilities enabled him to produce fairly average work which, with help to overcome his problems, would have been outstanding.

This experience for us was within the independent sector. Our state school experience was slightly better, in that, with the limited resources available, they did try. However, yet again he was not deemed "bad enough" to be assigned an educational psychologist.

Continuing difficulty has led us back to the independent sector, to a small school in the south-west of Scotland, which has earned the reputation for rescuing children of high ability with learning difficulties, who have failed to cope in mainstream schools.

The story of Joe highlights the difficulties parents face in gaining recognition for any of the learning problems faced by gifted children, never mind the issue of recognising their exceptional abilities . Not only do these children have to cope with the knowledge they can do better, but they are stuck within a moribund system which denies them any hope of success.




In 1986, a friend and I set up a small independent school with small classes, with the hope of catering for not just the cases like Joe's, but for many children who find mainstream education classes too large, and where they have felt themselves to be largely "invisible", competing as they are with various other elements in the class for the teacher's attention.

Needless to say, the school was a great success in terms of not just exam results, which were exceptional, but in giving these children a voice that was heard, and a self-confidence they never thought they'd have.

Having also taught in the state sector, I feel that most teachers are doing an incredible job in which is a "survival of the fittest" situation. In a class of 30 or more, teachers can have every level of intelligence from those not perhaps even able to write their own name, to those who will attain the highest academic prizes.

Added to this is the disruptive element who will get attention at any price. This has to be dealt with, and is time and energy consuming. Support assistants are far too few on the ground, and are not given enough hours. And even when they are, in some cases, they "disappear" regularly, either for case conferences or because someone who has a more "needy" case is off sick, so the person has to be seconded elsewhere.

All of the above was also frequently confirmed to me by desperate parents who applied to our school, having been told by their school that their case was not sufficiently severe to merit precious funds being spent. There are also the problems of staff cuts and low morale in the profession, because it is frequently being told by all colour of governments that it is not delivering the goods.

Please don't hammer the teaching profession any more - they're having a hard enough job as it is to get the personnel they want. Lobby hard instead in local and national government for class and school sizes to approach those in the independent sector. In our local authority, for instance, the Labour council has voted to increase the size of most schools, including primary ones.

Whatever anyone may say, independent schools, more often than not, can and do produce results way above what a child could expect to achieve in state education, and this can apply to those without special needs as well as those who have. I've had the joy of seeing it happen over and over again.



West Yorkshire

Joe's story is reminiscent of my three children's schooling from the mid Seventies to mid Nineties. The difference being that my children, all dyslexic, became nervous and withdrawn at school. Their teachers and educational psychologists might have given proper attention to their inability to read and write and remember instructions. However, having read this article, I doubt it. It would appear that both teachers and educational psychologists prefer to avoid the issue of the implications of dyslexia, instead giving other reasons for "bad behaviour" and poor attainment.

In my own children's case, we struggled throughout their primary schooling for recognition of their difficulties and for extra specialist help. The eldest, (less severely handicapped by dyslexia), struggled through the system without help at school, and was labelled as "a late developer" at his comprehensive. He eventually undertook a degree course at 24, achieving an first class honours degree. The younger two finally had their "needs" assessed by 11/12 years, leading eventually to statements a year later (the first in each case was inadequate), and placements in specialist schools for dyslexic pupils.

The struggle and unhappiness caused by "the system" was immense. Our children and our family were denied a happy and carefree life. Our attempts to get recognition and help dominated our lives for 15 years. The eventual recognition and placements, although appreciated, came too late and were grossly expensive for the local education authority.

We have all suffered emotionally. And the younger children carry the scars and the frustration of underachievement today - and they are in their twenties. Why do so many "professionals" throw up so many obstacles when approached for help?

We lost all faith in educational psychologists, and firmly believe they should be independent - not linked to the local education authority's payroll or education budgets.

The Government must recognise dyslexia and its implications in a bid to improve literacy. Dyslexics will not benefit from "The Literacy Hour" if they are not given specialist help and a multi-sensory approach is used. These provisions must be made for children starting school, at five years, no later. Dyslexia can and must be recognised early on to enable these children to attain a reasonable level of literacy and not be excluded from the pleasures of learning, achieving, and becoming an interactive part of a social group.

I am pleased for Joe that his parents have been able to buy the specialist tuition and education he needs. I would have done the same if I had had the financial ability. And, with hindsight, I would have educated my children "otherwise", not struggled within the system.

For all those, like Joe, who are being educated in the system, there has to be recognition of dyslexia. The system has to change, Every dyslexic pupil must be given appropriate tuition on entering school. A computer will benefit all dyslexic pupils and money must be allocated, giving them unlimited access. Surely awareness, recognition and appropriate help can become part of the system.


Jane Goldsmith's account of her dyslexic son's unhappy school experience both moved and angered me on his behalf. It is appalling that, despite government recognition of dyslexia, children are still experiencing lack of recognition in our state schools, resulting in bullying, low self-esteem, and disaffection with education.

My own son never presented a problem at primary school: he was just regarded as an average, if rather mystifying, pupil (despite his high verbal reasoning skills and low reading level). Because he appeared socially happy, we did not make a fuss. We finally had him privately assessed at the start of year six, because it was crystal clear to us that he was not sufficiently literate to succeed in secondary school.

We also paid for private tuition at the local Dyslexia Institute. This helped him enormously, but we were to find it was too little, too late: at secondary school, where his dyslexia was not taken seriously, he became first a school refuser, then school phobic. He would have descended to a life on the streets, had we not fought for him to attend a further education college course for disaffected and disruptive teenagers, where he is succeeding.

I would urge all parents whose dyslexic children are in primary schools which fail to address their needs: take action now! Don't wait until your child is completely turned off education and has no self-esteem left. Get them out, move them to a state school where their needs are recognised and met. Or, if you can afford to do as Jane Goldsmith has done, move them to a good private school which offers support and small classes. The alternative is unthinkable.




Reporting Bias

What a wretched article by Mary Tasker and David Packham about education research ("Publish and be doomed", EDUCATION, 8 October).

The authors' view about Professor Tooley's report are every bit as predictable and biased as they say the professor's are. But the really wretched thing is that they gave no sign of having read the report by the Institute of Employment Studies, let alone of having thought about it. Considering that it is such a serious piece of work, that's a pity.


London SW13

Conscious of a problem

In my column last week, I was writing about consciousness, and my third- year course on this vexed topic. On the one hand we learn about brain structure and function, and on the other about the very private and subjective experience of being conscious.

What does it mean that I am conscious now? Can I know what it's like being you? Does consciousness make any difference, or have any function, or do anything at all? (You might guess by the question that I suspect not). Above all, how does experience arise from the functioning of a physical brain?

This last question is called "the hard problem", and is much argued about in both philosophy and psychology. Some say the hard problem requires a completely new kind of science to solve it, while others say there is no hard problem at all, and once we understand the brain the illusion of a problem will disappear (like caloric fluid or the life force).

This is what I was referring to when, at the end of my column, I wrote: "We'll soon be on to the "hard problem" of how brain cells can produce subjective experience." I suppose that the sub-editor was not to know, when he took out the word "hard", that he was entirely changing my meaning, but what appeared was: "We'll soon be onto the "problem" of how brain cells can produce subjective experience", which rather suggests that I don't think there is a problem at all.

To make matters worse, the column was headed by the extraordinary sentence "If you can read this you must at least be conscious", which seems to me to be either uninteresting or untrue, depending on what you mean by "conscious" and after all, that's the tricky question.


Senior lecturer in psychology

University of the West of England

Please send your letters to Wendy Berliner, Editor, EDUCATION, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL. Please include a day time telephone number. Fax your letters to EDUCATION on 0171 293 2451; e-mail:

Your letters may be edited for length and clarity.