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Am I receiving the correct advice from my Local Authority regarding my child's challenges with literacy?

Am I receiving the correct advice from my Local Authority regarding my child's challenges with literacy?

What's this article about?

Dyslexia is a language-based disorder which can provide a barrier to education for our children who are in the school education system.  Commonly, it is seen as a condition that affects literacy and as a result, some schools will use broad literacy interventions to help a child to deliver positive educational outcomes, however, dyslexia presents in different ways for different individuals.  It is inappropriate to not fully understand the dyslexic needs of a child when trying to support them as they develop their literacy skills.
So often we, as parents, we rely on our Local Authority and teachers to advise on the support that our children need when it is possible that their own knowledge of dyslexia is lacking.

A good example of this is an unpublished document from Families First at Staffordshire County Council entitled “Teaching children and young people with literacy difficulties - Practice Guidance (V1I) February 2018, which was recently passed to me.  This is a restricted document which I would like to talk about as an example of how a Local Authority is potentially not meeting the literacy needs of dyslexic students due to an ill-informed level of dyslexia awareness.

I should stress that the document I received is a draft document and that to the best of my knowledge Staffordshire County Council has not released this document to the public. 

For the current advice on SEND support in schools from Staffordshire’s Local Offer click here

I would hope that this blog article will help inform discussion and perhaps help Local Authorities to consider the effects of dyslexia on a child’s learning more deeply thus resulting in a more balanced and effective strategy for helping young people to release their potential in schools and beyond.

I feel compelled to share this information with you because I am extremely concerned about their organisational understanding of dyslexia and how it affects the literacy skills of a child.  More so, I want to challenge you to scrutinise your Local Authority’s approach in supporting the dyslexia and literacy-related needs of your child so that together you can negotiate support that is positively impactful and not compromised by external factors such as funding, resources and league tables etc. 


Are you accepting what you are being told by your school or Local Authority or are you actively developing your own knowledge about dyslexia so that you can hold your school and Local Authority accountable for delivering the very best outcomes for your child?

So what is Staffordshire County Council communicating to parents about dyslexia?

In the Families First document, which is focused on literacy needs in general and not as a specific guidance on dyslexia, Chapter 6 makes comment on what the term ‘Dyslexia’ means and how Families First views it.

It reads as follows:

6. Dyslexia 

6.1  The term dyslexia has been used in various ways: to describe anyone who struggles with accurate reading; to indicate a sub-group of poor readers whose reading difficulties are in contrast to their cognitive strengths in other areas; or to indicate those with a much wider collection of cognitive strengths and difficulties, where literacy is only one feature. However, research in the field of dyslexia lacks consensus, and there are many different explanations for literacy difficulties, none of which have universal agreement.

6.2  Families First advocates assessment for intervention rather than assessment for diagnosis to guide assessment, teaching, intervention or resourcing for the following reasons: 
  • There is no universally agreed definition or assessment pathway for dyslexia so any diagnosis is dependent on the interpretation made by the professional completing the assessment;
  • Research shows that a diagnosis determined by the discrepancy between a child/ young person’s intelligence and their reading ability has no scientific validity as reading is not dependent on intelligence;
  • Research demonstrates that the key elements of an effective intervention for children and young people with reading difficulties (including those identified with dyslexia) are the same for all, regardless of intelligence5;
  • A diagnosis of dyslexia does not provide any additional information that is useful for addressing the difficulties nor does it predict the rate of progress5;
  • Despite substantial advances in the use of neuroscience and genetics in reading research these do not yet provide any insight to inform diagnosis and intervention5;
  • Assessment over time, where the child/young person’s response to intervention is monitored, identifies any child/young person who is not making the expected literacy progress and also provides the necessary information required to plan further intervention.
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A Dyslexia Assessor's View

I approached a respected specialist dyslexia assessor, tutor and PATOSS member (who would prefer to remain anonymous)  for their comments on this document.  

This is what they had to say...

"Reviewing Staffordshire County Council’s Families First document and their view of dyslexia intervention and assessment in schools, it would appear that they make some good points regarding the provision of technological support for students in schools and the identification of assess, do and review.  It is a great concern for specialist teachers to see comments suggesting schools can and will deliver reading and spelling interventions equivalent to that of a specialist teacher.  

Specialist teachers are postgraduates who have specialised in a  field of dyslexia and SpLDs (Specific Learning Difficulties) and this also enables them to assess.  Staffordshire County Council states there is no universally agreed definition or specific pathway for dyslexia.  At present, there are varying approaches to the diagnosis of dyslexia.  Broadly speaking the British Psychological Society uses a model focused more on discrepancy whereas specialist teachers assess based on underlying causation.  It is the underlying causation behind literacy difficulties which inform about the path of intervention required, therefore to state an assessment provides no useful information for intervention is incorrect.  Statistics show that most SpLDs rarely stand alone but are overlapping, which makes each case complex.  As a result, a one size fits all approach to intervention is not appropriate.  Those responsible for delivering intervention, need to be aware of overlapping SpLDs and the impact upon a student, varying adjustments are required to ensure intervention is effective, such as language processing, visual or auditory processing.  
Staffs County Council appears to dismiss the qualifications and years of study of not only specialist teachers.  It is worrying that parents and teachers are being provided with information to suggest that interventions are not effective, yet there are balanced arguments for and against the interventions they dismiss such as multi-sensory learning and coloured overlays and this information has been chosen selectively.  As stated, each student is usually complex and unless each intervention is used in conjunction with other equally important interventions, we will not see the true development of a student's potential.  For example, good reading intervention may be in place but unless this is used simultaneously with language support, for a student who has receptive and expressive language/developmental language delay, a programme of intervention will not be as effective as it could be.  Furthermore to suggest that there is little purpose in assessing to label, many would disagree, students of all ages identify their progress is different to others, many are reassured that dyslexia means they are not 'stupid' and are not considered 'lazy', they know with the correct support and intervention they can achieve their potential.  

An assessment does need to take place, but if you test with reading and spelling tests, you will only find a reading and spelling difficulty, not the underlying reason for the difficulty,  which will not direct the teacher to the correct form of intervention. A holistic picture of underlying reasons for the difficulty needs to be identified if schools are to provide varying intervention to meet the complex needs of students, more of the same is not required to the students who are already not having their needs met."

A Parent's View

My daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia in year 8 of secondary education.  She spent many years through Primary Education struggling with reading effectively but she did get by and her teachers in Primary Education didn’t pick up on her difficulties as a concern because she was meeting the required levels within the school system.  My daughter would often state how much she ‘hated’ reading.

Indeed when discussing the possibility of dyslexia with her year manager and SENCO in Year 8 we were told that there were no concerns because she was achieving what she needed to achieve to be able to predict that she would pass at GCSE level some years later.  The schools did not see the extra effort she put in to simply process information and keep up and without a diagnosis of dyslexia the school system would not have flagged up that she had challenges with literacy.  For my daughter, simply being able to keep up with what the school required of her in terms of literacy was exhausting and affected her self-esteem.

Without a dyslexia diagnosis, we would have had to have relied on teachers who were overworked and who managed classrooms with large numbers, to provide the support that our child needed to be effective with literacy.  They would have taken a broad approach to the class rather than a personalised approach which my daughter so badly needed.
With teacher training only providing less than a day of training for special educational needs on most teachers training courses, to me, it would seem that the school system failed to pick up on my child’s literacy difficulties regardless of whether she was dyslexic or not.
This Families First document explicitly states that “ When a child or young person is not making expected progress in their literacy skills teachers are best placed to complete an accurate school-based assessment (for literacy - Ed) in order to inform an appropriate intervention.  These assessments measure reading accuracy, reading fluency, reading comprehension, spelling and writing and will identify the specific areas of literacy that need improving.”  
It is my opinion that in general, this statement is incorrect and that for children with dyslexia, a dyslexia diagnosis is an essential part of informing the intervention required to empower a child to realise their academic potential.

With what I have since learned about dyslexia as a parent and in negotiating the most appropriate level of support for my child, I would be concerned for parents reading this document and the messages they are getting about dyslexia and how it can be addressed to support the literacy needs of a child in Staffordshire.


As you know the Studying With Dyslexia Blog aims to provide information and inspiration to supporters of dyslexic learners.  Whether you are a teacher or a parent supporting a child, it is important that you challenge what you know about dyslexia and continuously enhance your understanding of the issues surrounding the education of a child.  The temptation as a parent is to assume that a child having dyslexia is purely an educational issue rather than that of a whole life experience and as a result, it is understandable that we listen to the educational experts in the lives of our children in order to gain guidance on our child’s education.
Unfortunately, our teachers in schools are under high levels of pressure to achieve

organisational targets for results which I believe skews the emphasis of in-classroom support to benefit the majority of students rather than the 10% who are dyslexic. 

Essential reading for parents of dyslexic students - click here.

As parents, we have a choice to develop our own learning so that we can engage in dialogue with our schools about our children’s support in a  balanced and informed way, rather than just accepting what we are told about our children’s educational needs.   Without us as parents challenging what we are being told in school about our children’s literacy needs we run the risk of adding higher levels of stress and anxiety to the daily educational lives of our children.
In the example of the Families First  “Teaching Children and Young People with Literacy Difficulties” document, it is clear to me that organisationally Staffordshire County Council, should they publish this document, will be misleading many hundreds of parents about how to approach the literacy needs of a child with dyslexia within a school setting resulting in poor outcomes that will further re-enforce barriers to education as well as ultimately restrict the realisation of potential that is so essential for one’s ability to contribute to society when entering the workplace later in life.

My recommendation as a parent for other parents who believe that their child has dyslexia and needs extra support with literacy skills is to ensure that a diagnostic assessment for dyslexia is in place which is independent of a school’s based assessment of need. 

I also recommend engaging with specialist dyslexia organisations such as the British Dyslexia Association (see my Resource’s Page for more organisations who provide excellent support and resources regarding dyslexia) to get as much information as possible to inform and negotiate a higher level of support for dyslexia and resultant literacy support in your child’s school.

Looking for Dyslexia information and resources?  Check out our Resources Page on the Studying With Dyslexia Blog.


  1. This document is published ( though states draft) Has been on Staffordshire LA local offer for a number of months. The paper has been challenged by a number of independent professionals and senior leading academics in this country but has yet to be taken down and destroyed. But I would advise parents and any professionals to go to there MP’s Or write to the LA,s SEND education department. The head is Graham Pirt and deputy Karen Levell. This paper has many inaccuracies and is all about saving money and nothing else, a step backwards, without a doubt. Please take the time to challenge this LA literacy document.

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