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The tale of two dyslexics

Tuesday 8 October 2019

It’s early September and I’m sitting here reflecting on the fact that a week today, our daughter Kathryn will be submitting her MA Dissertation and we’ll be out of education forever! YES! Like her older sister Emily, Kathryn is dyslexic and their education journey has been interesting to say the least.

Mike and I got married 39 years ago and I suspected, as a trained teacher, that he was dyslexic. Our first child, Mark, like me, found learning easy but Emily was a poor speller and found it hard to remember things. At that point I started supply teaching so was a bit more aware of signs of dyslexia. We had familiar discussions with staff at primary school about the fact that she HAD learnt her spellings and she wasn’t lazy. Her marked KS2 papers came home because of a problem with the technology connected with the SATS and I saw she had zero marks on spelling – I wrote to her secondary school (the Highfield School, Letchworth) over the summer and sent evidence suggesting that she may be dyslexic. They agreed and were very supportive over the years – they reassured her that she was bright and would get her GCSE’s but they also really encouraged her on her strengths – Art, Drama and D&T.

In sixth form they re-timetabled her and gave her an afternoon off a week to work at her Dance School - she’d applied for BA Dance at university. She was never told dyslexia could hold her back, and got mainly ‘B’s at GCSE and A level and a 2:1 at university. My only run-in with her school was with her A level History teacher who thought her spelling ‘creative’. He didn’t know she was dyslexic and embarrassed her by openly apologising. She was sent for and congratulated by the Headmistress after her final gym and dance display. At university, she was given the lead role in her final show! Total success!

It was rather different for Kathryn. During her primary school days, I did the OCR dyslexia training and had a few trying moments at her second school (got bullied at the first) – St Mary’s Junior School, Baldock – but later they became very supportive and she got above average grades at 11, almost getting the higher level in writing which was incredible!

Secondary school was another matter and we had to fight constantly. Her entry band was ‘B’ despite her ability and I was quickly made to feel that I was a parent who knew nothing! Some of her sets were low as well – 6th out of 9 for Maths, for instance. On one occasion we faced an extremely aggressive Headmaster and he was scary. I was forced out of the PA – teachers would not support the PA if I remained on the Committee. Letters were kept until late in the term so nothing would be tackled at the time – staff were asked not to acknowledge us, and we were told we were affecting Kathryn’s attitude to the school (largely because I was telling her she was bright, just dyslexic!) and even when we followed procedure and complained officially, lies were told by staff.

When we showed the Head our side of the story in the form of letters from staff and set levels, he would not look at them. They wouldn’t accept her achievement level or her CAT scores as they only accepted evidence they had initiated themselves. I was told in a letter by the then Chair of Governors that his ‘teachers knew the students far better than any report’. They even managed to discriminate against her in one of her talents (she had G&T status at primary school) – despite being tiny (she’s only 5ft today), she was a good sprinter but somehow, she wasn’t recognised by the school. The complaint report stated that they could see no sign of any talent, yet she won the school 100 metres every year and held the year record which was noted on the school record board. She ran for Stevenage and North Herts AC in the 100 and 300 metres instead. And to note, at this point, I, the parent who knew nothing, was in post as SEN teacher in an East Hertfordshire school.

Then, it all turned as a brilliant SenCo started at the school, we got on well and she supported us incredibly. Kathryn went up in sets and got mainly ‘A’s at GCSE with ‘B’s at A level. She studied Forensic Psychology and Criminal Justice at Liverpool John Moores – her dyslexia assessment for university picked up a 98th percentile visual IQ – at school she was ‘average’. She got all the normal university help – tutor, equipment and real encouragement. At the end of 3 years she got an easy First, was named as one of for ‘Outstanding Students’ in the School of Law and got a monetary award for her dissertation. Now, she’s about to complete an MA.

There were many times when I wanted to give up! There were times when I was SO unpopular with her school and was totally ignored! They have congratulated her but there has never been any indication that they messed things up. It’s not that type of school. But I know that we did our best and it has paid off! If this is you, don’t give up – just follow the truth. I tutor SEN students now, and always indicate to parents that they shouldn’t be afraid to query and speak to school. Otherwise your child could miss out. And choose your school carefully!

Pat Sweetlove

Pat Sweetlove is a retired SEN teacher who tutors mainly dyslexic students. She is married with 3 children, two of whom are dyslexic. She lives in Baldock, Hertfordshire.