Half of secondary pupils with reading difficulties not on SEN Register

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A new study into reading comprehension conducted by a team of experts from the Centre for Reading and Language at the University of York has revealed that a substantial proportion of pupils who experience reading difficulties were not identified on the schools SEN Register.

The research also revealed that some students in every secondary school year group involved in the study had a reading age of 6 or 7 years.

Dr Sue Stothard, who carried out the research with Professor Maggie Snowling, Professor Charles Hulme, said: , “For me, the most striking finding is the under-reporting of children with significant reading difficulties. Our data indicates that, at the start of secondary school, half of children with reading difficulties are not on the SEN Register.  This suggests to me that many of these children’s reading problems will not be addressed during their secondary schooling.”

“With such a huge wealth of research and practical support to help these children, I would like to see changes made to the system to significantly reduce the number of children leaving school with inadequate reading skills and I hope this will be considered as part of the review of the primary National Curriculum.”

Some of the key findings that emerged from the study are that:

  • Fewer than 53.5% of 12 and 16 year olds with significant reading problems are known to their schools, as indicated by the SEN Register;
  • Only 46% of all secondary students with decoding difficulties and 44% of secondary students with reading comprehension difficulties are on the SEN Register;
  • At age 12, nearly twice as many boys have difficulties than girls (of the children with weak decoding skills, 63.3% are boys and 36.7% are girls). At age 16, 57.7% of the poor decoders are boys and 42.3% are girls;
  • There appears to be a strong relationship between reading difficulties and social deprivation. A third of pupils with the highest level of social deprivation (postcode ranks 1 or 2) exhibited a reading difficulty, compared with only 5% of pupils with the lowest level of social deprivation (postcode ranks 9 and 10).

Commenting on the research findings, Prof Snowling said: “The data we collected are striking in showing that in each year group, there are substantial numbers of children with significant reading difficulties, many reading below the 7-year level.  This finding underlines the fact that it is critical to identify children at risk of reading difficulties early, certainly well before secondary school, and for appropriate interventions to be put in place.

"The association between reading difficulties and social deprivation is particularly worrying because many parents of such pupils may themselves have experienced literacy difficulties at school and they are likely to be the least vocal about their children’s special needs.”

School Leadership Today
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