Ensuring dyslexic primary pupils don’t ‘slip through the cracks’ of the education system

Schools and education providers are being asked to nominate pupils aged 16 to 18 for the Suffolk HOP

Better diagnosis and education is needed for dyslexic students. Stock photo - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Being unhindered in learning to read is something many take for granted.

However, some students in school struggle – without even understanding why. Often, these struggling students are misunderstood by teachers, written-off, even labelled ‘lost causes’. Better diagnosis and education for dyslexic students in primary school would change this.

In my early years of school, I was made to repeat reception. None of the teachers really understood why I was so behind my peers, and why I could not quite keep up. I know how it feels to be the student who is struggling, and not progressing at the same speed as the rest of the class.

Tom Hunt

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt - Credit: House of Commons

Throughout primary school, I was lagging behind. I processed information differently to the other kids, and this was something my teachers weren’t able to recognise or cater to. I want to make sure that the next generation of primary school children are better understood and better supported.

This week in parliament, I cosponsored Matt Hancock’s Bill to improve screening for dyslexia. Matt Hancock, also an MP representing Suffolk residents, stood up for dyslexic students in the chamber, demanding that the education system does better by them in the future. This is a bill to improve the learning outcomes of future generations, to ensure every dyslexic child is given the right support to achieve academically, and that no student is left behind and misunderstood because of this learning disability.

Matt Hancock’s motion calls for universal screening for dyslexia in primary schools. This is an important issue and one I am pleased to be named as a cosponsor for. Dyslexia is an issue I’ve been vocal on in my role on the education committee and in the chamber, and I’m pleased that it’s finally being discussed more.

Dyslexia is a learning disability which we estimate affects 10% of the population. It varies in severity. In some cases, reading is a little slower and more arduous. In more severe cases, people struggle to write the alphabet, read independently, and can have significant issues with confidence as a result. I still don’t actually know the alphabet.

Matt Hancock

Tom Hunt is co-sponsoring the Bill with MP Matt Hancock - Credit: PA

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I am incredibly supportive of Matt Hancock’s Bill for dyslexia, but this is something that should be implemented for dyspraxia too. Dyspraxia affects the way information is processed, organisation and ability to follow instructions – which can make it much harder to pick up new skills, as well as being damaging for students’ self-esteem. Dyslexia and dyspraxia are both ‘hidden’ disabilities, meaning universal screening is invaluable in diagnosis. Otherwise, these learning difficulties often go by unnoticed.

I was diagnosed with dyslexia and dyspraxia when I was 12 - and I had the reading and writing ability of an eight year old at the time. I count myself lucky to have been diagnosed at this age, even though it was above primary school age; it is estimated that four in five dyslexic children currently leave school undiagnosed, without even realising it.

Many dyslexic individuals are not diagnosed for years. Many are not diagnosed at all. There are a huge number of adults who remain undiagnosed dyslexics throughout their adulthood. I have heard from many constituents about how they themselves were failed by an education system which was poorly equipped to assess and deal with their dyslexia. The implications of this are life-long.

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The Bill proposes screening all primary school children for dyslexia - Credit: Getty Images/Hemera

In terms of supporting students, learners, and workers in the best and most productive way, it is vital to know what we are working with.

It was only when I was diagnosed with dyslexia and dyspraxia, at the age of 12, that my abilities in school finally got back on track. That’s when the school started to get things right. It has demonstrated, to me, just how important early diagnosis is for learning disabilities like dyslexia. If you know your brain is wired a certain way because of dyslexia, you can start to understand how best to learn and do well.

Dyslexics are known to be creative and unconventional thinkers. Some 40% of successful entrepreneurs have dyslexia – which is much higher than the level in the general population, which is about 10%. This shows how innovative, and high-achieving dyslexic people can be – if given the support to succeed.

Sadly, much of the time these individuals do not have the right support, and do not end up fulfilling their potential. I count myself lucky to have been diagnosed at the age of 12. Many are not so lucky. Unfortunately, many dyslexic students fall through the cracks of the education system, and as a result feel dejected, overlooked, out-of-place, and frustrated. Without the right support, these individuals can fall into bad situations and end up in the criminal justice system. It’s estimated that over 50% of prisoners have dyslexia.

If we can get support for students with dyslexia, the knock-on impact for society is huge. Better assessment of dyslexia in primary schools, early intervention, and awareness from teachers will not only improve learning outcomes, but also have wider benefits – reducing criminal offence rates. The savings could be incredibly significant for society, as well as having life-changing impacts on individuals. The stakes are high for getting this right.