Paul Henderson - Edge Hill University

SOLSTICE & CLT Conference 2013
Are there delays in the initial
reporting of dyslexia in Higher
Education learners? An exploratory
Paul Henderson – Lecturer, Faculty of
Health and Social Care, Edge Hill University
5th & 6th June 2013
Introduction and overview of research study
• For the next 20-30 minutes, the following themes will be addressed:
II. Aims and Methods used
III. Analysis and discussion
IV. Future directions
What is dyslexia?
• No universal definition of dyslexia (Olitsky, 1999)
• Commonly described as a collection of reading,
spelling, naming and memory difficulties
• Signs of dyslexia in Adulthood include: Poor spelling,
slow reading, poor time-management, sequencing and
concentration difficulties
What some dyslexic students may see
when they read
What is already known about dyslexia in higher education
learning and teaching practice?
• The number of dyslexic students entering higher education has increased
over the last few years due to widening access policies (Brunswick, 2012)
• However, actual numbers of dyslexic students entering higher education
remains fairly low at 3.2% of all higher education students (Higher Education
Statistics Agency, 2010)
• The above number may vastly under-estimate the true figure as around 43%
of dyslexic students are identified only after they have started at University (
National Working Party on Dyslexia in Higher Education, 1999)
• Although dyslexia is the most commonly declared learning difference, there
is no obligation for students to report this (Fuller et al, 2004; Madriaga, 2007)
Aims and objectives
• To answer the research question, the following aims and objectives were
Establish if learners routinely report dyslexia at their entry point into
Higher Education (HE)
Identify if there may be any potential implications or barriers to learners
reporting dyslexia at their entry point into HE
Interpret, explain and understand the reasons for later or delayed reporting
of dyslexia in HE
Disseminate the findings and discuss future developments to enhance
inclusive learning and teaching practices
Methodology (1)
• A small-scale exploratory study using qualitative methods
• A time-frame of 24 weeks from start to completion
• An intended sample size of 3-4 participants
• Participants were exclusively drawn from a learning services
department in one UK University
• The initial participant was recommended by an experienced fellow
Methodology (2)
• No payments or incentives for participants
• Digitally recorded one-to-one interview including a range of
open-ended and probing questions
• Allowed for an exploration of participants experiences,
knowledge and awareness of working alongside dyslexic
Data analysis
• Data was transcribed and analysed using thematic analysis
• A list of broad themes was compiled and applied with coding
categories and written notes
Some coding categories included:
Earlier educational experiences
Stigma and discrimination
Peer influences
Strategic learning tactics
Financial considerations
Main findings
• Three main themes emerged:
1. ‘Some people don’t realise they have dyslexia until
we identify that in their academic work’
2. ‘Could be finances, could be kids, could be anything
couldn’t it?’
3. ‘I really need to boost my mark so that’s why I’m
seeking support now’
Theme 1:‘Some people don’t realise they have dyslexia
until we identify that in their academic work’
• All participants reported:
• ‘They had coping strategies which were fine up to second or
third year and then the coping strategies started to wobble a
• ‘Usually in third year coz they’ve been failing ……continuously’
• Tutors erm y’know have watched them develop over the last
couple of years but actually the academic writing hasn’t
progressed and so there’s often a referral’
Theme 2: ‘Could be finances, could be kids, could be
anything couldn’t it?’
• All participants commented:
• ‘I’d say if one of their mates had been for support so it’s like word of
mouth….probably makes it more acceptable now that they’re not alone
with it I guess…they’re more likely to come forward as well’
• ‘I know a student but she couldn’t afford the educational
psychologist….students are put off from the Ed psych report because they
have to pay a hundred quid’
• ‘The case with mature students…they’ve got relationships, they’ve got
families, kids, as you usually say another job…..maybe they’ve been too
busy in their studies’
• ‘I’m so absorbed in placement so absorbed in lectures, I haven’t got time to
be doing that’
Theme 3:‘I really need to boost my mark so that’s why I’m
seeking support now’
All participants commented:
‘ I think maybe in year two and year three, the pressures on to get a
classification or a decent degree….and they’ve gotta use every resource
they can to get it’
‘In the first year, the marks are important but don’t matter towards their
final degree…they come in year 2 and year 3 because the pressure’s on to
get a classification or a decent degree’
‘I’ve left it to lie but now I’ve got to get these marks in order to get this in
order to achieve this mark or classification’
‘They’re getting towards level 6 and level 7 and it really will become
problematic then’
New insights?
• Some students may not report dyslexia in their first year of HE as they
may regard their marks as less important as these do not count towards
their final degree - more likely to report in 3rd year
• The possibility of dyslexia was being suggested to more students by tutors
in the second and third year of their studies after it had been noted that
written academic work was always not improving
• Further explanations for delays include: the stress of making the system
work e.g. incurring extra financial costs for learning assessments and
making up extra time to book and attend specialist appointments
• The effect of peer influences- some students are less likely to delay
reporting if a friend/colleague has come forward with similar learning
• Other key findings indicated that dyslexic learners share a
number of similar issues with non-dyslexic learners. For
• Factors that are beyond the control of the university such as the
effect of peer influences (hidden curriculum)
• Modern learners are no longer a homogenous population and
bring a variety of challenges and issues to HE
• Strategic learning styles- making tactical education decisions that
best suit the outcome(s)
Now what? Further considerations for future
learning and teaching practice
• Promote more awareness raising and training of learning
differences such as dyslexia- to encourage timelier and earlier
• Involvement of visible students with dyslexia at preadmission and open days- to provide supportive advice and
act as positive role models for prospective students
• Further larger-scale research – explore more in-depth
understandings of late declaring students with dyslexia and
aim to more fully establish their support needs during the
early stages of their HE journey
Brunswick, N. (2012) Supporting Dyslexic Adults in Higher Education and the
Workplace. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.
Fuller, M., Healey, M., Bradley, A. & Hall, T. (2004) ‘Barriers to learning: a
systematic study of the experiences of disabled students in one university’ Studies
in Higher Education. 29 (3) pp.303-318.
Higher Education Statistics Agency (2010) Students in Higher Education Institutions
2008/2009, Author, Cheltenham.
Madriaga, M. (2007) ‘Enduring disablism: students with dyslexia and their
pathways into UK higher education and beyond’ Disability and Society. 22(4)
National Working Party on Dyslexia in Higher Education (1999) Dyslexia in Higher
Education: Policy, provision and practice. Hull: University of Hull.
Olitsky, S.E. (1999) ‘Dyslexia’ The American Orthoptic Journal. 49, pp.17-22.
•Any further questions?

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