When I opened my first school in Cambridge UK in 1976 I well remember my first student whom we discovered to be dyslexic. I think her name was Jane. Having interviewed her with her parents present I was initially intrigued by the combination of A-level subjects she had studied at her former school. Mathematics, Physics and History of Art was not a common combination back then.
What was even more interesting was that whilst she had achieved good grades in both Mathematics and Physics she had failed miserably in History of Art. This she said was her favourite subject. It was also the subject she wanted to study at university. Not only that but her O-level results (now called GCSEs) in both English Language and English Literature were passes but hardly grades that would impress a University Admissions Tutor.
A university had made her an offer of three Cs in her A-levels to take up her undergraduate studies in a course which included History of Art. She had achieved the required results in both Maths and Physics but had only managed a grade E in History of Art. She was determined to retake her History of Art examination to study at her preferred university and I was able to get the university to agree to hold over her offer of three Cs to the following year.
I enrolled Jane on one of our one term retake courses in History of Art. After studying at my school for only two weeks in a small class of students with extra individual help my History of Art Tutor asked to see me. She showed me two of Jane’s essays. Whilst the content of both essays was good Jane had misspelt many of the words. Not only had some of the words been misspelt but the letters were often jumbled up in an usual way.
Dyslexia was regarded by many at that time as a ‘Middle Class’ problem implying that it was just an excuse for rich kids to blame their poor academic performance on a fake illness. But attitudes were changing and some schools and a few Examination Boards including the University of Cambridge Examinations Syndicate were more enlightened. I had a particularly good working relationship with the Secretary of the University of Cambridge Exams Syndicate. Her name was Pat Sneesby and I eventually became a good friend of both her and her husband.
It was agreed with Pat that if Jane was examined by a qualified Educational Psychologist and if he confirmed that Jane was dyslexic that Jane would be allowed extra time when sitting for her History of Art A-Level examination. All educationalists know or should know that dyslexia is characterised by difficulty not only with spelling but being able to read fluently and with accurate comprehension despite usually having normal to above average intelligence. Dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence and many high achievers have been shown to be dyslexic. Without adequate support and education, dyslexia can significantly impact eager students, leaving them feeling self-conscious and inadequate. However, it is worth noting that many individuals with dyslexia have managed to achieve incredible success, despite the challenges they face in reading and writing. Here are some high achievers who were known to have been dyslexic: Steve Jobs, George Washington, John Lennon, Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Richard Branson, Beethoven, Thomas Edison, Cher, Pablo Picasso, Robin Williams and many, many more.
Jane passed her A-Level History of Art with a grade A and was accepted at her chosen university for the following year.
After many years as a School Principal and school owner I came to suspect that far from dyslexia suggesting that a student had below average intelligence that quite the opposite might be true and that being dyslexic could suggest above average intelligence. All schools should take note.