VIEWS From the pen of... Sal McKeown

From the pen of… is a series looking at the authors of books on topics in education. This month we hear from SAL MCKEOWN, author and award winning freelance journalist, who writes about disability, education and technology. The Family

Guide to Dyslexia, a series of e-books, was launched in September on Amazon.

You can't turn the television on these days without being confronted by a misunderstood hero or heroine who exhibits some of the characteristics of Asperger's. Think Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock, the protagonists of Saturday night Scandi-noir thrillers, or even the misanthropic Doc Martin. Despite their inability to read emotions or pick up on social cues, the spotlight is clearly on their analytical skills and obsessive attention to detail. They are portrayed as brilliant, lovable but odd.

Where is the corresponding vision of people with dyslexia? They are often portrayed as people with intractable literacy problems who sometimes succeed despite their dyslexia, so I was delighted that #positivedyslexia was the hashtag for Dyslexia Awareness Week in October.

Every day there is fresh evidence that dyslexia confers gifts as well as disadvantages, and while the government relentlessly continues its drive on phonics, SPAG and 'a return to basics', people with dyslexia confound our expectations.

The traditional view is that dyslexics have a poor sense of time and have problems following sequences. If that is true, how come so many famous chefs have dyslexia? Cooking is one area of life where everything has to be done in order. You can't wash and chop the vegetables after they've gone in the pan or stop everything to nip out to the shops for a missing ingredient. Preparing, cooking and serving a top-quality dish requires a sense of order and perfect timing.

You would think it would be a poor career choice for people with dyslexia, yet we have the former presenter of the BBC's Saturday Kitchen James Martin, Ed Baines, judge on Britain's Best Dish, celebrity chefs Marco Pierre White and Rick Stein and of course Jamie Oliver who believes his dyslexia is a gift. He said: "I genuinely think that when someone says to you, 'Johnny’s got dyslexia', you should get down on your knees, shake the child’s hand and say, 'well done, you lucky, lucky boy.'"

His enthusiasm is rare. Few people know that there is a disproportionate number of dyslexic engineers, architects and multimedia programmers because they are better at spatial reasoning and "seeing the bigger picture." Professor John Stein, Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford points out that reading is sequential: the order of letters and words is crucial while architects and engineers need, "to see the whole picture and how the parts fit together. Architects need to be able to visualise how the building will look and extrapolate from the 2-D flat plan to a 3D view." Many readers were surprised by the Telegraph headline in 2014: "GCHQ employs more than 100 dyslexic and dyspraxic spies". This was not just positive discrimination but a need to harness their ability to analyse complex information in a "dispassionate, logical and analytical" way to combat threats such as foreign espionage. Who knows, perhaps dyslexia will become fashionable and the next cult spy movie will feature a person with a spelling problem who has an amazing range of super-powers. Let's hope so. B075Y23YCM?ref=series_rw_dp_labf

January 2018 British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) Schools shouldn’t need

to beg for pens and glue This month PATRICK HAYES, regular Education Today contributor and Director of BESA, calls for more resources for schools.

“Schools beg parents to pay for pens and glue,” screamed the front-page headline of the Daily Mirror late last year, exposing the fact that a school in Theresa May’s constituency is looking to charge parents £190 a year for basic school resources. Robert Piggott infant and junior schools in Wargrave, Berkshire, sent parents a letter which reportedly said, “Following discussions with the PTA, we would like to suggest parents donate £1 per school per

day for each child to help this crisis. This equates to £190 per year.” The opposition party, parents across the country and unions were up in arms as the need for parents to subsidise essential resources in a school.

As Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, put it: “It is hard for schools to manage without being subsidised by staff and parents. Parents should not be expected to pay for their children’s education. And it is wrong to rely on the goodwill of parents to meet the shortfall.”

No school decides to take such measures unless it is absolutely necessary. As the executive head responsible for the two Robert Piggott schools told the Mirror: “Whilst committed to the principle of state-funded education we have reached the stage where we need to ask parents and the community to consider making voluntary donations to help meet the predicted shortfall in funding. This decision has not been taken lightly.”

But it’s not just the schools in Theresa May’s constituency that are having to make these tough decisions. Earlier in the year, the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) set up the Resource Our Schools campaign to highlight instances of this that are now sadly commonplace across the country.

It’s not just parents who are now paying for resources, teachers are too. Ninety-four percent of teaching staff in schools around the UK pay for essential classroom materials, according to a recent survey in the Times Educational Supplement.

As one teacher recently told the Guardian: “What happens if we don’t buy the required equipment? Then we can’t do the work. We can’t get kids through the project and then they won’t get their GCSE. A lot of schools are binning off technology and vocational subjects because they see it as a financial burden. This means that kids who are better with their hands are getting pushed to one side.” Due to the budgetary uncertainty that currently persists across the education sector, schools have been reducing their resources expenditure dramatically, and the reality is worse than during any time in the past fifteen years, we at BESA have found in our most recent procurement research.

Schools need to be adequately resourced in order to deliver the education that our children deserve. It is therefore fundamental that the government takes urgent steps to address this unprecedented shortfall in school funding ensuring that schools have the resources they need. No school should need to have to get the begging bowl out for such fundamentals as pens and glue – nor any other resource.

For information from BESA contact: Patrick Hayes 020 7537 4997  13

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