Starting Teaching At Age Seven

Shortly before 1983 Elaine and I were given some money by the Department of Education and Science (DES), as it then was, to investigate what would happen if we started teaching the dyslexic pupils in Gwynedd at age seven instead of at age eight. We already had data on children who had started their specialist teaching at age eight, and we had obtained reasonably successful results. The question which we wanted to answer was: would we have the same success if we started teaching when the children were aged seven? The eight-year-olds had usually received one hour's specialist teaching per week, but we wondered if seven years was too young to start and whether, in any case, a whole hour was too long for children of that age. On the other hand, if we could get results somewhere near those that were achieved for the eight-year-olds, there was an obvious case for starting at age seven, since the children would, as it were, be a year ahead of the game.

It was possible to study in detail 10 seven-year-olds, eight boys and two girls, all of whom were severely retarded at reading and spelling and all of whom (bar one, for whom there was no record) showed characteristically dyslexic responses on the Bangor Dyslexia Test.

Eight out of the 10 made good progress - in the other two cases there seemed to be a combination of really adverse factors, and, since the progress of the eight was not significantly worse than that of the eight-year-olds who had already been taught by the unit's teachers (Chapter 5), we concluded that it would be advantageous in general if dyslexic children started their special teaching at age seven rather than at age eight.

In our report to the DES we recommended that there should be universal screening for literacy at age seven, that no child (other than the mentally handicapped) should leave class III without knowing the sounds of the individual letters, that when special tuition is given there should be full co-operation between the specialist teacher and the class teacher, that where possible the parents should be involved and encouraged to supplement the work of the specialist teacher and that the level of reading age on discharge should never be below nine as an absolute minimum.

We concluded the summary of our recommendations by saying: 'The procedures which we have described are economical in that they involve individual lessons only once per week and, since the teachers are peripatetic, no cost for the maintenance of buildings. The success rate, however, is high. In the light of the present data and those supplied by [Hornsby and Miles (1980)] we believe it to be around 80-85%. Steps are now needed to ensure that this relatively cheap form of help is provided on a nation wide scale.' Our full report will be found in Miles and Miles (1983b).

Elaine and I also had the opportunity to contribute a section on dyslexia to a book on developmental disorders among Kerala children (see Miles and Miles, 1999b).

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