Dyslexia, Literacy and Inclusion: Child-Centred Perspectives


Sean MacBlain, Louise Long & Jill Dunn

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    To my mother and father who gave to me the joy of learning, my wife Angela for her continued love and support, and our children Marty, Nat, Nibs and Hayz.

         Sean MacBlain

    For the children and young people of the city of Belfast and to the visionaries and ‘peace-makers’ that have brought them a brighter future.

         Louise Long

    For Ian, Holly and Katy who make everything worthwhile.

         Jill Dunn

    List of Figures and Tables

    About the Authors

    Sean MacBlain is Reader in Child Development and Disability at the University of St Mark and St John. Before taking up his current position Sean worked as a Senior Lecturer in Education and Developmental Psychology at Stranmillis University College, a College of Queen’s University Belfast. Prior to working as an academic, Sean worked as an educational psychologist in Belfast and Somerset, and continues in this field in his own private practice, SMB Associates SW LTD (enquiries@seanmacblain.com). Sean’s research interests include the professional development of teachers and Early Years practitioners and the social and emotional development of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities. Sean is married to Angela and lives in Devon, England.

    Louise Long is a senior lecturer in education at Saint Mary’s University College Belfast where she coordinates a number of Masters modules in special educational needs and pastoral issues, as well as postgraduate programmes on child development. She is engaged in the supervision of M-level research dissertations. Louise is a chartered educational psychologist and has previously worked as an Education and Library Board psychologist, primary school teacher and Further Education lecturer. From September 2012 to November 2013 Louise was seconded to the post of assistant project manager (research) on a DE-funded project, which aimed to build capacity in literacy and dyslexia in Northern Irish primary schools. Louise’s research interests are in inclusive teacher learning, dyslexia and pupil well-being. She has published extensively in national and international peer-reviewed journals and has contributed to international books on teacher education. In the last five years Louise has procured funding for a number of research projects on inclusion and dyslexia.

    Jill Dunn is a senior lecturer in Stranmillis University College, Belfast. She was a primary school teacher working in Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1 classrooms before moving into teacher education. Jill teaches widely across the BEd and PGCE Early Years programmes. However, her main interests lie in the teaching of literacy in the early years. Jill completed her EdD in 2013 and her dissertation focused on children’s views on using popular culture to teach writing. She has been involved in a number of funded research projects on literacy and is currently involved in an evaluation of iPads in the Early Years. Jill lives in Lisburn, Northern Ireland with her husband Ian and two daughters Holly and Katy.


    The authors would like to offer their thanks to Amy Jarrold who, from the outset, was supportive and encouraging and who allowed the idea for this text to take shape. Our thanks must also go to Miriam Davey whose support has been much appreciated.

    Sean would like to acknowledge the support he has received from his colleagues at the University of St Mark and St John, in particular Dr Ian Luke – Dean of the Faculty of Education, Health and Welfare, Kathy Jarrett – Programme Leader for Primary PGCE, Sally Eales – Academic Lead for Primary Initial Teacher Training, and Anne Purdy – a fellow specialist in the field of dyslexia. Sean also wishes to acknowledge the support he has had in the past from his colleague Sharon James whose understanding of children and children’s literature is of the highest order. Finally, Sean wishes to acknowledge the depth of insight he gained into dyslexia whilst working in the Language Development Centre (LDC) at Millfield School (Edgarley Hall) from his colleague DJH – the most inspiring of practitioners.

    Louise wishes to express her gratitude to the children, schools and families who participated in the research activities that helped to inform her contributions to this book. Her thanks are also extended to the staff of the Writing Centre and the Library at Saint Mary’s University College, Belfast for their guidance and professional and personal support. Standing Conference on Teacher Education North and South (SCoTENS) informed the illustrative case study in Chapter 2.

    Louise wishes to say a big thank you to her children, Ellen and Sarah, for their patience and sense of perspective. Finally, she wishes to extend her warmest regards to her friend J; she knows that he was with her every step of the way.

    Jill has been very fortunate throughout her career in teaching and teacher education to learn from, and to continue to learn from, many wonderful people including colleagues in the education profession, student teachers, parents, and of course the children themselves. Jill would like to thank colleagues who read and gave advice on draft copies of chapters, and she would particularly like to thank those teachers, parents and children who gave her permission to draw on her teaching and research experiences for inclusion in this book.


    This book makes an important and timely contribution to the literature on inclusion generally as well as improving understanding specifically in relation to the development of literacy for children with dyslexia. All children have a right to an education that enables them to develop to their fullest potential and to do so in an environment that supports and engages with them and their parents. Since it is widely recognised that good literacy is a crucial component in an effective education that enables children to fulfill their potential and to contribute to and benefit from the societies in which they live, it is important that children who experience particular challenges in this area are provided with the support they need to develop and learn. This book aims to inform practice in the area of literacy and dyslexia by providing educators with practical, yet evidence-informed strategies to support children both academically and emotionally.

    Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that affects children across the boundaries of gender, race and socio-economic status. There is a common misconception and misrepresentation of the condition as the property of pushy middle-class parents who brandish it as an excuse for their children’s underachievement and use it to skewer resources towards their child. However, this book not only refutes such assertions but does so in a way that recognises that appropriate support is not just the entitlement of all but is especially important for children living in homes characterised by poverty, deprivation, neglect and/or lack of positive social and emotional modelling and support. Too many of these children fail to have their dyslexia recognised and dealt with as their primary presenting problems in school are often attributed to poor behaviour and lack of motivation. Too many also end up in ‘bottom’ sets and disengage from education or become disaffected and drop out. This book provides educators with understanding and skills that can enable them to identify every child’s academic and social and emotional needs in this area and meet them effectively, promptly and inclusively, avoiding the adverse consequences that may flow when they are missed.

    From the perspective of children’s rights, it is commendable that there is an overarching focus on putting the child at the centre of practice and recognising the role that adults have to play in ensuring that every child reaches their potential and benefits from an inclusive education. Of note is the emphasis in a number of chapters on ensuring that children’s views are sought and taken seriously in the decisions that affect them. This can be particularly important for children with dyslexia since their difficulties with learning and communication can have a negative impact on their self-esteem. Several of the chapters provide concrete examples of ways in which adults can engage with children in practical and engaging ways that will not only improve the learning experience but also enable children to develop their communication skills further. Likewise, the emphasis on engagement with the child’s home provides further strategies for supporting parents to support their child’s learning and development.

    One of the most appealing features of the book is the way in which it blends accessible yet thorough summaries of the research evidence with practical exercises that prompt reflection and which will undoubtedly contribute to informing and improving professional practice. Moreover, all of this is considered across a wide range of contemporary issues and challenges ranging from the use of digital media to the particular challenges for EAL children. The wealth of both practical and scholarly experience of the three authors shines throughout the book as does their commitment to ethical practice. It will, I am sure, be a very welcome and much-used resource for those educators who are working to ensure that all children with dyslexia receive the support for literacy to which they are entitled.

    Professor Laura LundyDirector, Centre for Children’s Rights, School of Education,Queen’s University, Belfast.
  • Appendix: Useful Websites

    ADHD Information Services

    ADDISS is the national information and support service for ADHD. This service provides useful information on ADHD for parents, sufferers, teachers and health professionals.


    American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
    (Making effective communication, a human right, accessible and achievable for all)

    This website has a literacy section that helps speech and language therapists to implement evidence-based strategies for advancing young children children’s literacy development. This section includes journal articles, resources and useful websites.


    British Dyslexia Association

    This website offers a blended approach to raising awareness and understanding of dyslexia and provides useful information for parents and teachers. The website provides details of conferences that bring together key stakeholders in the field of dyslexia and inclusion including academics, researchers and teachers.


    The British Psychological Society

    The society provides helpful ethics guidelines for researchers, teachers and practitioners.


    Center for Appreciative Inquiry

    This website provides information on applications of Appreciative Inquiry, a method for advancing people and organisations using the principle of positive change.


    The Department for Education in England

    This website is helpful for providing up-to-date information on policies and publications pertaining to the education of children and young people in England.


    The Department of Education Northern Ireland

    The DENI website provides information on the underpinning legislative framework for education in Northern Ireland. It provides help and advice for pupils and parents on a range of educational and personal issues. Information and advice that supports teachers’ professional development in inclusive practice can be found at this website.


    Education Scotland

    The website, Education Scotland, provides information on the work of a number of organisations and teams pertaining to the education of children and young people in Scotland. The website gives details about a designated team that supports local authorities and learning communities to introduce and embed approaches to promote positive relationships and behaviour.


    The National Foundation for Educational Research

    This is a good website to visit for contemporary and archived publications of research reports and summaries, policy papers, practical guides and professional development tools on SEN including international comparisons.


    North Eastern Education and Library Board TV
    (Educational television for the web)

    This website provides training packages, videos and resources that would be of interest to teachers and classroom assistants who are working with children and young people who have special educational needs.


    Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People

    This website has a ‘Policy and Research’ section that is a good source of information on the advice that NICCY gives to Government on how to improve children and young people’s lives and the outcomes from research about children’s lives including schools and schooling.


    The Office for the Children’s Commissioner in the UK

    The Office for the Children’s Commissioner in the UK promotes and protects children’s rights. This website publishes findings from recent research studies on matters that affect children’s rights.


    Reading Association of Ireland

    This website provides support and advice to parents and teachers on children’s literacy development. Information is also provided on contemporary publications on advancing education in literacy and forthcoming conferences and events.


    Scottish Commissioner for Children and Young People

    There is a section titled “Policy and Research” on the website that provides information on current research projects that relate to the lives of children and young people. For example, bullying and cyberbullying and young people’s views on poverty and education in Scotland are some of the areas that the Office of the Scottish Commissioner for Children and Young People is researching in the field of education.


    The Standing Conference on Teacher Education North and South

    This website provides information on how to obtain seed funding for cross-border research projects on the island of Ireland and has a ‘Research’ section that provides details of the outcomes from cross-border projects on a range of SEN.


    The United Kingdom Literacy Association
    (The advancement of education in literacy)

    This website provides information on high-quality international, national and regional conferences on policy, research and practice in literacy education. Details are provided on protocols for applying for research grants in areas that advance education in literacy. Information is available on resources and publications in cognate areas. UKLA is a great supportive professional network for teachers, teaching assistants, policymakers, researchers and teacher educators.


    United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

    This website has an online bookshop, library and database of documents, publications and archives in areas related to UNESCO’s fields of competence, including inclusive education.


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