In questioning the suitability of the Disabled Students’ Allowance for supporting dyslexic students (“Time to rethink dyslexia?”, Opinion, 6 March), Julian Elliott should be reminded of the Equality Act 2010.
Those with dyslexia who do manage to reach higher education can find themselves at a serious disadvantage. But without proof of their disability, they are not entitled to additional support. (And a student’s diagnosis must be provided by a suitably qualified assessor.)
It has been recognised for the past 20 years that dyslexic and disabled students have been under-represented in universities. We should applaud the efforts to do more to improve access for disabled students. Those who received the Disabled Students’ Allowances achieve the same degree level as their non-disabled peers, while those without such support achieve lower degrees. Universities have worked hard to identify students who need extra support – a recent survey showed that only 43 per cent of the students receiving the Disabled Students’ Allowance had been diagnosed while at school.
But we at the British Dyslexia Association are concerned about government cuts to the Access to Learning Fund. It was made clear in the grant letter that the Access to Learning Fund would cease to exist but would be brought together with the Student Opportunity Fund. In light of the £162 million cut (Access to Learning at £37 million and the Student Opportunity Fund at £125 million) and the pressure this will put on institutions’ budgets, we worry that support for students’ disability diagnoses will be seriously affected. As this group, which is protected under the Equality Act, has a right to appropriate support, we consider these cuts to be discriminatory.
The Access to Learning Fund has done much to help disabled students, and has helped many dyslexic students to gain support as well. The financial cut would disadvantage dyslexic students, as they will be indirectly discriminated against and fail to receive necessary support.
British Dyslexia Association
It is important to recognise that Julian Elliott is not a maverick nor a lone voice among educational psychologists. I haven’t done a survey, but I would guess from talking with colleagues that his is the majority position on the status of developmental dyslexia.
It is extraordinary that the validity of dyslexia assessment and treatment has been taken more or less on trust in the academy. It’s surely time for a sector-wide appraisal of the scientific status of developmental dyslexia and the allowances made for its putative existence.
Professor of inclusion and diversity
University of Birmingham