The old measurement scales don’t fit any more. As our technology, economy and society are transformed at ever greater rates, while our institutions hold fast ever more tightly to outmoded ideas, perhaps it is time for some fresh thinking.

For example, it has long been assumed that the ratio of dyslexic boys to girls was roughly 4 to 1.

Differentiating between the genders in terms of characteristics is, of course, arrant nonsense. There are as many differences between members of the same gender as there are similarities between those of different genders. However, I am going to make some very sweeping statements which may reflect the experience and attitudes of some boys and some girls.

Girls traditionally tended to have more developed social awareness. They were more likely to ask for support from peers to hide difficulties and/or be very dependent on the opinion of the ‘popular’ girls who may not value learning. Perhaps they felt there were fewer opportunities available to them and consequently were less inclined than some boys to voice frustration that their abilities and attainments were mismatched. Any difficulties may have been interpreted as their own fault with a commensurate disinclination to ask for explanation or support.

The convention for boys, on the other hand, was that they were less tolerant of appearing stupid or bored. In fact, some might have made active choices to appear badly behaved, this being preferable to being thought incapable of learning. They may also have perceived failure to be the fault of others or just bad luck.

The chances are that children conforming to these somewhat crass stereotypes may have had very different experiences of school success or failure. If this is the case, then it follows that many girls may not have been assessed or identified as having dyslexia. (It is true that many boys with perceived behavioural difficulties may also have missed such identification but at least they had drawn people’s attention to themselves, unlike many girls).

I should be delighted to think that these traditional views were diminishing. If so, then we may find that the ratio of boys to girls with dyslexia is more like 1:1 than 4:1.

What we have here may be a ‘referral bias’ type problem. The long line of boys labelled school ‘failures’ and those ‘at risk’ may comprise those who are have not yet found a way to find some measure of success (often necessarily outside of school), great or small. The considerably shorter line of girls thought to have dyslexic difficulties may be those who have raised their heads above the parapet, whether by exceptional aptitude or unusual behaviour patterns.

 The consistent ‘A’ students have always been very good at doing pretty much exactly what the teacher wanted, exactly what the teacher expected. They are very good at the expected. It does not follow, however, that they are any good at the unexpected. It is often those unconventional, sometimes outrageous and always challenging students who become the leaders, creators and entrepreneurs just because they revel in the unexpected. (Thomas West).

It is up to us to ensure children and young people have opportunities to discover and react to the startling and discomforting. We need to be looking beyond the conventional and traditional, so that we are aware of differences, of strengths and of weaknesses that might not have been so obvious in the classroom of the 20th century.

 We should encourage diversity not only to be civil, not only to be respectful, not only to be humane, not only to be just, but also because we have a particular stake in diversity that is rarely, if ever, fully articulated. We want there to be people who have abilities we don’t yet know that we need, abilities that we have not ever tried to measure because we didn’t know that we needed them, abilities that may be in no way associated with the abilities and talents that we now measure by formal or informal means.  (Thomas West).

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