Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 17 Jun 2010

My dyslexic daughter has found timed mental maths SATS questions a nightmare. Aren’t tests like this unfair for children with her problems?

Hillary's Advice

I have a huge amount of sympathy for your daughter. One of my children had similar problems and so much of conventional schooling was a struggle for her.

The problems are numerous. For example, if you have a poor short-term memory any sort of exam revision is a battle. No matter how hard you work to shovel information into your brain, much will have gone by the time you sit down and turn over your paper.

And many dyslexics share your daughter’s problem of needing to work slowly and only being able to hold one thing in their head at a time. So for your daughter to try and work out a timed maths question, at the same time as her teacher is reading out the question again to be sure everyone has heard it, will be virtually impossible.

There’s a detailed account of how dyslexic children need time and quiet to solve mental maths problems, by Mari Palmer of the University of East Anglia, in the March 2006 issue of the Proceedings of the British Society for Research into Learning Mathematics. Her research raises many questions, including whether extra help from, say, a teaching assistant, is something that helps or hinders dyslexic children

So, to answer your question, yes, of course it’s unfair, and her results will in no way reflect her abilities.

You do not say whether your daughter has a formal diagnosis of dyslexia. If not, I suggest you talk to her teacher and the school’s special needs coordinator and take steps to get her tested. A statement of special educational needs may mean she is allowed extra time in exams in the future – although it is often easier to get this for GCSEs than for SATs tests.

Read up all you can from the many good dyslexia support websites to find out how you can support her through school and do everything you can to make her feel she is not hampered by being dyslexic, but different. It’s a cliché to suggest you point to the many famous dyslexics, but it is a condition that often encourages grit and creativity.