It’s a bit of a saga, this, so do make sure you’re sitting comfortably.

I’m rather proud of this picture taken with my new camera. It’s E in a characteristic pose with her new dyslexia glasses. You’ll remember that we had them made, at some expense, to try and help her with her visual strain problem. She had them done by a specialist optometrist who used a machine that calibrated exactly the combination of colours she needs to prevent the words she reads from fizzing and coagulating into different shapes in front of her eyes. 

We tested the colour before ordering the glasses and I would not have believed the difference it made: E managed to read 30% more words and read them much more fluently than without the glasses. Her reading and understanding speeds are made all the more crucial because three of her four A level subjects are reading, essay subjects,

We ordered the spectacles in the week before Christmas and they arrived as scheduled three weeks later. Except that the person filling in the form and doing the ordering at the optometrist’s shop forgot to include the crucial grey, and the lenses were blue. She was new, apparently.  E was utterly devastated: she had placed so much hope on being able to use these glasses and the ones that came made no difference whatsoever to the fizzing words. 

So I had some fizzing words of my own with the optometrist, who called us in again, checked E’s colour and ordered lenses with even more grey than before. Three and a half weeks later, after some chasing, the new spectacles arrived. The optometrist had called me the previous evening and told us that there had been a problem and that this time the factory, the only company who makes these glasses, had omitted to include the blue. The glasses would need to be remade but E could still use them as it’s the grey in the lens that’s important for her. When I picked up the glasses, however, they still looked blue. Querying this rather forcefully, I was told that the glasses had been made to the first specification, which did not include enough grey. E is using them while she waits yet again for the correct prescription: another three weeks. 

E’s assessment by her Educational Psychologist recommended that she be allowed 25% extra time and the use of a word processor. We have been negotiating this with her school, who are willing to allow her either one or the other. They are very keen to keep to specific regulations and not be accused of affording her an unfair advantage by providing both, despite the psychologist’s recommendation. Sadly, poor E has worked so hard over the years at getting herself up to a reasonable level that she no longer qualifies under the government regulations for both extra time and word processing. Her hard work has disqualified her.

The reason I mention this is last Friday’s news story that accused independent schools like E’s of gaming the system to ensure that their pupils had extra time in their exams and thus gaining them an unfair advantage over their state school peers. In our experience these last weeks, whilst our Head has been extremely sympathetic and supportive to E, he has categorically stated that he refuses to risk the reputation of his school or the 14% of pupils with learning differences who need extra time by giving E an unfair advantage as defined by the regulations.

Why the discrepancy, then, between the proportions of state school and independent school pupils who receive extra time? Well, I think it comes down to resources. Our school has an extremely helpful in-house Special Educational Needs Coordinator, who pre-assessed E before referring her to the Educational Psychologist. E’s Ed Psych assessment cost us £700, her glasses cost around £500. We’ve bought her an iPad and keyboard so that she doesn’t have to lug her heavy laptop to school and back. We want to provide her with all the help and support we can to make up for all her years of struggle. Children in not such a fortunate position also have parents committed to support them but I understand from friends in this position that it’s a huge fight with the local authority to get the children assessed in the first place and budgets are so tight that SEN children are often forced to attend private schools that can meet their needs better than state schools. So all these children need the help but it’s much less of a fight when you have the resources to pay. That’s why. 

I’m hoping that all the support we are throwing at E will help her fulfil her true potential, albeit very belatedly. I feel very sorry for children and their parents who are not in such a fortunate position.