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Posted 2nd September, 2011 by June Page

Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) provides help for higher education students who have to meet extra costs while studying because of their disability or ‘specific learning difficulty’. Many of the students who claim DSA funding have been identified as dyslexic. A significant number of these students appear to be assessed for dyslexia for the first time after they start their higher education studies. I am interested in why this occurs and therefore decided to undertake a small-scale piece of ‘action research.’

I felt it would be interesting to examine in more detail approximately how many students were identified for dyslexia after starting their Higher Education studies. From the DSA ‘needs assessments’ completed at one assessment centre, I selected all of those that were related to dyslexia in one academic year. I then selected a random 100 students and noted when they had first been assessed for dyslexia.
• 24 had been assessed at primary school
• 10 at secondary school (between age 11-16)
• 10 during their level 3 studies (A levels or BTEC courses) – of these 8 had changed their place of study at age 16.
• 52 were assessed for the first time at University during their undergraduate studies
• 4 were assessed after completing their undergraduate studies and had just started postgraduate courses or a PHD programme.
Common problems amongst students that had led to them seeking a dyslexia assessment appeared to be related to taking notes in lectures, running out of time in exams and taking longer than others to complete reading and writing tasks. In some cases students had experienced stress and anxiety and had initially sought advice from personal tutors or mental health support services at their place of study.

It also appears that students feel into two main groups:
• Those that recognized they ‘learned in a different way’ and wanted to investigate this difference so self-referred for a dyslexia assessment.
• Those that were referred by others (for example tutors) for ‘dyslexia screening’. For many of these students this initially came as something of a shock.

I would like to investigate this further. Although very small scale, I feel that this confirms that a significant number of students are identified for dyslexia after leaving school. I would appreciate any comments from others in different settings who have experienced similar findings.

  • DoreenC

    If you consider learners in adult community learning, especially those who attend Skills for Life classes, I think your conclusions are taken as read by SFL tutors! A small scale research project I carried out in 2005 showed that over 60% of learners in SFL classes in Leicester City had some degree of dyslexia, mostly not identified until they attended classes. there are many more who have never been assessed and recognised.

  • suepartridge

    I think another interesting question to ask is “why did you want to find out if you were dyslexic or not?”  Some people will have a very practical reason – for access funding or support.  Others may have much more mixed pyschological reasons and this can strongly affect the reaction they have to the assessment result.

    You can see an article on what it may feel like to have a dyslexia assessment on this website. 

  • Melanieknight

    I would like to second Doreen’s comment.  At City College Birmingham many students (from the ages  of 16 to 70) only discover they are dyslexic when they come to the college. It really angers me that 16/17 year olds who have gone through the education system are not being identified as dyslexic until they get to college. Early diagnosis and appropriate support greatly enhances  their chances of fulfilling their potential . Every year I assess young people where  there is a marked discrepancy between their oral and written skills and at school they were just placed in the bottom set. 

  • Juliehunt1617

    Like Melanie, I also assess huge numbers of previously unassessed students at my vocational based FE college. Many of these have previousy been excluded from school due to bad behaviour and anger issues. Often, they are in danger of also being excluded from their college course for the same reasons until their more enlightened tutors refer them for dyslexia assessment. Once they are aware of why they have previously struggled so much with their learning and receive appropriate support the change in their behaviour and motivation for learning can be astounding. How many young people could be saved from prison, youth offending institutions and ‘NEET’ labels if appropriate assessment was carried out earlier in their lives?

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