The Centre for Social Justice was delighted to host a roundtable with the Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP to discuss how the processes of identification, diagnosis and support of dyslexia in educational and custodial settings can be improved. Dyslexia is caused by a genetic difference that impacts how the brain processes and remembers language-based information, ‘which can affect learning and the acquisition of literacy skills’. However, dyslexia can also affect memory, organisational skills, time management, concentration, multi-tasking and communication – all of which can have an ‘impact on everyday life’. Dyslexia presents itself in different people in a variety of ways and it can also co-occur with other specific learning difficulties (SpLD). Critically, dyslexia has no bearing on intelligence. The roundtable discussion emphasised that dyslexic people possess unique skillsets that are highly valuable and sought after by employers, yet currently this potential often remains untapped.
Early identification and intervention can transform outcomes for dyslexic individuals. However, this specific learning difficulty frequently goes undiagnosed which can impact educational and career outcomes later in life. 10% of the UK population are dyslexic, yet just 1 in 5 children with dyslexia leave school with a diagnosis. Subsequently, there was consensus that screening for dyslexia must be improved and made more widely available. Participants highlighted that teacher training and continued professional development is critical to ensure that all mainstream teachers are equipped with the skills they need to identify and teach dyslexic pupils. Even when dyslexia is diagnosed, there needs to be the resources in place in our education system to support pupils to engage with learning. Currently, this is not always the case.
In addition to the education system, the roundtable considered dyslexia in the context of the Criminal Justice System. Alarmingly, research cited in the 2021 review of Neurodiversity in the Criminal Justice System (CJS) suggests that the prevalence of dyslexia could be as much as five times greater amongst the adult prison population (50%). Although individuals with neurodivergent conditions are overrepresented in the justice system, a government-commissioned review found that there is ‘no guarantee that a neurodivergent person coming into contact with the CJS will have their needs identified – let alone met – at any stage of the process.’
However, with the right expertise, infrastructure and technology, the justice system can re-engage dyslexic individuals in education once they enter prison and improve their literacy skills which can be vital for gaining employment upon release. Several potential opportunities for support were identified within the Criminal Justice System, including additional screening and assistance in the youth courts and Probation Service. The lack of data sharing between key actors and agencies such as schools, colleges and prisons was also highlighted as a barrier which causes expensive repeat assessments and limits the provision of tailored support.
Our roundtable drew together an impressive group of experts, each providing rich insights into how we can put the right structures in place in the education and Criminal Justice Systems to support dyslexic individuals and enable them to thrive. There is a clear case for reform and we look forward to undertaking further work in this space to ensure dyslexic individuals can harness their talents and improve their outcomes.