At this time of session, many young people and their parents are becoming increasingly worried about the transition to high school. Many parents recall their own secondary school experiences less than enthusiastically and older siblings frequently delight in exaggerating or creating stories about the horrors that await the unwary new kids.

Professor Tim Miles wrote that

education is in the hands of those who possess all the traditional skills; and since, not surprisingly, they assume that others are like themselves, the needs of some very gifted thinkers whose brains and organisation is different are not being adequately met.

There are still areas of the secondary curriculum that bear more relation to 19th century training for work in a factory than to the world in which these young people operate. This is particularly true of the upper years when the Great God Examination continues to dominate learning and teaching, despite the best intentions of most teachers.

However, there is a great deal of practice that is as exciting, engaging and innovative as in the best primary classrooms. The fears of those pupils in P7 are often not realised once the new session begins. But for some learners with dyslexia the reality of the greater demands on their literacy skills in what can be a more hostile environment reflects the dread.

In contrast to the expectations of many children with dyslexia and their parents and teachers, I have found that the single most significant indicator of success at high school is not the ability to read and write fluently. It’s belief in oneself; as simple (and as complex) as that.

To succeed with abilities which have not traditionally been recognised at school, as many learners with dyslexia do, they need to have deep reservoirs of confidence and fortitude to carry on in spite of the judgements of others – and, crucially, themselves – that they are slow and lazy and stupid. To maintain the required drive, determination, and sense of mission in the face of almost constant early failure and humiliation is often nothing short of miraculous.

The shame on the educational system is that only some survive these early days with enough confidence and drive to press on, against all odds, to individual success in some area of specialist knowledge, deep understanding, and passionate interest.

Conventional ‘remediation of learning difficulties’ is only part of the job – and not the most interesting or important part. We need to seek ways to help dyslexics find and develop their own forte, large or small, so that they do not end up hiding their aptitudes along with their very real difficulties. The talents that many dyslexics have can be powerful and valuable assets in a rapidly changing environment. Many dyslexics are strong visualisers who think creatively and laterally. They have much to contribute in a world in which information can be accessed and understanding demonstrated through diverse media.

The Curriculum for Excellence strives to enable such learners to develop in the ways that they find most congruent with their own styles of learning and cognition. 

I am confident that those P7’s with whom I’m working this term encounter such engaging experiences as those illustrated here.

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