14-year-old Leah Bartley can’t even write her own name after her school branded her as a ‘naughty’ pupil – yet failed to spot her severe dyslexia.
Her mum Sharon Bartley-Powell, from Kings Norton, knew something was wrong when bright Leah started to fall behind her classmates. But instead of referring Leah to a special needs expert for a formal assessment, Kings Norton Girls’ School put her into isolation because she ‘refused’ to copy work from the board.
Mrs Bartley-Powell eventually took Leah to see Dr Neville Brown, a chartered psychologist who runs Maple Hayes Dyslexia School in Lichfield. Dr Brown was astounded to discover that Leah had a literacy level below that of a six-year-old.
Dr Brown said: “This is the worst case of failure by the school system to identify a child’s special need I have ever come across. All the warning signs were there and her mother spotted them, but the school refused to dig any deeper. It beggars belief that they could be so negligent to the needs of a pupil.
“I must strongly emphasise that this was not a failing of the Birmingham Education Authority at all but of schools, especially primary schools, not referring obvious cases such as those of Leah to their LEAs for statutory assessment. It is highly disturbing that teachers chose to discipline her rather than examining what was causing her bad behaviour. It is a classic ‘red flag’, as bright children who are dyslexic often act out and start to show their frustration at falling behind their classmates but not understanding why they can’t grasp what their peers can.
“It points to a wider issue within our education system, as special needs like Leah’s can be successfully identified as early as Year Two. However it needs teachers to know what to look for and take action. Too often they fear it will reflect badly on them if they identify to senior management that certain pupils in their class aren’t making progress, lest it make them seem like a poor teacher. The blame culture can encourage them to try and cover the problem up or ignore it completely.”
Leah’s mum hoped that Maple Hayes Dyslexia School would be able to offer her a place at the school – which has helped thousands of youngsters to conquer their dyslexia, with some going onto complete PhDs at university. However, Dr Brown decided that her progress had fallen so far behind that even Maple Hayes’ specialist teaching methods wouldn’t be able to help her catch up.
Leah received a formal statement of SEN in September and has now been placed in a special school in Birmingham by the local authority. Leah’s mum remains unsatisfied with Leah’s placement, as her new school specialises in visual difficulty, not specifically dyslexia.
Speaking of their experience, Mrs Bartley-Powell said: “I am furious with the way Leah has been treated – made to feel like a problematic child when she should have been receiving extra support and attention to help with her difficulties.
“I’m not a teacher but I could tell something wasn’t right and I’ve been asking her schools to assess Leah for years, as I could tell she was falling further behind.
“When you send your child to a school – whether it’s mainstream or independent – you trust them to educate to an acceptable standard. This trust has been completely ruined. Leah needs very specific help now, yet she has been sent to a school for the visually impaired. Again, my daughter’s needs are being swept under the carpet. I will fight to the death to make sure Leah gets the quality of teaching she needs and is entitled to.”