Scroll down for a range of free assessments to check on decoding and spelling.
There is no biologically critical period for learning to read and spell as writing systems are recent human inventions. Nevertheless, there is a window of time between the ages of 4 to 7 when children can be taught the alphabet code, decoding and spelling skills most quickly and easily. The window never closes, but the older the child the more difficult it can be to provide the missing code knowledge and skills, eliminate the acquired guessing habit and prevent ”disaffection and disengagement from education” (Rose 2009. p38).
Most children start school enthusiastically, keen and eager to learn but, typically, those who are failing to learn to read will become deeply unhappy after only a term or so and may suffer from frequent tummy aches or other stress symptoms. Some children become rebellious and disruptive as an outward show of distress, maybe even receiving the ADHD label, whilst others become unnaturally quiet and subdued and do their best to avoid all attention, the dreamers at the back of the class.
”The signs are there for mums and dads who care to look out for them. If you have a child who brings books home but doesn’t want to read them; a child who is suddenly either too quiet or too aggressive at school; a child who has clearly memorised her early books or who is being described as “possibly dyslexic” or “plateauing” by her teachers — be alert to the possibility that, no matter how old, she may never have learnt to read properly.”
(Ruth Miskin. Sunday Times 26/03/06)
Do not accept any of the following excuses for a child’s decoding and spelling difficulties:
N.B. he/she and his/her are mostly interchangeable.
– Your child isn’t trying/doesn’t pay attention/needs to concentrate/lacks motivation.
– This pupil has ”emotional barriers to reading” as a result of their parent’s anxieties. (Rose 2009 p21)
– He hasn’t memorised the ‘100 or so’ essential sight words yet.
– She’ll never learn to read if she doesn’t love reading.
– ”Nobody hates reading. She simply hasn’t found the right book yet”.
– ”He’s developed learned helplessness. He needs to work more independently and be a risk-taker”.
– Boys are often slow ‘catching on’ to reading. His parents shouldn’t worry; he’ll read when he’s ready.
– Dyslexia is part of a student’s whole personality; you can’t cure it (FE College dyslexia support leaflet)
– ”No one can be good at everything”.
– His brain is wired differently from those of other children who learn to decode words easily.
– Your child has a neurodevelopmental disability.
– He’s got a phonological/auditory processing defect and is ”phonemically deaf”.
– The SENCo/EP diagnosed dyslexia so he’ll always struggle with reading. We’ll put some accommodations into place.
– Her brain and speech lack ‘rhythm’.
– Phonics doesn’t work for some pupils. He needs to use other reading strategies.
– She’s a very able reader but failed the phonics check because she’s ”moved beyond reading phonetically”.
– He’s a super confident reader but failed the check because of its pseudo-words and lack of context; he always reads for meaning.
– We have to teach phonics nowadays but it doesn’t suit his visual learning style.
– All children are different; it’s best that he discovers a range of reading strategies for himself.
– She’s a visual/kinesthetic learner so she’ll struggle with any phonics programme.
– His ”brain isn’t well matched to a literacy-based society” (BDA. Pollak p131)
– You have unrealistic expectations; she’s just not academic.
– It’s because of the family’s low socio-economic status.
– It’s because the family lacks cultural capital.
– It’s to be expected; his parents are illiterate.
– It’s because she’s in a one-parent family.
– It’s because the family is white, working-class.
– It’s because the family is black, Caribbean.
– It’s because she has too many siblings at home.
– It’s because he’s left-handed / right-brained.
– It’s due to visual stress; she needs tinted lenses/overlays and colour-tinted paper.
– It’s because his diet is/was deficient in essential fatty acids.
– She’s not (spiritually) ready to read; her second teeth haven’t appeared yet.
– He’s not developmentally ready to hear phonemes yet; we’ll use a rhyming analogy approach for now.
– It’s because she skipped the crawling stage and went straight to walking.
– You haven’t / don’t read enough to him at home.
– It’s because she lacks a growth mindset.
– You didn’t listen to him reading every day, without fail, from the book sent home from school.
– It’s because the family home has few or no books.
– You failed to ”treat your baby as a meaning maker from birth and share stories of joy” (Prof. Ewing)
– He’s inherited your family’s dyslexia genes.
– It’s because English is her second/additional language…
– It’s because of his ”medical difficulties – constipation, anaemia, poor diet etc” (UK Gov. LI16. Hewes)
Note that all these excuses place the source of the problem with(in) the child or with their parent/s, never with the teaching or the teaching materials.
”We need to be outraged at this failure to teach and insouciant parent blame. It’s not your fault. It’s not within him. It’s inadequate teaching.”
(Lisa Jeffery. Twitter/X)
Galen Alessi, a Professor of Psychology, conducted a fascinating study on school psychologists. He asked 50 school psychologists to list the causes of the learning difficulties of about 5,000 students. The results of these 5,000 reports prepared by the school psychologists, ”indicated clearly no need to improve curricula, teaching practices, nor school administrative practices and management. The only needs somehow involve improving the stock of children enrolled in the system, and some of their parents…After examining several “mainstream” school psychology texts, Alessi found that when assessing children’s reading problems, school factors were mentioned as a factor between 7% and 0% (zero) of the time. “Child factors” were held responsible for reading problems between 90% to 100% of the time” (Wrightslaw. The Blame Game)
The Blame Game! Are School Problems the Kids’ Fault?
”Wade and Moore asked teachers the question, “Who is to blame for students’ failure to learn?” That 65% of teachers blamed child characteristics, and 32% of teachers blamed the home situation would probably be a surprise to those parents who view schools as the major influence on learning. Only 3% of teachers blamed teachers or the school system for learning problems.”
(K. Hempenstall. Failure to learn: causes and consequences https://www.nifdi.org/news-latest-2/blog-hempenstall/397-failure-to-learn-causes-and-consequences-dr-kerry-hempenstall)
”Sometimes it does seem as if schools will blame anything but the teaching.”
”There will always be parents that don’t read with their child. It is wrong that schools farm out their core purpose to parents and then wring their hands when children don’t learn to read, blaming their home environment or the child themselves”
How inadequate teaching morphs into other problems over time.
”It’s easy to mistake symptoms for causes”.
Why do children read more? The influence of reading ability on voluntary reading practices:
“Importantly, the present results suggest that it is the children’s reading ability that determines how much they choose to read, rather than vice versa”
There is a reciprocal relationship between motivation and reading, but early reading has a stronger impact on motivation than vice versa.
”Never forget that the teacher of the young reader is the custodian of that child’s destiny”
(McGuinness. WCCR 1998. p226)
What’s Still Going Wrong with the Teaching of Decoding and Spelling in KS1 and KS2?
Although all YR/Y1 teachers (England) do teach a daily, discrete phonics lesson nowadays, as a result of inadequate training, some teachers still expect children to memorise the common exception words as whole shapes. Furthermore, some teachers expect their beginning readers to guess their way through levelled/banded scheme books, or so-called ‘real books’, when independent reading activities take place outside the phonics lesson. For a significant minority of children, this is a recipe for confusion and failure.
”Why is it, when you have obvious support for the development of the alphabetic principle, that “decoding” and “reading comprehension” get Balkanised like this?”
There is also the problem of teachers in KS2 who have not received any high-quality phonics training (Dr Timothy Mills. 2023). They commonly turn to the NLS ‘Searchlights’ strategies they remember from their initial teacher training and school experience when pupils arrive in their classes as still slow or struggling phonics decoders. KS2 teachers without high-quality phonics training will also find it difficult to provide the extended/advanced alphabet code knowledge and polysyllabic spelling instruction necessary to ensure all pupils leave primary school as fluent and accurate word readers and spellers.
Some phonics programmes, despite being validated by the DfE, teach a limited number of the 176 most common spellings. In addition, many schools stop providing daily, discrete phonics lessons at the end of Y1, once the phonics check has taken place, leaving around 100 of the common advanced/extended code spellings untaught. Children, in this situation, must discover the rest of the common code for themselves in the context of reading. Most children begin this ‘bootstrapping’ (implicit statistical learning. Seidenberg. 2023) within the first two years of high-quality phonics instruction, but a significant percentage (the 20+% who, for a variety of reasons, are slower to learn the phonics code) need another year, at least, of direct and systematic instruction to kick-start the process. All KS2 children benefit from continuing with advanced/extended code phonics, along with etymology and morphology, to support their polysyllabic spelling and vocabulary.
Phonics in KS2 – The ‘later’ catastrophe
”In a recent research study, every child in years 3,4 and 5 across 7 schools was screened using the Bryant phonic awareness test. And how many had mastered decoding? 30%!
So 70% of the 8,9 and 10 year-olds had not mastered decoding. That’s 70% of children who will never learn to read properly. Now extrapolate that across the country.”
A headteacher wondered why, despite excellent scores in the Y1 PSC, his school struggled ”to transfer them into fluent spelling and reading as the children progressed”. Linguistic phonics trainer Charlotte MacKechnie explained:
– A score of 32 or a score of 40/40 are both reported as a pass, but a child scoring 32 can get by with just Phase 2 & 3 code knowledge (i.e. what is commonly taught in Reception). Passing PSC ≠ ‘knowing phonics’.
– The PSC includes only four 2-syllable words – 80% of the English language is polysyllabic. Children need to be taught to deal with 2-6 syllable words through phonics teaching in KS1+.
– Children may have been taught well enough in Reception and Year 1, but there hasn’t been enough time to cover the whole code by the end of Year 1! They need at least an additional year for enough deliberate practice to commit sound-spelling correspondences to memory.
Teaching phonics from Reception – Year 6 (and beyond): why schools shouldn’t abandon the teaching of phonics after the Y1 phonics check:
– ”The phonics screening check assesses whether a child has learned phonic decoding to the minimum expected standard for a 6-year old. It does not assess whether a child has mastered phonic decoding. It isn’t supposed to.”
– ”The phonics screening check assesses around 70 of the 175 spellings: there are around 100 more spellings to teach.”
– ”(P)honics beyond Reception and KS1 is spelling.”
”I do think that all children should be taught all c.176. Some, of course, will bootstrap themselves for reading after learning, say, 140 or so; but, for spelling, even the bootstrappers need them all with plenty of practice given at every stage.”
(John Walker. Twitter/X)
To guard against phonic deficits causing decoding difficulties for pupils in later years, The Reading Ape recommends a ”Year Three phonics pseudo-word check that assesses the whole alphabetic code, including polysyllabic level…”
(TRA blog: Decisions, decisions – can research help identify the best phonics programme?).
Why the ‘Searchlights’ won’t go out [in KS2]
”The Rose Review (2006) of the teaching of early reading noted that there was an imperative to improve the professional knowledge and skills of teachers with a focus on Initial Teacher Training. This training was understandably concentrated on those entering the profession and those teaching in the lower primary years but as for many (Chew, 2018), for teachers in upper KS2, there was no additional training, and we continued teaching according to the ‘Searchlights’ model.”
Teaching phonics in upper KS2: An investigation into whether a comprehensive knowledge of basic phonic decoding skills is a requirement for reading fluency. Dr Timothy Mills.
https://www.academia.edu/106608370/An_investigation_into_whether_a_comprehensive_knowledge_of_basic_phonic_decoding_skills_is_a_requirement_for_reading_fluency (this doctoral thesis will appear as a paper in due course)
Ofsted inspections taking place in England’s primary schools since 2019 include an Early Reading and Phonics deep dive; school inspectors look closely at how well the school teaches children to read from the beginning of Reception. Inspectors also look to see that, ”the sequence of reading books shows a cumulative progression in phonics knowledge that is matched closely to the school’s phonics programme. Teachers give pupils sufficient practice in reading and re-reading books that match the grapheme-phoneme correspondences they know, both at school and at home.”
”(T)he new EIF includes a reading deep dive. The reading deep dive is a mandatory part of the new inspections in these schools. Inspectors will look at 7 aspects of early reading, as set out in paragraph 298 of the school inspection handbook”
Parents are likely to be a child’s best, sometimes only advocates. If your child is still struggling with decoding at the end of year one (this should be flagged up by the phonics screening check), talk to your child’s teacher and/or the school’s SENCo as soon as possible to find out exactly what the school is doing to help your child catch-up and keep-up.
”Teachers may attribute weaknesses in reading to a pupil having dyslexia rather than having gaps in their phonic knowledge. This can also lead to teachers using reading interventions that have an alternative approach rather than teaching systematic synthetic phonics. However, reading requires the same phonic knowledge for all children. Teachers can help pupils overcome difficulties by ensuring that they learn GPCs; pupils with SEND are highly likely to need much more frequent repetition.”
(Ofsted. Research Review Series. English. 2022)
Caution is strongly recommended. Teachers and SENCos who take advice from one of the dyslexia organisations may believe, incorrectly, that children who are slower than their peers to learn phonics need ”alternative teaching methods” such as ”onset-rime, syllable, and rhythm-based instructional approaches, as phonics doesn’t work for some children”. Additionally, some SENCos are still providing non-systematic word-guessing interventions such as Reading Recovery or Catch Up Literacy (see ‘Room 101’ for interventions to avoid). This type of intervention will not help children learn how to decode and spell accurately in the long-term.
Primary School Phonics: Keep-Up and Catch-Up: https://www.dyslexics.org.uk/options-for-intervention/
Various accommodations may be put in place by the school’s SENCo. These are often little more than sops for a child’s parents and will usually be limited to the least expensive and simple to deliver, hence the ubiquitous colour-tinted paper and overlays or assistive technology.
”Accommodations can not come at the expense of teaching children to read. Audiobooks or speech-to-text apps for writing, while great tools, should not be a replacement for teaching children to read.”
How assistive technology masks the problem of early reading difficulties:
”The over-reliance on assistive technology can and does become a problem when it’s used as a replacement for, rather than a complement to, proper reading instruction.”
”Assistive tech. is not an acceptable replacement for being able to read. It’s a bandaid for a system-wide problem – poor early reading instruction” (Parent of a teenage struggling reader. Twitter/X)
Should I Have My Child Assessed for Dyslexia?
At a late stage, often only as a result of parental pressure, when the school’s intervention is proving ineffective and the child is continuing to have serious difficulties learning to read, the school may bring in an LEA educational psychologist (EP) to assess the child. Note, that LEA psychologists, ”…work within a public service ethos in which fairness to all potential clients is actively pursued, but in which it is widely believed that it is also unethical to publicly ”raise expectations” above what the LA or school can deliver” (Bunn. SEN magazine. 54 p69). Parents with the financial means may arrange for their child to see an independent EP to speed up diagnosis. They will charge a hefty (£400+) professional fee for their services.
External evaluations for dyslexia: do the data support parent concerns?
Open access: rdcu.be/ci2ze
”Parents seeking external evaluation do so due to a lack of support in schools. But sadly the reading struggles of their children are the norm and not the exception”
(Tim Odegard. Twitter/X)
”(M)eeting the needs of pupils with dyslexia does not require a diagnostic label or test.”
(DfE. 2022. How we help schools and colleges support pupils with dyslexia)
”It’s easy to identify a child struggling significantly with decoding – complex tests are not required. Why should families need to spend vast sums before they can access appropriate educational intervention?”
(Prof Elliott. Twitter/X)
Aside from the cost, the problem with assessment for dyslexia is that research has cast serious doubt on the validity of all the past and present diagnostic procedures. For a start, a professional assessment will usually include an intelligence test, despite the fact that using IQ tests as an integral part of diagnosing dyslexia is known to be scientifically flawed. Prof. Elliott also points out, ”The administration of IQ tests is restricted to certain professionals and thus has an influential role in maintaining and preserving professional influence and status”.
The British Psychological Society (BPS) advise that ”Assessments referring to cognitive test scores within batteries of tests, such as the BAS and WISC, can be informative when pointing to strengths and weaknesses in the individual case. No particular pattern of sub-test scores, however, can be regarded as necessary or sufficient in deciding whether and to what extent learning difficulties can be described as dyslexic.” (BPS 2005 p68). Furthermore, the BPS’ definition of dyslexia, which it simplifies to, ”…marked and persistent problems at the word level of the NLS curricular framework” (BPS 2005 p20) is, the BPS acknowledges, only a ‘working’ definition, not an operational one, meaning it cannot be used to make a scientifically valid diagnosis.
“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”
The irrelevance of intelligence testing for reading disability/dyslexia issues.
Reading difficulty is a teaching problem, not an intelligence problem.
The Bell Curve Dyslexia Diagnosis:
Nowadays, most educational psychologists and researchers get around the irksome diagnosis problem by saying that dyslexia is not an “all or nothing” phenomenon, something one either has or doesn’t have; dyslexia, they will tell you, is ”best thought of as existing on a continuum from mild to severe, rather than forming a discrete category” (Rose Report 2009 p34). This is the Bell Curve diagnosis -see below:
– ”Dyslexics are children (and later adults) whose reading is at the low end of a normal distribution. Reading skill results from a combination of dimensional factors (that is, ones that vary in degree), yielding a bell-shaped curve. The reading difficulties of the children in the lower tail are severe and require special attention. ‘Dyslexia’ refers to these children.”
(Prof Seidenberg. Language at the Speed of Sight. p 156)
– “People used to think dyslexia was a clear-cut syndrome with signs and syndromes like a medical disease, but it is actually much more like blood pressure – it can range from very low to very high”
(Prof M. Snowling. TES podcast).
– ”Literacy difficulties exist on a continuum. There is no clear or absolute cut off point where a child can be said to have dyslexia…whether or not to describe a child’s literacy difficulties as dyslexia will be a matter for professional judgement.” (Devon LEA Dyslexia Guidance) or ”an intuitive clinical impression” (Prof Frith quoted in Miles. p171).
– ”Reading skills fall along a fine-grained continuum, and there is no consensus on where to draw the line in terms of how depressed reading skills must be to be considered dyslexia”
Dyslexia or Dysteachia?
Louise Spear-Swerling and Robert J. Sternberg explain why ”Identifying [reading disability] is not really like diagnosing a medical ailment, in part because RD identification is not an objective process involving reliable measurements.”
Kerr rightly describes the Bell Curve diagnosis as ”throwing in the sponge” (Kerr p98) and goes on to say, ”(I)t is not legitimate to claim that simply because they all find themselves in this bottom 10% they must all share any particular characteristic, let alone all suffer from the same syndrome, without further evidence that this is so. We have no evidence as to why these poor readers are in this group…All we can properly say from contemplation of the bell curve is that they all seem to be poor readers. It is improper to claim more than this on this evidence – especially to claim that membership of the poor readers’ group per se indicates possession of a neurological deficit – indicates that all these people suffer from dyslexia.” (Hugo Kerr. Dyslexia. p99)
”The  Rose Report’s definition of dyslexia is exceedingly broad and says that dyslexia is a continuum with no clear cut-off points. The definition is so broad and blurred at the edges that it is difficult to see how it could be useful in any diagnostic sense.”
(HoC. S&T committee. Evidence Check: Early Literacy Interventions. 2009)
Prof. Elliott. ResearchED magazine 2019:
”In reality, the dyslexia debate is not about the existence or otherwise of dyslexia but, rather, whether a dyslexia diagnosis has scientific validity”
Alison Clarke: Preventing literacy failure and shifting the whole Bell Curve up.
The Response to Intervention (RTI) Dyslexia Diagnosis:
The second method used to identify dyslexia (used alongside or as an alternative to the Bell Curve diagnosis) is based on whether the student’s word-level decoding problem has proved, ”resistant to a prolonged and systematic reading intervention” (Elliott & Gibbs p483). This is the Response to Intervention (RTI) diagnosis. What precisely constitutes a ”high-quality reading intervention” (Prof Elliott 2020) will not be stated and parents, yet again, will find themselves having to rely on the judgement (opinion or guesswork) of the professional involved.
Note that specialist dyslexia teaching as described in Jim Rose’s Dyslexia Report 2009 cannot, at present, be considered to provide a ”well founded intervention” as, ”(M)any of the things that specialist dyslexia teachers do have not been the subject of much published research” (Singleton 2009. p21) and those few ”results reported from studies in UK specialist [dyslexia] schools and teaching centres would be regarded as disappointing (or even disregarded altogether)” (Singleton 2009. p74).
”The Response to Intervention [RTI] framework was devised as an alternative to the discredited IQ/Achievement Discrepancy “Model” for the designation of “Learning Disability.” Schools and teachers find the newer “Model” attractive because it takes the “problem kids” out of mainstream instruction while sustaining present instructional practices and maintaining the turf of psychologists and “Special Education” specialists. Parents find it attractive because the children involved are receiving increased personal and specialized instructional attention. By the time a child has gone through Tier 3, the child, parents, and school personnel are thoroughly convinced that the child has a “disability.” The tragedy/travesty is that the “problem” the child had when first identified as “at risk” has morphed into a “really big problem” for which the child bears the full responsibility.” (Prof. Schutz)
Prof. Schutz. RTI: Response to Intervention or Really Terrible Instruction?
”I think many do not understand RTI, specifically the need for Tier 2 to intensify good practice from Tier 1. Even a sound Tier 2 program won’t help if Tier 1 is based on ineffective practices such as balanced literacy.” (Dr. Kate de Bruin. Twitter/X)
Because of their inability to give a legitimate diagnosis of dyslexia (no universally-agreed operational definition exists, or a legal definition in the UK. Singleton 2009. p16), a specialist dyslexia teacher or educational psychologist’s written report is highly unlikely to include the discrete label. Instead, it will substitute words such as, ”has a specific weakness in phonological development”, ”has deficits in phonological awareness”, or it will be hedged about with words that avoid commitment to a definitive diagnosis: ”literacy difficulties follow the pattern of an SpLD known as dyslexia”, ”has dyslexic traits” or, ”is at risk for Dyslexia-SpLD”, with the clear cut dyslexia label only given to parents verbally.
”Getting the right help to all children who need it – rather than spending time and money separating off “dyslexic” children and giving them expensive but often dubious assistance – should now be a national priority. But it is not”
(David Mills. Telegraph. 2007. Dyslexia: a big, expensive myth)
After criticism of her comments on the TV documentary, ‘The Dyslexia Myth’, where she seemed to suggest otherwise, Professor Snowling declared that educated professionals can readily identify ‘dyslexia’. Presumably, being aware that there is no way this can be done legitimately without an operational definition, she added, ”It is no longer relevant to ask ‘who is dyslexic and who is not.” (Prof Snowling quoted by www.myomancy.com 2005). Professors Stanovich and Elliott were more straightforward: ”The underlying difficulty appears to be the same, the way these children respond to treatment appears to be the same, there appears to be no justification whatsoever for going in and trying to carve out a special group of poor readers. This is what 15 years of research, all over the world has shown can’t be justified on a scientific or empirical basis.” (Stanovich quoted in Mills. Ch4 TV documentary The Dyslexia Myth). ”After three decades as an educationalist, first as a teacher of children with learning difficulties, then as an educational psychologist and, latterly, as an academic who has reviewed the educational literature, I have little confidence in myself (or others’) ability to offer a diagnosis of dyslexia.”
(Prof Elliott. TES)
Prof. J. Elliott: By Focusing On Dyslexia, We Ignore Other Struggling Readers
”Dyslexia is the excuse that absolves educators of responsibility – in fact, I believe it to be the opium of education”
The Dyslexia Label:
An LEA educational psychologist commented: ”Unfortunately people want a label as they think it offers an explanation and often the label is useful as it releases extra funding and special arrangements for exams. I avoid the term, referring instead to the specific gaps in code knowledge and the need for extra teaching to learn the basic or advanced code, practice with blending, and segmenting, the need for modelled writing where children compose sentences orally first, the need to develop accurate letter formation through handwriting teaching and practice. Now we have identified these gaps and weak areas, I say to schools and parents, we can focus extra teaching on them. Schools and parents would be much happier, I suspect, if I just were to say with a long face, “It’s dyslexia!!!”. It’s not an easy position to defend – there is an LEA specialist advisory teacher for dyslexia and dyslexia-friendly courses all about overlays, coloured paper, and special arrangements for accessing the curriculum, using scribes and readers and ICT.”
Parents need to ask themselves if it really is a good idea to spend a great deal of time, effort and usually money, to get their child professionally labelled as ‘dyslexic’, when there is no genuine science behind its identification. More importantly, obtaining the label certainly does not guarantee that your child will, as a consequence, receive expert in-school tuition with a high-quality phonics intervention programme to remediate his/her decoding and spelling difficulties.
Another negative result of obtaining the dyslexia label for a child is that many classroom teachers find the label intimidating. They have been led to believe that those with the label have biologically determined and incurable decoding difficulties. After receiving the diagnosis of dyslexia from an ‘educated professional’, the child is likely to be assigned by their teachers to the ‘can’t be taught to read or spell’ category.
Does the ‘dyslexia’ label disable teachers?
The impact of the dyslexia label on academic outlook and aspirations
”The results show that those labelled with dyslexia hold lower beliefs about
their ability in English and Maths than their matched peers without this label. The children
labelled with dyslexia were also signiﬁcantly less likely to say that they would go to
university. Furthermore, teachers and parents held lower aspirations for children labelled
”Once he had the label, the form teachers ALL washed their hands of him. It validated that ‘A’ was unteachable”
(Katherine W, parent of a struggling reader)
”Diagnosis for us was a waste of time and money. The school continued on exactly the same path – unable/unwilling to help beyond tokenism in the classroom – diagnosis gave them the excuse they were looking for to give up as dyslexics ‘cannot be taught to read.’’
(Amanda, parent of a struggling reader)
Possession of the dyslexia label can make parents more vulnerable to the purveyors of snake oil cures: ”(W)hen a child has problems, parents often feel guilty, and they can to some extent assuage that guilt by doing something. So alternative interventions are especially likely to be taken up in situations where the mainstream options are seen as ineffective and parents feel powerless to make a difference” (D. Bishop. BDA 2008 ppt.) And, once they’ve gone to all the trouble and expense of obtaining the label, parents and students may be very reluctant to discard it, even if new information comes along which might make them question its legitimacy and usefulness: ”There’s a psychological phenomenon known as cognitive dissonance which is the tendency to filter out information that conflicts with what one already believes, in an effort to ignore that information and reinforce one’s beliefs. In the context of intervention, it is uncomfortable to conclude that one put a lot of time and money into a treatment that has not worked. There is likely, therefore, to be a cognitive bias to paint as bright a picture as possible. This seems supported by studies that find a mismatch between people’s perceptions of efficacy and objective evidence.” (Prof D. Bishop. BDA 2008 ppt.)
”The belief that some children cannot learn to decode is toxic.”
(David Didau. Twitter/X)
Kerr offers other important reasons to avoid the ‘dyslexia’ label: ”Firstly, much thinking about dyslexia is almost willfully sloppy and sloppy science never did anyone any good, very particularly the subjects of it… Many diagnoses stand on small, highly controversial and rather subjectively assessed, evidence. And then, people given a diagnosis of a neurological deficit may find such a label at the least disconcerting, at worst devastating… And then, what about those who don’t achieve the label? Are they simply (and publicly) to be designated as stupid? And then, we don’t appear able to see over or around dyslexia; once the diagnosis has been invoked we seek no other explanations for presenting phenomena. Simpler, alternative, much more everyday, scientifically duller, less sexy (and much less lucrative) explanations are very much less assiduously sought once a diagnosis of ‘dyslexia’ has been made” (Hugo Kerr. p93)
2020. ‘The dyslexia debate: life without the label’. Elliott & Gibb.
The science of dyslexia isn’t as straightforward as politicians seem to think:
”However, Lord Watson tapped into a very considerable body of support from the dyslexia industry and the individuals it purports to help. Illiteracy is intensely shameful, and a diagnosis of dyslexia is a child’s get-out-of-jail-free card. They get attached to their diagnosis, rather like the Stockholm syndrome.”
The Battle Over Dyslexia:
”It was once a widely accepted way of explaining why some children struggled to read and write. But in recent years, some experts have begun to question the existence of dyslexia itself.”
”It’s bonkers when parents have to fight to get their kids stigmatized to receive services that more often than not, do nothing more than lock in the stigma for life.”
This flowchart is based on The Simple View of Reading. It will help you identify whether a child is struggling with decoding, comprehension – or both.
Free copies of the DfE’s past phonics screening check (PSC) materials. Quick and easy to do. Independent researchers found the phonics check to be a ”valid measure of phonic skills and sensitive to identifying children at risk of reading difficulties” N.B. The check examines a child’s elementary alphabet code knowledge (at the end of Y1 most of the advanced common code still remains to be taught) along with segmenting and blending skills.
Although the PSC is not called a dyslexia test, if a Y1 child legitimately* achieves the ‘expected level’ in the check at the end of Y1, then it’s reasonable to say that they aren’t ”phonemically deaf” or dyslexic. Prof. Snowling agrees; she told MP Matt Hancock, who has put forward a ”bill to require screening for dyslexia in primary schools” (ChamberUK. 2022), that “we’ve got a screening test” already. “It’s called the phonics screening check, it’s at the end of Year 1, it’s a statutory assessment.” (TES. 2022)
Free. Phonically decodable book assessment sheets to download -includes nonsense words.
”Free, low-frequency word spelling test which you can download here and use to explore learners’ spelling skills and knowledge. It’s not a standardised test, so won’t tell you whether a learner’s spelling skills are behind, on a par with or ahead of peers. Its purpose is to focus your attention on the things that matter most for spelling”
Ruth Miskin’s free, nonsense word test. This is a phonics decoding ability test
Is your ‘end of Kindy/Reception’ kid really reading? Seven free mini-stories using basic/simple code and no pictures or repetitive language, for parents to check if their child can decode accurately without guessing.
The Literacy Hub, including a free Phonics Check for families to use at home, is an Australian Government initiative to develop tools to gauge and support Year 1 students’ phonics skills.
Is your child a good/average reader but a weak speller?
Use a ‘similar-looking word test’ to check whether their word-level reading is subpar.
Book (£) ‘Why Children Can’t Read: and what we can do about it’ by Diane McGuinness. Pub. Penguin (out of print but copies available through Amazon) USA edition (in print) Why our children can’t read and what we can do about it. Pub. Simon&Schuster. Both editions include a useful set of assessments: nonsense words, phoneme segmentation/blending and a code knowledge test.