Dyslexics are 'more likely to get a first'

June 4, 2004

Dyslexic students may be more likely to achieve first-class degrees than their peers, a study has suggested.

Researchers charted how undergraduates with dyslexia performed in 2001-02 and 2002-03 and found that they did as well as students with no disability and were "slightly more likely" to achieve the top degree class.

The Plymouth University study also found that dyslexic students were no more likely to drop out than their peers, particularly if they were receiving the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) of up to £1,525 a year.

The study focused on the performance of students at a post-1992 university, which has not been named.

The researchers are now seeking funding for a larger study to track trends in performance over a longer period.

Why dyslexic students may outperform their peers remains unclear, although one academic said that students who hadovercome the difficulties of the condition tended to be well motivated.

The Plymouth team presented its findings at an international conference held in Prague last month.

It reported that 7.4 per cent of students with dyslexia were awarded a first in 2002-03 compared with 6.4 per cent of students with no learning difficulties. The figures for 2001-02 followed a similar pattern.

The researchers also reported that fewer dyslexic students were awarded upper-second class degrees, but said that "some of the differences could be explained by the higher percentage achieving first-class honours".

Carole Sutton, co-author of the report with Karen Glanville, Alison Green and Andy Hannan, stressed that the figures were "statistically insignificant" and the results should be treated with caution.

But she added: "The issue here is not that dyslexic students do better than students with no known disabilities, but that they are performing equally as well.

"The impact of DSA is a complex issue to interpret. Students who identify their learning needs, realise that they may be dyslexic, seek out the relevant support and undertake assessment for dyslexia can be said to be already well motivated.

"The material support that the DSA provides can also be a motivating factor."

The research findings were welcomed by Susan Tresman, director of education with the British Dyslexia Association.

She said: "What this shows is that if there are reasonable adjustments to the various demands of the course, students with dyslexia are able to achieve their potential with equal levels of prevalence as their peers."

According to government figures, there are more than 42,000 dyslexic students in UK universities and colleges.

Professor Tresman said students with dyslexia might face problems with timed assessments because of difficulties with the processing and organisation of information at speed.

"The traditional didactic style of lectures - which involves listening and taking notes - could prove more difficult but was being overcome by lectures being posted online.

Professor Tresman added that many universities appeared to be committed to "working towards successful inclusion".

"Most university-level students will have already compensated for some of the difficulties with dyslexia, so you may not find people in higher education presenting the same symptoms."

paul.hill@thes.co.uk

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