Dyslexia at school


In general, it is the school system that makes a child’s dyslexia transparent. Traditional teaching practices focus heavily on developing literacy and numeracy skills, which are often the basic skills that children with a learning difference, or preference, find difficult to acquire.

In some cases, however, a child might display a mild form of dyslexia that is only evident at home, for example during homework time. Or they might be hiding their learning issues by using their intelligence and natural abilities to create effective classroom coping strategies. Either way, when a child doesn’t seem to be making the same progress as others at school or it appears harder than it should be, they need our help and support. As a parent, it is important that you are able to advocate for your child to ensure their needs are met.

There are practical resources you can download here.

This space looks at common questions asked by parents who are worried about their child’s progress at school. These questions have been answered with the help of international dyslexia expert Neil MacKay and have been tailored to the New Zealand environment. 

In most instances, parents and schools can work together to find solutions for children with special learning needs. However, there may be some circumstances in which you may need to contact the Ministry of Education directly – click here for more information.

As well as the information shared below, why not also check out the notice and adjust classroom recommendations from Neil Mackay. These commonsense and practical suggestions will give you a good understanding of what may be needed in the classroom to support your child. Finally, remember that an acid test of a school that is working is parental confidence. You need to know that the school is taking positive action and this needs to be clearly communicated to you. One of the things that defines a dyslexia aware school is the willingness to proactively identify students with issues. In essence, we want our child’s teachers to look for trouble – not to confer a label, but to action a response.


Working with your school

Common questions:

1) My school has just told me that my child may have special learning needs. What does this mean?

The term “special need” usually refers to a child’s ability to learn in comparison to others of the same age. Learning covers a range of activities including learning to read and write, learning to communicate, learning to socialise and relate, learning to behave appropriately, learning to shape letters, as well as many other areas of school life. 

A child with a special need will need extra help in order to develop skills that most children develop as part of the normal teaching process. It is therefore essential that:

  • You are clear about what those needs are

  • Most importantly, you understand what the school is going to do differently to meet these needs.

It is also important to establish what can be done at home to support the school and to work with your child in the same way that s/he is taught in school, to avoid confusion and misunderstanding.

2) What do I do if the school tells me that my child is not making progress?

Below is a list of steps you should take when your child’s school informs you of their concerns. In many cases, changes in the way things are done in the classroom will be all that is needed for progress to be made.

Step 1: Make an appointment to go into school to discuss your child’s needs. Below is a list of questions that you may want to ask. You may wish to cut and paste these questions, then print them out to take with you to the meeting. Don’t feel that you have to ask all of the questions – they are intended for guidance and for you to choose.
Step 2: If your partner cannot go to the meeting, ask a friend to go with you and inform the school that s/he will be coming. Ask your supporter to do three things:

  • Help make note of what the teacher says in response to your questions

  • Remind you of the questions you wanted to ask

  • Ask for clarification when an answer is not clear – sometimes teachers use a lot of jargon, especially when they are nervous!

Step 3: Use the questions below, supplemented with your own questions, to ensure that you will cover all the issues relating to your child. Take careful notes throughout the meeting to ensure that you have a full understanding of what is being said and or offered.
Step 4: At the end of the meeting ask the school to go over exactly what has been decided.
If extra provision is agreed, you need to know:

  • When it will start

  • Who will be doing it

You also need to know:

  • When progress will be reviewed

  • What will happen if things are not working

If it is agreed that a teacher should monitor progress for a while, you need to know:

  • For how long

  • When you will be meeting again

You may wish to support your child at home. If this is the case, ask the school what you can do and to help you with advice and materials.

Questions to ask your school: In the first instance many schools will try to respond to a lack of progress by asking the class teacher to do things differently in the classroom. This is a perfectly acceptable response but it is important to get answers to the following questions:

  • How will the teacher do things differently?

  • How long will it be before we know if it is working?

  • How will we know if it is working?

  • What will you do if it is not working?

  • Please can we set a date (within four weeks maximum) to review progress?

If the school suggests that extra support outside the classroom is needed, important questions to ask include:

  • What extra support will my child get?

  • Where will it take place?

  • Who will be doing it?

  • When can we discuss targets for progress?

  • How has my child been involved in setting these targets?

  • Does my child understand these targets?

  • How has my child’s class teacher been involved in setting these targets?

  • How is my child’s teacher/s going to meet these targets in all subjects/in every lesson?

  • How long will it be before these targets are met?

  • What will happen if my child cannot meet these targets?

Sometimes a child still fails to make progress, despite good teaching and extra input from the school. Helpful questions to ask at this stage include:

  • Will my child be assessed?

  • If so, who will do it and when will it be done?

  • When will I be invited to a meeting to discuss the results of any assessment?

  • What will happen next?

  • What will happen if there is still no progress?

3) What should I do if I am worried about my child’s progress?

You may wish to talk with your child’s school, even if the school itself has not expressed any concerns about his/her progress. When this happens, it may be useful to ask some or all of the below questions. It will be useful to take a support person with you to the meeting, and for both of you to take notes from the school’s responses.

  • I am worried about my child’s progress. Other children in the class are much better at ________. Why is this?

  • Do you think there is a problem?

  • If you do not think there is a problem, why is it that other children of the same age can ________ much better than my child?

Once a problem has been established, these follow up questions can be helpful in finding solutions for your child:

  • What do you think the problem is?

  • Why has this occurred?

  • Can this be dealt with in school, or do we need to involve someone from outside?

  • If we can deal with this in school, what will the school do differently to help my child to improve?

  • Please can you write down for me what extra things the class teacher/subject teachers will do to help my child.

  • How long will it take for my child to begin to make progress?

  • At the end of this time, what should my child be able to do that s/he cannot do now?

  • What can I do to help at home?

  • Do you have any books or handouts that I can borrow to help me do the right things?

  • Please can we arrange to meet again in 4 weeks to see how things are going?

  • What will happen if my child has not made progress – what is the next step?

  • If we need help from outside the school: Who should be contacted?
    • When will this be done and who will do it?
    • How long will it be before I hear about an appointment?
    • What will happen then?
    • What will you do for my child while we are waiting for the appointment to come through?
4) What should I do if I feel there is a problem but the school does not share my concern?

This is likely to arise in one of two main situations:

  • There is a problem which the school has missed

  • Despite your concerns, everything is actually all right

Either way, parents should expect to have an opportunity to express their concerns in a formal meeting at the school. It is reasonable to expect the school to produce some evidence to support its view. This evidence is likely to include reading and spelling scores, a child’s work and, ideally, the results of some testing done by the school.

Important questions to ask include:

  • What is my child’s work like compared to others in the class?

  • I am worried about her/his _______. What should children of the same age be able to do?

  • You tell me that there is nothing wrong but s/he still can't ________. How long will it take for these skills to develop?

  • Please can we set a date for another meeting to check progress?


5) Does my child qualify for a reader / writer for NCEA?

When it comes to obtaining a reader, writer, or reader/writer for NCEA exams, current Ministry of Education guidelines are that you will need a 'current' assessment ( one done in the past 2 years by an educational psychologist) in order for your child to be able to qualify. In order for this assessment to be valid across 3 years of NCEAs you will need for it to be done in the first year of NCEA study. This 'ruling' may of course be subject to change, but we have no other information on this at this stage.

Taking your concerns to the Ministry of Education

In most instances, parents and schools can work together to find solutions for children with special learning needs. However, there may be some circumstances in which you feel your child’s school isn’t doing enough to recognise that there is a problem or, having recognised it, aren’t doing enough to find a solution. Or, the school may tell you that while they recognise the need for a solution, they don’t have the resources to support it.

When this happens, you may need to contact the Ministry of Education directly – schools have an obligation to provide a suitable learning environment for all pupils, and when they are in breach of this obligation, you have a right to take action.

The Ministry of Education website contains information on the steps you can take if you are concerned that your child's special education needs are not being met at school. DFNZ encourages you to read and follow the instructions contained on the site.

If you have been unable to find a solution by working with your school, and you have followed the Ministry’s own instructions but still haven’t resolved your child’s education issues, we encourage you to contact the Ministry directly.

There is a list below of information that we suggest you include in your email. Be as non-emotive as possible, but be specific and factual about what you feel the problem is, the steps you’ve already taken to resolve it and what you feel needs to be done to help your child/school. The address to send this to is special.education@minedu.govt.nz. We would also suggest you cc us at info@dfnz.org.nz on the email you send, and any response you get to your inquiry. This will help us monitor the issues that our members are experiencing, and how the Ministry is dealing with these.

Information to include:

  • Name

  • Child’s name

  • Contact number

  • School child attends

  • Nature of issue

  • What I’ve done to try and resolve it

Although we do suggest setting your concerns out in writing as the best approach, you can also opt to call the Ministry on 0800 622 222

Back to top

©Copyright Dyslexia Foundation of New Zealand. All rights reserved.
Content may be reproduced with permission of DFNZ, contact info@dfnz.org.nz