We receive many calls and emails from people with dyscalculia who would like to be teachers. They find that because they cannot pass the entry level maths test they are debarred from training to be a teacher. This short paper aims to help with this problem.
First it is important to note that each institution that trains teachers tends to consider dyscalculia in slightly different ways, and many have their own assessment programme, so it is not possible for the Dyscalculia Centre to answer individual enquiries relating to specific universities concerning this issue specifically, but hopefully the following points will be helpful.
The notion of getting extra time and support in examinations, or indeed an agreement that one does not have to take a specific test because of a special need, centres around the idea of helping a student whose ability to pass the exam is inhibited by a factor outside of the subject matter itself. In the classic case, a person studying history might have difficulty taking an exam in history if he/she has dyslexia. This is deemed unfair because the problems with English mean that the individual’s ability to grasp the essence of history, and reveal a knowledge of historical facts and an understanding of historical development, cannot be properly tested. So support in terms of having a reader or extra time in an exam is often made available.
However most GCSE, A level and degree courses in English do not give extra time or support to dyslexic students because they argue that reading and writing English is the essence of taking a course in English.
Likewise, when a nurse wishes to become a prescribing nurse she/he has to take a maths test, and no allowance for dyscalculia is made, because being able to prescribe and administer the correct dose of a drug is considered to be the essence of the work.
It seems that some exam boards now take the same position with GCSE maths – no extra time is allowed for dyscalculia.
With primary school teachers it appears that the government is arguing, or has argued, that an ability to grasp maths at GCSE level is inherent in being able to do the job of a primary teacher, and thus some universities will give no allowance for anyone who is dyscalculic.
If, however, the university with which you are dealing suggests that they will consider making an allowance, it is important to establish exactly what they require for this to be the case.
The most helpful universities will not only explain their situation clearly, but also indicate if they have their own testing and support centre (we understand Loughborough University does have such a centre through the group known as DDIG.)
If the university of your choice does not do this, it is vital to ascertain both whether they will consider dyscalculia to be a condition that allows for extra time or support in undertaking the maths test, and if so, the level of evidence they require.
In these circumstances it is common for universities to ask for a report by an educational psychologist which will involve a one-to-one session with the psychologist and is likely to cost around £300. (It is worth getting a price before entering into a contract with the psychologist, as prices can vary, and we are now seeing prices of £400.) And it is also worth checking that the psychologist you choose is one that the university recognises.
However in our view (and of course it is just our view) it is vital to get the university’s position expressed clearly in writing. The notion that one should “be assessed and then we will consider the situation” seems to us to be unhelpful in the extreme, given the cost of an educational psychologist’s assessment.
These links might be helpful if you are considering getting a report
But we would stress again that our advice is to check with the university first and get the fullest details you can of their position, as we have had reports of a university departmental administrator seeming to suggest that a dyscalculia report from a psychologist will be acceptable, only to find that when it comes to it the university says that all students have to pass the maths test (eg GCSE maths, or a specially prepared test run by the university) and there are no exceptions.
I am sorry not to be able to give definitive answers to the question of applying for a place to become a teacher, but this is because there does not seem to us to be a unified approach being adopted.
Tony Attwood, C.Ed., B.A., M.Phil (Lond) F.Inst.A.M.
Director, The Dyscalculia Centre