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16/01

Dyslexia no longer being diagnosed by councils who called the disorder 'scientifically questionable'

Dyslexia is no longer being diagnosed by councils who claimed the disorder was “scientifically questionable”.

Children across Warwickshire and Staffordshire now have little or not access to taxpayer-funded assessments, as officials “embraced a policy of not differentiating” between dyslexics and others who simply struggle to read.

However, experts have criticised the argument as merely a smokescreen for cuts.

It follows criticism directed at both local authorities in the House of Lords last October for a co-authored document arguing that “a diagnosis of dyslexia does not provide any additional information that is useful for addressing the difficulties nor does it predict the rate of progress”.

The guidance has since been withdrawn pending the outcome of a consultation.

However, The Daily Telegraph has spoken to experts and support groups in both counties who described the help available to dyslexic children as the “worst in 30 years”.

A major programme of in-school support in Staffordshire was cut last September, while parents in Warwickshire have reported being told by schools that dyslexia is no longer recognised.

It comes as Birmingham City Council, England’s largest local authority, said it was reviewing its special educational needs policy after two of its psychologists attended a conference at Durham University in September organised by scientists who questions the existence of dyslexia.

Meanwhile the British Dyslexia Association last night said it was “deeply concerned” by reports that at least 80 local authorities are planning to send representatives to a major conference at University College London this month staged by the same group.

Senior educational psychologists from both Warwickshire and Staffordshire county councils are billed as keynote speakers at the event.

Helen Boden, the BDA’s chief executive, said: “If you don’t test for dyslexia you’re effectively shutting the door for people applying for support.

“We risk losing a huge amount of talent - people’s lives are being messed about.”

“There is a major issue around costs.”

Both Warwickshire and Staffordshire county council's last night insisted that they “do recognise dyslexia”.

However, a spokesman for Warwickshire said their approach “encourages teachers to identify and support all literacy difficulties as soon as a potential issue is identified rather than wait for a formal dyslexia diagnosis”, while a cabinet member for Staffordshire said: “The early support for all children with literacy difficulties does not discriminate by underlying cause.”

The comments follow the withdrawal of council-funded in-school special needs support in Staffordshire by services contractor Entrust, which is joint-owned by the council and Capita, leaving schools to use their own budgets to buy in specialist help.

The Daily Telegraph has seen an email from the company which said the decision had been made by local officials “due to financial pressures”.

Julie Cappleman-Morgan, co-founder of the Tamworth dyslexia support group Dig-iT, said: “Basically services have been decommissioned at a local level and people’s life chances have being massively hurt.”

Lesley Hill, who helps run the North Warwickshire and Coventry Dyslexia Association, said: "Availability is the worst it's been here for 30 years."

A diagnosis of dyslexia should allow council-funded support which could include extra literacy lessons, a laptop and specialist voice-recognition or text-reading software.

Last year Matt Hancock, the Health and Social Care Secretary, revealed he was dyslexic and that his career could have been “very different” had he not been given a spell-checker in school.

The 40-year-old later graduated with a first in Politics Philosophy and Economics from Oxford University.

However, Professor Julian Elliott, who is organising this month’s London conference, said: “If you’re testing for dyslexia, small numbers of kids get identified and prioritised but massive numbers with similar sorts of problems do not get helped.

"What a lot of services are trying to do are to find ways that would identify - rather than having a small number of children identified as dyslexic under very spurious criteria, they’re trying to find ways to identify all children who are struggling to read in local authorities.

“This could become a major move.”

Councillor Philip White, Cabinet Member, said: " Staffordshire advocates early identification and evidence based intervention for all children experiencing literacy difficulties to ensure fair access to available resources and effective support.

"Children who do not make expected progress over time meet the BPS  1999 definition of dyslexia. This descriptor is accepted in Staffordshire."

Meanwhile a Warwickshire County Council spokesman said: "We wish to state categorically that the council does recognise dyslexia along with many other special educational needs.

"The approach in Warwickshire encourages teachers to identify and support all literacy difficulties as soon as a potential issue is identified rather than wait for a formal dyslexia diagnosis.

"In this way pupils are supported at the earliest opportunity with appropriate support."

Author Henry Bodkin
Pubished: Telegraph
11th January 2019

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