The Illusion of Inclusion: How Parents of Children with Dyslexia Perceive, Understand and Enact Inclusion

  • Angela Thompson

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Pupils with dyslexia-SpLD difficulties on average significantly underperform relative to pupils without additional learning needs. This has been a historical pattern generating lifetime consequences for children’s and adults’ life chances and wellbeing. The current research explored the drivers of this inequality within the education system through examining the research question ‘In what ways do parents of children with dyslexia-SpLD perceive, understand, and enact inclusion’. Children with dyslexia-SpLD have a right to universal education and inclusion in mainstream schools. The study highlights the nature of inclusion as understood differently by parents and teachers, the difference has importance, in how the child and their family experience education, and how they navigate the educational system. A 4-year qualitative longitudinal inquiry, using novel methodology of case study and critical realism engaged 72 participants (36 interview and 36 survey) through snowball sampling across two phases. Data were assembled into 2 multilevel case studies: a) parents of children with literacy difficulties, both primary and secondary age b) mainstream school staff, both primary and secondary. Analysis utilised a mixed strategy of hand and Nvivo coding. Data was processed, using Braun and Clarke’s thematic analysis strategy within the context of a critical realism stance. This identified 5 innovative themes and 30 sub themes; with between 1,808 to 10,544 units of meaning coded. A new construct of the structure of education (the Arc) from a child position was developed describing the structural architecture of education and the pathways of interaction, enabling explanatory frameworks of how disabling environments were constructed or challenged for children with dyslexia-SpLD. Novel contributions included that contrasting with typically developing peers, children with dyslexia-SpLD had uneven access to education or inclusion, and that happenchance played an outsized role in whether a child secured basic education. A novel spectrum of 3 levels of disruption linked with dyslexia-SpLD development identified as Micro, Meso and Macro, related to different levels of discontinuity- disjuncture. These impacted on education access and psychological, social, and emotional distress. Disruption engendered variable damage to both the child and their family. In part some of the disruption was precipitated by structural features in the Arc of Education, but also included poor knowledge by both parents and school staff of what constituted the developmental profile of dyslexia-SpLD; the need to act early on visibility of dyslexia-SpLD; how small differences could have large impacts; and the legal framework, including rights and responsibility within it. Explored in the study were how children with literacy difficulties operated closer to the edge of failure, and how the 3 novel different forms of agency: Compliant, Subversive, and Forthright were operated to limit damage or constrain features precipitated within the Arc of Education. These were used by parents as well as some school staff to mediate forms of inclusion. The study concludes by considering how inclusion itself can be enabling or disabling for different individuals, and how parents can influence forms of inclusion in practice, through addressing failures of service by direct and indirect means. Implications for mainstream education are highlighted, particularly the importance of child voice and epistemic injustice towards parents in negating visibility and knowledge. Recommendations for future development work are made.
    Date of AwardNov 2021
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorClare Wood (Supervisor), Simon Goodman (Supervisor), Sarah Critten (Supervisor) & Julia Carroll (Supervisor)

    Cite this