East Lothian Council (like may local authorities) has adopted the following definition of dyslexia (British Psychological Society 1999):



Dyslexia is evident when accurate and fluent word reading and/or spelling develops very incompletely or with great difficulty.


This focuses on literacy learning at the “word” level – i.e. persistent difficulty with letter sounds, blended, syllabification and rhyme – and implies that the problem is severe and persistent despite appropriate learning opportunities.  It provides the basis for a staged process of assessment through teaching.


This definition logically requires that three aspects be evaluated through the assessment process:


1.    that the pupil is learning/has learnt accurate and fluent word reading and or spelling very incompletely;

2.    that appropriate learning opportunities have been provided;

3.    that progress has been made only as a result of much additional effort and instruction and that difficulties have, nevertheless, persisted.


Points to consider

Dyslexia occurs independently of learning ability.  Children with learning difficulties can have dyslexia, as can those of high ability and everything in between. Dyslexia is also independent of social, ethnic and linguistic background. Decisions on identification must be made in the light of each individual child’s circumstances.

Framework for Inclusion

The Scottish Government announced yesterday that a new initiative in teacher training – the National Framework for Inclusion – aims to ensure better classroom support for pupils with additional needs, such as dyslexia.
Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning Fiona Hyslop launched the Framework which offers advice to encourage student teachers and qualified teachers to be inclusive in their teaching.

The Framework was funded by the Scottish Government and developed by the Scottish Teacher Education Committee (STEC), the body for the seven Scottish universities who provide teacher training.identifies the values and beliefs, professional knowledge and understanding and the skills and abilities, in terms of inclusive education, to be expected of both student teachers and qualified teachers. A further web-based resource will give support by providing relevant, high quality materials and documentation.

The document proposes under each of the headings (Student Teachers, Teachers, Advanced Professionals) what should be regarded as minimum expectations of teachers at each of the levels rather than as a hierarchical approach to anticipated engagement by teachers.

It aims to place a clear emphasis on the essential role played by the values and beliefs (Professional Values and Commitment) of each teacher in their commitment to the development of inclusive practice.

The Framework Document aims to be comprehensive but not prescriptive. It is question-based to encourage teachers to accept a shared responsibility for researching answers – and further questions – with the support of the web-based repository. It would be good to see staff in schools thinking about these questions in relation to all their pupils.

I really welcome the fact that it promotes inclusion as being the responsibility of all teachers in all schools and has tried to identify and to address the needs of teachers at all stages of their careers. It recognises and emphasises the need for career-long and life-long learning

Support for children with autism

A new resource to help schools meet the needs of children with autism has been launched.
The Autism Toolbox, which has been sent to every school and education authority in Scotland, draws on practical examples, literature and research to give guidance to councils and support to schools. It is funded by the Scottish Government and developed by the National Centre for Autism Studies at the University of Strathclyde.
Adam Ingram, Minister for Children and Early Years, said that young people with autism deserve the opportunity to gain the most they can from a supportive education system.
The Autism Toolbox is available on the Scottish Government website and hard copies can be ordered through Blackwell’s Bookshop.
The Autism Toolbox is the output of the Autism Spectrum Disorder Education Working Group, which was established to take forward the recommendations in the Education for Pupils with Autism Spectrum Disorders report from HMIE and the National Autistic Society Scotland report, make school make sense – both published in October 2006. The Working Group included representation from HMIE, the National Autistic Society Scotland, the Scottish Society for Autism, Initial Teacher Education Providers and the Educational Institute of Scotland.

Drugs aids ‘disorder’ children at school


The Scotsman reports that children given stimulants to treat attention-deficit hyper- activity disorder (ADHD) symptoms score higher on maths and reading tests than children with the condition who do not get drugs, according to new research..
A study of 594 children with ADHD from kindergarten through primary five found the 60 per cent prescribed drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall performed better on standardised tests than peers with ADHD not given medication.

Standardised tests and Dyslexia

Following on from yesterday’s post, here I discuss the place of standardised tests in the identification of learners with dyslexia:

Once teachers notice a dissonance between expectations of a learner and the actual attainment in reading and writing, they begin a thorough investigation of the child’s learning needs. Frequently, a referral is made to the Dyslexia Support Service: that’s me. We work together to find out as much as we can.

To investigate unexpected delay in acquiring literacy for a learner who has acquired the rudiments of reading, we analyse the miscues when listening to the child read. This is a relatively quick way of ascertaining whether the errors tend to be phonological or semantic. We note whether the child understands the vocabulary of print (front, top, word, sentence, author, illustrator, etc.), whether and how the child uses context and picture cues, what strategies s/he employs when faced with an unfamiliar word.

Also of immense importance is looking at a piece of unsupported writing to compare it with work that has been produced with help. A child once gave me as succinct a definition of dyslexia as I have seen: I can speak 3 pages but only write 3 sentences.This helps us locate the zone of proximal development: enabling us to put supports in place to ensure success. But it also alerts us to potential sources of difficulty by highlighting syntactic and spelling errors. Sometimes we undertake a more formal examination of spelling strategies by using dictations and a diagnostic spelling analysis grid  (Margaret Peters). The more irregular and unconventional the spelling the greater the likelihood of specific difficulties This, perhaps erroneously, assumes the child has developed phonological awareness and been taught phonics, spelling patterns and letter strings effectively of course. To find out more about a child’s phonologial awareness many of us use the Phonological Assessment Battery (PhAB).


We also think about how the child learns, her or his attitude and approach to learning  and early language experience. Any history of input from Speech and Language Therapists is highly significant in any identification of dyslexia or specific language difficulties.

At times we bring standardised tests into the equation. I favour the British Picture Vocabulary Scale to find out how a child’s receptive language compares to others of her or his age. This is by no means an intelligence test but it is a reasonable measure of school success and as such provides useful information. If the vocabulary level is considerably higher than the reading attainment then it is likely the child’s ability is greater than her or his attainments might suggest.


At times we decide to carry out a computerised assessment: we use Lucid software.  This provides evidence of formal literacy skills, visual and auditory sequential memory, phonological awareness and logical analytical thinking. As part of a holistic process of assessment it is a most useful addition, being relatively quick to administer and stress free. Interpreting the results – seen in graph form – takes time but is a worthwhile complement to the battery of assessments already carried out.

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But even this is not sufficient. Today I gave most of the test to a highly achieving 12 year old.  Her teacher recognised her as an able child; full of sophisticated questions and thoughtful ideas with a significant discrepancy between her oral and written ability. The test indicates that she reads and spells as well as others of her age. Her visual memory is good and her auditory sequential memory excellent. The bald test results show a learner who will cope well with high school and who does not require literacy support. However, it is clear from her classroom performance that she has a specific difficulty, probably of a dyslexic nature, without which she would be achieving a great deal more. Even the Reasoning score is average: a direct contradiction to what we know about her as a learner. Only after furtjher examination of the data is it clear that she took a disproprotionate amount of time to complete all the tests.


Thus, the test does not immediately show that the pressure of time causes her some stress and hence some delay in processing information. She does not lack literacy, phonological or sequential memory skills, mainly because she has worked very hard to find strategies to circumvent her difficulties. It is her speed of processing that hinders her fluent encoding and may delay her reading as she is faced with more complex texts with specialised language. Fluency is not just about speed but about integrating new information into one’s extant knowledge to create depth of understanding.

It would be easy to dismiss her mild spelling errors and slow reading and writing speed. After all, there are plenty of youngsters with considerably more challenges in accessing the curriculum than her. However, she is under some stress and she is becoming increasingly weary, despite the efficacy of her coping mechanisms. It is thanks to her sensitive, conscientious and concerned class teacher that she has been identified as a learner with dyslexia.

What is most important, of course, is what we do about it. But that’s for another day.



What can be counted might not count. What counts might not be countable (Einstein)


A good part of my job is to support teachers in their understanding of how a child with literacy difficulties learns and what provision s/he needs to make progress in reading and writing. Teachers are constantly making judgements about how their pupils are getting on, thinking about next steps and planning adjustments so as to ensure deep understanding. This day-to-day assessment is often disregarded as true assessment by both teachers themselves and parents. Consequently this highly complex and intuitive quality is undervalued. Many people perceive Assessment as being to do with tests and ascribing levels. But how a child acts on the curriculum, the performance of understanding, is the most relevant aspect of ensuring progress. It’s about taking stock of what we know about a child: the whole child and not just the attainment in literacy or numeracy.

This ongoing, dynamic assessment is complemented by transitional assessment wherein we share with colleagues, parents and carers how the child is doing. This isn’t summative. It’s marking a staging post: where s/he is at this particular point in time and noting the direction of travel and how best to get there.

Excellent ipsative assessment examines the broader view wherein teachers strive to clarify how a child understands webs of concepts and how best they can support deeper understanding. Such assessment naturally involves the learner her or himself showing a subjective response to reflect the way what has been learnt affects her or his own methods of dealing with challenges in everyday life. All participate in devising programmes for development.

The most valuable evidence we can gather is from the classroom but we often supplement this with standardised tests that provide norm-referencing as well as diagnosis of specific sub-skills that are hindering expected progress. I shall return to this in another post.

(Taken from my blog, http://hileryjane.wordpress.com)