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View Full Version : Special Needs Schools in England, specifically Dyslexia



aruna
02-17-2017, 03:23 PM
Hi friends,

I'm rewriting a novel that was originally published in 2003 in which a child with dyslexia was adoped by a German couple; the child turned out to be musically gifted. I lived in Germany at the time and knew a little about how the system there works.

In the rewrite, I'm changing it to an English couple in England, probably South England but it could also be much further north, Manchester or Yorkshire or whatever.
I did find this website to see what the options are for the parents: http://www.specialneedsuk.org/findaschool.asp

But it would be really great if I could hear some personal stories of how this might work. Especially the dylexia-giftedness combination.
Any help would be appreciated.

Old Hack
02-17-2017, 09:58 PM
I live in Sheffield, in South Yorkshire. My youngest son (now 16) has profound dyslexia. He's very badly affected by it. And he's also extremely bright: when he was tested for dyslexia he was six, and part of the test involved testing his vocabulary to see how wide his vocabulary was and how well he used those words, as a narrow vocabulary can mimic dyslexia. His tests showed that his reading and writing skills were around the 16th centile, but his intellectual ability was (I think) the 98th centile for his age. I am working from memory so might have got the exact figures a bit wrong, but that's roughly where he was. When his vocabulary was tested they reached the point where he was showing a vocabulary which was above the 90th centile for a twelve year old and the tester said there was no point continuing as he was clearly way above average.

Dyslexia is an issue with information and language processing. It affects not just his reading and writing, but also his concentration and, most notably, his short term memory. He's ok if he's given one or two instructions now but much more than that and he can't retain it. So if I ask him to go downstairs and get me my book he can do that (whether he will is another matter!). If I ask him to take some towels downstairs, put his shoes on, find his coat and meet me outside he'll get downstairs and then not quite know what he's there for.

He's gifted in several areas but it doesn't translate easily into schoolwork. He is extremely articulate and can discuss things he knows about very knowledgeably. He can't debate well, though, as he struggles to retain the arguments put forward by the other side because of those short-term memory problems. He's very good at solving problems, and when we put in a new septic tank when he was very young--less than 11 years old--he solved an issue with the pipe runs which had beaten everyone else, and they were all experienced. He can drive anything you sit him in, and is brilliant in a digger or tractor.

At school, his gifts and his high ability translate into nothing. He took his GCSEs last summer and got reasonable grades but they do not reflect his abilities in any subject. He's often exhorted to work harder, do more homework, and so on, even though he puts in a lot of hours and tries incredibly hard. The support the schools have given him (and according to OFSTED he's gone to "excellent" schools) has been very poor. The only reason he can now read and write as well as he can is that we've paid for him to have specialist tuition by very experienced dyslexia teachers. On the few occasions we left things to his schools to handle, they failed him. They insisted on his taking extra spelling sessions, which were a complete waste of time for him because of his short term memory issues.

So if you want to know how schools in the UK teach children with dyslexia: broadly speaking, even the good schools fail at this. The support they give is not very effective. If the children are clever enough to get by they're taught as if they're just not very bright, and aren't expected or helped to excel. If the children aren't clever enough to manage, they fail. And just so you know, I am not just talking from my experience: I've spoken to hundreds or families with children with dyslexia over the years, and can't remember a single one where the child was given good or even adequate support from their school. It's a nightmare, and it's a disgrace.

Old Hack
02-17-2017, 10:00 PM
ETA: As for the mechanics of the special needs: in Sheffield at least, a diagnosis of dyslexia will not get a child a statement of special educational needs. So they won't be sent to a specialist school. All that happens is they're given support by the school's SENCO (special educational needs coordinator) and most of that support involves testing them to see what stage they're at. Very little actual support results apart from the testing.

neandermagnon
02-18-2017, 12:38 PM
From personal experience of being both a student and a teacher in the British state education system who is both gifted and dyslexic, there is absolutely fuck-all understanding of it and your character will just be left to struggle. Sorry but that is the reality of it. It's not that state school teachers don't always understand that very intelligent people can be dyslexic and how this will impact them in their studies, though lets face it, most don't because the training teachers get in understanding problems like dyslexia is woeful at best (even before you get into the interaction between dyslexia and high intelligence), but also because there's a complete lack of funding so even when teachers understand (like me, before I quit teaching), when you try to get a dyslexia referral for a student who's getting grades higher than F's and G's it just won't happen. The best you'll be meet with is "wow, I see what you mean. Unfortunately we don't have enough funding to help him/her, and he/she's not struggling, he/she's in the 2nd top set, blah blah blah" and the idea that this child should be top of the top set getting straight A's doesn't seem to factor into it anywhere. It's extremely frustrating.

Dyslexia doesn't even come under the list of conditions whereby a child can get a statement of special educational needs any more. A child has to have more than just dyslexia to get a statement. (A statement is document that details the nature of a child's special educational needs and what the school is required to do about it.)

Most children with mild special needs (this is on a scale where severe means a child is unable to communicate at all, or functioning at a preschool level in teens) will be educated in mainstream schools, sometimes with a learning support assistant to help them. Special schools are for children with moderate to severe special needs who are unable to function at all in mainstream schools. The idea of a special school for dyslexic children is a total fantasy.

This lack of ability to provide adequately (or at all) for dyslexic children is a small part of a much wider problem i.e. the fact that schools and teachers are judged almost entirely on exam results and the amount of pressure on teachers to teach to the test and jump through all the Ofsted hoops, and the fact teachers have no room for professional judgement any more. It doesn't matter what you know or understand as a teacher if you're not given any leeway to do anything differently for a particular child beyond differentiating your lesson plan.

If you're talking about the private sector though, the picture's very different. Just the other day it was on the news that twice as many children in private schools get additional provision in exams for dyslexia, etc, such as extra time. Why? Because private schools have smaller classes and much more flexible budgets and teachers have room to exercise their professional judgement and actually (shock horror!) get supported when they notice things like signs of dyslexia in a child. There are private schools that have well run dyslexia support units that really help students.

Also, when I was at university (I wasn't even diagnosed until the year before I went to university, after secondary school destroyed all confidence I had in my ability to do anything academic on account of having been systematically labelled as "bright but lazy" and berated for not trying hard enough and being lazy whenever I struggled with coherently writing anything longer than a 1 mark question*) I was helped loads, both by the dyslexia support unit and university lecturers who understood dyslexia and how it affected students and were really supportive. I did really well at uni. So well in fact that my file was specifically shown to university inspectors as an example of what the university can do for students with dyslexia.

*because when you can explain complex scientific concepts to people orally and even extrapolate info from graphs that your teacher missed, but can't write an essay on it, you must be really, fucking lazy, right? And being top of the entire year of maths means you can't possibly be struggling to write essays in English, can it?

There is SO much more that could be done if the state school system was more flexible, if teachers had much better training and if schools had the budget to properly help students.

The problem with the state school system is it's focused on equality, not equity. Everyone gets the same one-size-fits-all education and if that one size doesn't fit, no-one's allowed any real flexibility to help you. The whole entirety of providing for different needs is expected to happen in the classroom by the teacher differentiating their lesson plan. It's actually very limited how much a teacher can do this differentiation. You get kids put in sets according to ability in individual subjects, but they all have to do the same exams at the end of it. If a child's struggling to get good grades in science because they're struggling with literacy, they'll end up in a low set, regardless of their actual ability in science, which is basically a complete failure to do anything about the underlying issue. Even when that child's suspected of having dyslexia, the SEN unit won't do much to help because their budget is so stretched and there are kids with more severe needs that get priority.

"Twice exceptional" is the term given to people like myself who are both dyslexic and have gifted level intelligence (etc) - you can probably look it up on websites that advocate for twice exceptional people and find out more.

Like many things in Britain, your answer's going to be very different depending on your social class. If your English couple are middle-middle class or higher and able to afford to send their child to a private school with a good dyslexia support unit then that child's story's going to be totally different to mine.

Old Hack
02-18-2017, 12:57 PM
I agree with all you've said, neander.

aruna
02-18-2017, 01:40 PM
ETA: As for the mechanics of the special needs: in Sheffield at least, a diagnosis of dyslexia will not get a child a statement of special educational needs. So they won't be sent to a specialist school. All that happens is they're given support by the school's SENCO (special educational needs coordinator) and most of that support involves testing them to see what stage they're at. Very little actual support results apart from the testing.

Thanks OH! And what would happen if they are failing dismally in class? Would they be held back, repeat a year (that's what happens in Germany) or just allowed to lag behind all the others?

I know a little about private schools and dyslexia but not about the regular system for those who can't afford private tuition. But your son's story is inspiring.

My daughter was/is dyslexic. As she was living in Germany at the time they would have sent her to a special needs school, which has a huge stigma -- basically, it's for failures, pupils with low IQ or disabled, disruptive pupils and forigners who can't speak German. I sent her to a Steiner school for a year but that was no better and she was bullied.

About that time I got an advance for my second and third novels and I used it to send her to a private school in the UK, St Bede's of Eastbourne, and I moved to the UK so she could be a day pupil instead of a boarder. It was fantastic; she got a lot of support. In a few weeks she was fluent in English and she went on to get a C in English GCSE. She was officially diagnosed as dyslexic and was given more time for exams and was also given a fantastic Mac Desktop computer (which she still has).

She didn't sit A Levels; she was good at Art so did a BTEC in Art and Design which got her into a Spatial Design degree course which she graduated with 1st Class Honours. However it wasn't worth much as she couldn't get a job. She worked as a waitress for several years while applying for jobs; with that degree she was supposed to go on for a Masters degree in Architecture or Landscape Architecture or something similar. Which by that time would have cost about 10000 GBP yearly in tuition.

Anyway she came back to Germany and was accepted by the Technical University of Munich, which is Germany's top uni, for Landscape Architecture, so she has started all over again. Her written English is now quite good but she always need someone to go over herstuff for spelling mistakes. And her German is much worse and also needs correcting -- I do my best, but my German is not perfect.

But anyway -- she is proof that it wasn't lack of intelligence holding her back. She's really good at creative design and photography. This is her website: http://www.muenchgardens.com/
She will end up with a super degree from a top uni.

Old Hack
02-18-2017, 01:56 PM
Thanks OH! And what would happen if they are failing dismally in class? Would they be held back, repeat a year (that's what happens in Germany) or just allowed to lag behind all the others?

No, they wouldn't be held back. They'd just fail and keep struggling.


I know a little about private schools and dyslexia but not about the regular system for those who can't afford private tuition. But your son's story is inspiring.

My daughter was/is dyslexic. As she was living in Germany at the time they would have sent her to a special needs school, which has a huge stigma -- basically, it's for failures, pupils with low IQ or disabled, disruptive pupils and forigners who can't speak German. I sent her to a Steiner school for a year but that was no better and she was bullied.


It's awful that there's a stigma attached to going to a school which is appropriate for your needs. I am very glad I don't live in Germany!


About that time I got an advance for my second and third novels and I used it to send her to a private school in the UK, St Bede's of Eastbourne, and I moved to the UK so she could be a day pupil instead of a boarder. It was fantastic; she got a lot of support. In a few weeks she was fluent in English and she went on to get a C in English GCSE. She was officially diagnosed as dyslexic and was given more time for exams and was also given a fantastic Mac Desktop computer (which she still has).

She didn't sit A Levels; she was good at Art so did a BTEC in Art and Design which got her into a Spatial Design degree course which she graduated with 1st Class Honours. However it wasn't worth much as she couldn't get a job. She worked as a waitress for several years while applying for jobs; with that degree she was supposed to go on for a Masters degree in Architecture or Landscape Architecture or something similar. Which by that time would have cost about 10000 GBP yearly in tuition.

I'm surprised by those costs, Aruna, and wonder if you've got that a bit wrong. I was looking into the cost of a Masters degree very recently and it's currently only about 6,500 for the year's tuition.


Anyway she came back to Germany and was accepted by the Technical University of Munich, which is Germany's top uni, for Landscape Architecture, so she has started all over again. Her written English is now quite good but she always need someone to go over herstuff for spelling mistakes. And her German is much worse and also needs correcting -- I do my best, but my German is not perfect.

But anyway -- she is proof that it wasn't lack of intelligence holding her back. She's really good at creative design and photography. This is her website: http://www.muenchgardens.com/
She will end up with a super degree from a top uni.

I hope she does well. It's awful that our children are made to feel so inadequate, and it's awful they can't always access the support they need.

aruna
02-18-2017, 03:21 PM
[QUOTE]
It's awful that there's a stigma attached to going to a school which is appropriate for your needs. I am very glad I don't live in Germany!

That was about 15 years ago; I think it's much improved now.


I'm surprised by those costs, Aruna, and wonder if you've got that a bit wrong. I was looking into the cost of a Masters degree very recently and it's currently only about 6,500 for the year's tuition.

I think it varies from Uni to Uni and course to course. I've seen Masters degrees in the UK costing 12000 GBP. (That was for an engineering and compuzet science Masters at Middlesex Uni.
(ETA: I just checked -- UK Masters degree in Landscape Archiecture or similar courses are between 4000 and 13000 a year.)

But whatever -- in Germany there's no tuition cost at all, so that makes it much easier.

Last summer, when she was first here, she put a small personal ad in a local village paper, offering her services as a gardener -- she got so many calls that she never had to put in a second ad, and was working all summer!

Old Hack
02-19-2017, 12:39 PM
Aruna, those fees still seemed ridiculously high to me but I've just realised why: I'm a UK citizen, and your daughter would probably have to pay international fees, which are always higher. There. Mystery solved!

aruna
02-20-2017, 12:21 AM
No, OH -- she's German, EU, -- she pays the same fees as UK students! Remember that fees rose from 3000 to 9000 a year a couple years ago .. she's lucky that she studied before the rise.

aruna
02-20-2017, 12:25 AM
ETA here's a list of MA courses in Landscape Architecture, with fees: https://www.postgraduatesearch.com/pgs/search?course=landscape-design-and-architecture&qualification=masters (not the same list -- the one I first saw had more unis with higher fees)

Old Hack
02-20-2017, 01:03 AM
No, OH -- she's German, EU, -- she pays the same fees as UK students! Remember that fees rose from 3000 to 9000 a year a couple years ago .. she's lucky that she studied before the rise.

What confused me was you said you'd seen Masters degrees costing 13000 a year. But the maximum annual tuition fee is still only 9000 here, and that's for undergraduate degrees: Masters degrees are cheaper. But international students do pay more.

But we're getting off-topic here.