In Scotland, a young child attended an accredited Dyslexia Friendly School (DFS) and immediately started struggling to learn how to read.  The child was attentive, well behaved, and hardworking but made little progress in learning to read.  After 3 years of struggling, the child was ‘identified’ as having dyslexia, through the school system of gathering contextual evidence over a long period of time. The dyslexia identification process did not include an assessment of the child’s phonemic awareness.  

However, the Council did have standardised assessment data showing that the child was 3.5 years behind in their decoding age that was not acted upon. Instead, the child received numerous inappropriate interventions, including a version of Reading Recovery, that eventually led the child to having an emotional breakdown and being removed from school. At no point, in 5 years, was the child given the intensive intervention, including training in phonological awareness and structured systematic phonics.

The child’s parents brought a disability discrimination claim against the Council under the UK Equality Act, where dyslexia is classified as a disability and a protected characteristic.  The disability discrimination claim related to numerous areas: the Council’s literacy programme,  dyslexia identification pathway and DFS procedures that discriminated against a child who had dyslexia. The claim also included unfavourable treatment arising from disability and failure to make reasonable adjustments.

The parents collated a large amount of documented evidence relating to examples of the child’s school work and copies of Council procedures, literacy programmes and interventions. They sought out 3 International experts, myself included, to submit opinions on dyslexia management and literacy instruction to the Scottish Health and Education Chamber Tribunal.

The Council employed a local expert to provide an opinion on all aspects of the claim. The expert’s opinion relied on outdated research and conveyed the idea that the various ‘balanced’ teaching methods employed by the Council were sufficient. The opinion indicated that the child got the best support Scotland had to offer and any reading failure was entirely due to the child having dyslexia.

Although three experts presented evidence that clearly showed that the child was not receiving an appropriate education, the Tribunal decided that the ‘disabled’ child’s right to learn how to read were not violated and in their view had received an appropriate education.

In this perplexing decision, the Tribunal appeared to be saying that preeminent researchers and practitioners who advocate for systematic evidence-based interventions for individuals with reading difficulties are using a “medical model”. The Tribunal decision confirmed that they found it entirely appropriate for the Council to base their literacy strategy on the “social model” of disability, this model has been adopted in Scotland and is in line with the Scottish cultural context. 

No, the model we use is based on the principles of social justice.

The evidence provided by the child’s parents was strikingly similar that submitted to the Canadian, Ontario Human Rights Commission, Right to Read Inquiry. This extensive Inquiry resulted in the Commission producing a detailed report elaborating the rights of individuals to receive appropriate instruction in reading. Although this Commission Inquiry took place in Ontario Canada, its findings are appropriate for any age and any country.

The Commission concluded that reading is a human right and to achieve this right, there need to be certain aspects of the educational system in place.  The curriculum regarding reading should reflect what scientific studies have shown about how reading is acquired and how dyslexia should be identified and remediated. It is critical to identify children who are struggling with reading early in their school career and provide appropriate intervention.  Intervention at these early stages is cheaper, more efficient, and more effective than waiting for children to fail.  In addition, teachers need educated in the Science of Reading and be properly trained to deliver an appropriate curriculum to teach reading and how to teach children who struggle with reading.

It is quite clear that both the Scottish Education and Justice system failed this child, and no doubt many more.

Professor Emeritus Linda Siegel

September 2023

A Case of No Right to Read in Scotland – by Professor Linda Siegel