Labour MP calls dyslexia 'a cruel fiction'

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Indy Politics

A Labour MP says dyslexia is a myth to cover up bad teaching of reading and writing.

Graham Stringer, MP for Manchester Blackley, also suggested there was a link between illiteracy and crime - as prisons were full of people unable to read and write.

He describes the condition as a "cruel fiction", claiming it is "no more real than the 19th century scientific construction of 'the aether' to explain how light travels through a vacuum."

"The sooner it is consigned to the same dustbin of history, the better."

Mr Stringer suggested the dyslexia "industry" should be "killed off" through the "magic bullet" of teaching children to read and write by using a phonetic system of sounding letters and words.

He made the comments while writing a column for Manchester Confidential, an entertainment and review website about the city.

Mr Stringer said he has visited Strangeways jail in his constituency and of the prison population, roughly 80% of inmates are functionally illiterate and a similar number are drug abusers.

"I don't believe in panaceas, but I am confident that if the rate of literacy were improved there would be an inevitable decline in crime.

"Children who cannot read or write find secondary school a humiliating and frustrating experience. Their rational response, with dire consequences, is to play truant.

"Drugs, burglaries, robberies and worse, then, often, follow."

Mr Stringer claimed the reason so many children fail to be taught to read and write properly is that the wrong teaching methods are used.

"The education establishment, rather than admit that their eclectic and incomplete methods for instruction are at fault, have invented a brain disorder called dyslexia," he added.

"To label children as dyslexic because they're confused by poor teaching methods is wicked.

"If dyslexia really existed then countries as diverse as Nicaragua and South Korea would not have been able to achieve literacy rates of nearly 100%.

"There can be no rational reason why this 'brain disorder' is of epidemic proportions in Britain but does not appear in South Korea or Nicaragua."

He claimed this "fictional malady" has also been eradicated in West Dunbartonshire where the council has eliminated illiteracy, through a special programme for children.

Mr Stringer said the "magic bullet" was to use a system of teaching known as linguistic phonics where children learn words through the sounds of each letter.

Currently 35,500 students are receiving disability allowances for dyslexia, costing the taxpayer £78.4 million.

Mr Stringer added: "Certified dyslexics get longer in exams. There has been created a situation where there are financial and educational incentives to being bad at spelling and reading.

"This reached a pinnacle of absurdity, with Naomi Gadien, a second-year medical student initiating a legal case against the General Medical Council because she believes she's being discriminated against by having to do written exams.

"I don't know about anybody else but I want my doctors, and for that matter, engineers, teachers, dentists and police officers to be able to read and write."

Shirley Cramer, chief executive officer of the educational charity Dyslexia Action, said: "Once again dyslexia seems to be making the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

"It is frustrating that the focus should be on whether dyslexia exists or not, when there is so much evidence to support that it does.

"It is true that there is a strong link between literacy and unemployment. And we know from our own research that there is a higher percentage of offenders amongst the prison and probation populations who are dyslexic or have literacy difficulties.

"However, these individuals are no more likely to commit a crime and the associated links are the result of reduced opportunity due to poor educational attainment.

"The dyslexia community has over 30 years' experience in working with individuals with a range of complex specific needs.

"For this reason it has never been more important for us to work in partnership with Government, local authorities and individual schools to ensure that those at risk of school failure are identified early so that the right intervention is provided throughout our education system."

A spokeswoman for the charity said the condition affects six million people in the UK and is a combination of abilities and difficulties that affect the learning process in one or more of reading, spelling, writing, mathematics, memory or organisation.