Schools failing to help pupils with ‘maths dyslexia’

A study found that 100 times more children had dyslexia diagnosed than dyscalculia

News article image

Maths “dyslexia” in children is hugely underdiagnosed, academics said yesterday after the latest research.

They estimate that similar numbers of pupils suffer from dyscalculia — problems with learning maths — as dyslexia, a learning difficulty that can cause problems with reading, writing and spelling.

However, the study found that 100 times more children had dyslexia diagnosed than dyscalculia. Girls were most likely to slip through the net, they suggested, as their performance was on average higher than that of boys so relatively poor attainment could go unnoticed.

Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast studied the maths performance of almost 2,500 primary school children, 108 of whom ended up with an official diagnosis within school of dyslexia, but only one with dyscalculia. The academics then identified 112 children who probably had problems learning maths.

Kinga Morsanyi and a team from the university’s school of psychology studied the performance of young children over a number of years. Dr Morsanyi said: “In society there is sadly a widespread notion that you need a special talent to be good at maths, and that struggling with maths is normal for some people, but this is not the case and not something we would accept if a pupil were unable to read.

“Our study, which was funded by the Nuffield Foundation, shows that in almost all cases children who appear to have dyscalculia are not being diagnosed. Within the sample with dyscalculia, 80 per cent of the children have other developmental conditions, such as dyslexia or speech and language difficulties. As the practice is to assign one diagnostic label to each child, this could partially explain why mathematics difficulties are so often ignored. Based on our results, it seems likely that children with persistent, serious difficulties with mathematics, unlike children with dyslexia, do not receive specialist support. A child with dyslexia is more than 100 times as likely to receive an official diagnosis and educational support, and even if a child has dyscalculia diagnosed, there is no standard process to support them.”

The study also found there were no gender differences, either in the prevalence of dyscalculia or of exceptionally high performance in maths. Girls on average tended to have higher IQs and English performance than boys.

Dr Morsanyi said this meant that a similar performance in maths “could actually be interpreted as a relative underperformance in the case of girls. This raises the possibility that girls with maths difficulties are particularly likely to not receive sufficient educational support.”

She added: “Numeracy difficulties often lead to problems including greatly reduced employment opportunities, increased health risks and an increased risk of involvement with the criminal justice system. Sixty-five per cent of prisoners have number-work difficulties; the figure for literacy difficulties in the prison population is 48 per cent.”

Mike Ellicock, head of National Numeracy, said: “This research adds to growing evidence that suggests about one in 20 of the population may have dyscalculia — and that diagnosis and support remains far less available than for dyslexia. There is clearly work to do; half the adult population have the numeracy level that we expect of primary school children and this impacts upon individual life chances and costs the UK economy over £20 billion per year.”

Nicola Woolcock, Education Correspondent

September 11 2018, 12:01am, The Times

Back to news

More News

This is a key opportunity to make your and your students' voices heard. Respond by Friday, 31st...
After Closure of DSA-QAG—What next?
Guidance on the assessment of individuals for whom English is an additional language (EAL) and / or...
View all