NOT WAVING BUT DROWNING: SUPPORTING SOCIAL WORK STUDENTS WITH DYSLEXIA DURING FIELDWORK PLACEMENTS
Dyslexia, as a hidden impairment, remains a controversial notion within the context of intellectual impairment. Within the UK, there are three key pieces of legislation that impact on Higher Educational Institutions with a requirement to acknowledge and take action to make ‘reasonable adjustment’ (The Disability Discrimination Act 1995; the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 and the Equality Act 2010) making it an offence to discriminate against students with a disability by treating them less favorably.
Within higher education in the UK, the largest single group within categories of impairment are students with a diagnosis of dyslexia (Higher Education Statistics Agency, 2011). Statistics from both England and Wales indicate a steady increase in the number of undergraduate students diagnosed with dyslexia.
While the existence of dyslexia is generally agreed, how higher education institutions support students with dyslexia can vary considerably. This is particularly relevant during periods of fieldwork that occur off-campus. Fieldwork is an integral part of social work education in the UK, with students required to undertake a minimum of 200 days assessed Practice Learning Opportunities within the social care field. The authors are therefore in the process of undertaking a study to examine the support needs of social work students who have identified themselves as dyslexic whilst on their practice learning opportunities. Research design and methodology included focus groups, questionnaires and semi-structured interviews.
A pilot study was undertaken in 2011 with a self selected group of third year students, which used a focus group design to gather participants’ narratives on the impact of dyslexia. Common themes that emerged from the narratives included acknowledgement of the enduring impact of being ‘made to feel stupid’, and the emotional effects of the diagnosis. In addition, and specifically linked with experiences on practice learning opportunities, participants emphasized the importance of a supportive practice assessor who has an understanding of the issue.
The pilot study informed the design of a further study relating to the participants experience of practice learning opportunities on the professional Social Work degree in Wales. This paper will report on the results of the study and propose a best practice approach to support social work students with dyslexia during Practice Learning Opportunities.