Since the mid-1990s it has been illegal for Australian education providers to deny students with disabilities the right to access and participate in education. Conjointly, policies and standards have been introduced that devolve the responsibility of ensuring disabled students are able to fully engage in their education to schools. Despite recent studies suggesting dyslexic student needs are rarely met in the Australian school system, to date, little research has examined how developments in anti-discriminatory and inclusive policy affect the provision of support to these students. This paper examines how devolved approaches to inclusive education policy practice affect the lived experiences of dyslexic students in Western Australian schools. Focusing on two young people's stories about their time in school, it is argued that the adoption of devolved approaches to policy has been instrumental in shifting responsibility for the delivery of equitable education for students with learning disabilities to families, and especially mothers. Drawing on a social-relational model of disability and Bourdieusien theories of capital, this paper illustrates how shifting responsibility for inclusion to parents results in inequity. The findings illuminate a need to think more critically about exactly who should be responsible for inclusion.

1| Introduction

Studies conducted in America, Britain and Australia estimate that between five to fifteen percent of their populations are affected by dyslexia, with around 10% being a more precise approximation (Butterworth & Kovas 2013; Connor, et al 2015; Riddick, 2010). While there is a lack of consensus on how to identify dyslexia, it is generally accepted that dyslexia is defined by difficulties with accurate and fluent word recognition, linked to cognitive decoding difficulties, which typically affect spelling, reading and written expression (Protopapas & Parrila, 2018, Lyon et al, 2003). A vast majority of research on dyslexia is published in medical/psychologically oriented journals (Lopes, 2012). These studies have predominantly utilised medical and quantitative research methods. The prevalence of medical/psychological accounts of dyslexia is problematic because it disregards the significance of understanding the lived experiences of people with dyslexia and the role social factors play in shaping the issues these students face in schools.

It has only been in recent years that a small but growing body of qualitative research on dyslexia in education has emerged. The qualitative research has captured numerous dilemmas including social exclusion (Mattson, Fischbein & Roll-Pettersson, 2010), teachers stigmatisation of dyslexic students (Singer, 2008), a reliance on parental advocacy (Leitão, et al, 2017) and limited awareness of dyslexia in schools (Riddick, 2010; Tanner, 2009). In no small part, this paper responds to Macdonald and Deacon's (2019) recent call to intensify research conducted into the lived experiences of people with dyslexia from a more sociological perspective. They advocate utilising a social model of disability perspective, which essentially conceptualises disability as the disadvantages people experience as a result of discrimination, rather than a medical or biological problem (Oliver, 1996). Using the social model, Macdonald and Deacon (2019) analysed a survey of more than 400 British adults with dyslexia, canvassing their perceptions of the impact of dyslexia on their schooling and employment. Their findings suggest quite robustly that policies of inclusion have a marginal effect on the lives of their respondents, especially those from working class backgrounds. Australian studies and government reports have similarly found the implementation of various policies aimed at increasing educational inclusion of persons with disabilities, have been largely ineffective. This literature highlights a range of issues including inconsistencies in how students with disabilities are resourced (Boyle & Anderson, 2015), inadequate teacher training (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2017) and the increasing placement of students with disabilities in segregated educational settings (Graham & Sweller, 2011). Macdonald and Deacon's depiction of an education system ill equipped to educate children with dyslexia (p.6), invites researchers working with sociological tools to dig deeper by adding qualitative insights.

This paper contributes to the task of intensifying qualitative sociological research into the lived experiences of dyslexic students by sharing the stories of two young women. These women's stories emanate from a pilot study that commenced an ongoing project focused on the educational experiences of dyslexic students and their parents in the Western Australian education system. Stories are a fundamentally human way of forming and sharing meaning (Atkinson, 1998), which helps explain the established position of narratology in qualitative research (Clandinin & Connelly, 1990). Supporting this position, in a recent paper focused on dyslexia and education in the 21st century, Prevett, Bell & Ralph (2013) point to the importance of narrative research for comprehending the cultural context of the dyslexic experience. Reflecting this, the methodological approach taken in the research reported here is specifically based on Atkinson's (1998) conceptualisation of the life story interview (LSI), defined in terms of capturing the 'Story a person chooses to tell about the life he or she has lived, as completely and honestly as possible' (p. 7). For this study, the LSI provides an effective way to help a reader step inside the world of what is a relatively underrepresented and misunderstood community (McNulty, 2003), allowing a rich understanding of the ways in which policies aimed at affecting school practices impact dyslexic students in schools. We use these rich, disturbing, and ultimately hopeful accounts of "dyslexia meets formal education" to further understand how the experiences of dyslexic students are shaped by neoliberal manifestations of inclusive education policies, social class and their personal contexts. Further understanding of how the experiences of dyslexia are shaped by policy and social class is vital to comprehending and addressing key issues impeding the educational opportunities promised to dyslexic students, and by extension to many students impacted by various forms of disability and disadvantage.

The prominence of concepts and practices associated with inclusive education and equal rights of people with disabilities in the education policies of nations in both the northern and southern hemisphere have significantly increased in the last three decades. Perhaps because of its widespread uptake, inclusive education is a contested concept, with multiple meanings. We follow the broad definition offered by Slee (2019, p. 8): Inclusive education refers to securing and guaranteeing the right of all children to access, presence, participation and success in their local regular school. Numerous studies have critically examined inclusive education and its neoliberal manifestations. Researchers have often argued that neoliberal reforms are counterintuitive to the goals of inclusive education (Grimaldi, 2012; Graham & Jahnukainen, 2011; Dyson, 2005). Discussing the exclusionary effects of neoliberal policies, Barton and Slee (1999, p. 10) argue that "(neoliberalism) entails a narrow view of ability, and exacerbates and maintains existing inequalities, while placing the responsibility on the individual and encouraging a self- interestedness on the part of the individual consumer." In a more recent analysis, Bacon (2019) documented how neoliberal policy trends such as high-stake testing, standardised curricula and heighted accountability, have contributed to the emergence of reductionist approaches to inclusive education. As Bacon (2019, p. 3) explains, "from the neoliberal reductionist vantage point, inclusion is only valuable insofar as it benefits neoliberal outcomes and does not disrupt the status quo". The provision of accommodations in standardised tests is an example of "reductionist inclusion" because individuals are incorporated into an essentially unchanged system.

This paper reflects upon the systematic undermining of centralized institutional responsibility, often referred to as devolution, and its implications for the implementation of inclusive education policies. Devolution is one of several reforms linked to neo-liberal approaches to governance which have transformed the relationship between the state, schools and families over the last three decades, "combining as it does enthusiasm for market forces and the concomitant commitment to the private over the public, to decentralized autonomy over centralized bureaucracy, and choice and excellence over equity' (Forsey 2007, pp 8-9, see also Dehli, 2017). Of particular relevance here is how under devolutionary reform, responsibility of the state with regards to ensuring educational equity have shifted, initially in the direction of individual schools, and ultimately towards individual family units (Rose, 1996). Recent studies have revealed an implicit expectation that mothers of children with disabilities will take personal responsibility for their children's education and advocate for inclusion (Tabatabai, 2020; Ross, 2019; Taylor et al, 2019). Reinforcing these findings, we argue that devolving responsibility for policy enactment to schools creates a situation, whereby, for "the system" to produce the sorts of educational justice it claims to deliver relies on parents and students becoming policy actors advocating for support, significantly undermining the principles of inclusion upon which the policies are allegedly built. Consistent with observations about the marginalization of students from working class backgrounds (Macdonald & Deacon, 2019), we draw on Bourdieu's (1986) conceptualisation of social and cultural capital, we make the unsurprising, but nonetheless important, observation that the parents best positioned to become policy actors are those with the requisite financial and cultural capital. Even so, our findings show that even parents from privileged backgrounds may not get the results they desire, reinforcing a vision of social justice in formal schooling as a dynamic process produced through the interactions of parents, students, peers, teachers and policy makers.

We proceed with a brief overview of recent inclusive and disability policy developments in Australia. The theoretical framework used in the paper is then outlined. We begin discussing, firstly, the social relational model via a brief overview of different conceptual models of dyslexia evident in the research literature, followed by a brief discussion of our use of Bourdieu's multilayered conceptualisation of capital. From there, we detail the methodological approach utilised in the project and share the two young women's stories about their schooling experiences. The young women's educational stories illuminate poignantly the inadequacy of current approaches to disability policy in Western Australia, and by implication in other jurisdictions. As already indicated, our analysis of the young women's narratives centres on the ability of families to assume responsibility for the enactment of inclusive education policy, an ability often predicated on the possession of financial and cultural capital more readily available to those from middle class backgrounds.

2| Policy Background: Federal and State developments

Australia is a federation of six States and two Territories. This means that Australian educational systems are organised around a national system of funding with state governments responsible for developing policy and running government schools in their jurisdiction, as well as for overseeing the governance of the many schools within separate Catholic and Independent schooling systems. It is most appropriate therefore to focus on individual states, in this case Western Australia, when considering the enactment of educational standards and policies. As with most other aspects of schooling systems in Australia, while the States and Territories are responsible for policy development, the federal government has played a central role in setting a national agenda for improving the support provided to students with disabilities. The federally driven approach to national reform in anti-discriminatory policy and inclusive education strongly reflects similar trends in other areas of schooling reform, which have, in turn, been broadly influenced by global trends in education policy (Savage, 2016).

2.1| Federal Legislation

In 1992, against a background of increasing international recognition that all students, regardless of ableness or social position, have the right to a state-run education that meets their needs, the Australian government legislated the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). The DDA provides a legal framework to protect the basic rights of individuals with disabilities in many areas of society, including their access to education. The DDA makes it illegal for education providers to deny or limit the enrolment and participation of a student with a disability (s. 7). Dyslexia is incorporated into the DDA (1992) as "a disorder or malfunction that results in the person learning differently from a person without the disorder or malfunction" (s. 2).

Some 13 years after the passing of the DDA by the Federal Parliament, the Disability Standards for Education Legislation (DSEL) was introduced. Aimed at clarifying and elaborating educational providers" legal obligations in relation to people with disabilities access to education, the DSEL aims at providing "a framework to ensure students with disabilities can access and participate in education on the same basis as other students' free of discrimination" (Australian government 2005, p. iii). Applying to commonwealth, state and territory public educational institutions, including private institutions, the DSEL mandates that schools consult with parents to introduce reasonable adjustments for disabled students that allow them to access and participate in a course or program on the same basis as their peers. The most commonly used practice providing "reasonable adjustment" to dyslexic students is likely to be extra working time during an in-class assessment, which is reflected in the student experiences reported here and beyond (Rontou, 2012; Soni, 2017).

2.2| State Legislation: the case of Western Australia 1

The DDA and DSEL provided impetus for State and Territory governments to introduce policies that further protect the rights of people with disabilities to access and participate in mainstream education (Guthrie & Waldeck, 2008). In Western Australia, the principles of DDA were chiefly reflected in the School Education Act (1999), which promotes principles of equality by affirming that government schools must meet all student's needs. It also confirmed in the Department of Education's legal obligation to recognize the right of every child in the State to receive a school education. This is an important Act because it makes the clearest declaration of the Department's commitment to the equitable treatment of all students.

At the policy level, DSEL helped shape a portfolio of policies focused on Student's at Educational Risk (SAER 2015 (WA)). A major review of SAER (2015) took place during 2014, in preparation for the introduction of a refreshed Western Australian curriculum. SAER mandates that schools need "to develop and implement plans, processes and strategies that enable the delivery of a curriculum that maximizes opportunities for all students at risk" (SAER (WA), 2015, s. 3.2.), with a number of characteristics listed as putting a student at risk of not being able to engage with standards set by the Western Australian curriculum, including socioeconomic status, linguistic diversity, and cognitive factors (s.3).

Within this legislative landscape and policy framework, teachers are responsible for the identification of "at risk" students and the provision of targeted support for them through necessary adjustments and documented plans (SAER (WA), 2015, s. 3.), while principals are assigned with managerial responsibilities, including ensuring staff receive professional learning and allocating available resources. SAER outlines that compliance with the measures will be monitored by line managers; however, no information regarding how line managers will monitor policy practice is provided. Interestingly, in the monitoring section of SAER (2015), it is clearly stated that teachers and parents must collaborate to monitor the progression of at-risk students' grades (s. 3.) The focus on the role of parents monitoring a students' grades links to broader policy initiatives aimed at increasing parental engagement in schools. In practice, this shifts responsibility towards parents, making it almost inevitable that some parents involve themselves as advocates for their children - those who feel so moved and are capable policy actors, that is.

2.3 | Devolving responsibility

The above overview of disability policy helps demonstrate that the Federal government has been focused on developing a coherent approach to the needs of persons with disability over recent years, protecting the rights of disabled people and promoting a commitment to supporting the diverse needs of all students. At the state level, or at least in WA, where the policy is meant to become "practice," there has been far less actual policy activity. In effect, principals and teachers have been given the responsibility to interpret and enact the DSEL, a responsibility for which they can expect little assistance from the State government, or educational bureaucrats. The lack of policy action at the state level implies that, by proxy, centralized institutional responsibility for the Standard's has been devolved to schools, leading to a self-managed approach to policy practice and to SAER. Ultimately, as we help show, real responsibility for policy action is further devolved to parents and guardians of dyslexic students; they act on behalf of their child/ward, while schools tend not to.

3|Theoretical Framework

3.1 | Conceptualising dyslexia: Medical and social approaches

Psychological explanations dominate the research literature on dyslexia. While there are ongoing debates about the definition of the condition, there is general agreement in medical research that dyslexia is a neurological impairment that affects skills involved in accurate and fluent word decoding (Lyon & Shaywitz, 2003). Research suggests that dyslexic decoding impairment significantly impinges their ability to learn key academic skills such as spelling and reading (Seidenberg, 2013). Dyslexics can also have co-occurring problems with short-term memory and handwriting (Macdonald, 2010).

Researchers have argued that medical explanations for dyslexia obscure the critical role unaccommodating school systems play in disabling dyslexic students; instead, they advocate a social model of disability (Macdonald and Deacon, 2019; Riddick, 2001; Collinson & Penketh, 2010). The development of a social model of disability can be traced back to the formation of the UK organization Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation, in the 1970s and the work of Mike Oliver, a disability activist and social theorist (Thomas, 1999). The key tenet of the social model is that people are disabled not by biological differences or impairments but rather by social barriers (see Oliver, 2009). Oliver (1996, p. 33) explains "disability, according to the social model, is all the things that impose restrictions on disabled people, ranging from individual prejudice to institutional discrimination, from inaccessible public buildings to unusable transport systems, from segregated education to excluding work arrangements, and so on". The social model represented a significant shift in orientation because it helped re-focus the conception of disability from an individual defect to a socially constructed problem resulting from exclusion and discrimination (Macdonald & Deacon, 2019). The social model of disability provides a crucial point of departure from hitherto hegemonic psychological perspectives on dyslexia, inviting researchers, policy makers and educators to identify and remove barriers that impose restrictions on school students with dyslexia. Through identifying barriers a better understanding of the exclusionary aspects of instruction, curriculum, and policy can be ascertained. Furthermore, by emphasising the social location of disability, the social model also helps us understand how the impact of dyslexia is influenced by an individual's social position, including social class and gender (Macdonald, 2016). This is important because it illuminates how disablism intersects with other forms of social inequality as well as privilege. Despite its merit, the social model has been widely criticised for over-socialising disability, creating an unnecessary separation between disability and impairment (see Reindal, 2008; Terzi, 2008; Thomas, 2004).

To better accommodate organic/biological/clinical impositions on an individual's life chances within an understanding of disability as socially constructed, we turn to a social relational models of disability (SRMD), as articulated by Thomas (2004,1999) and Reindal (2008, 2009). The SRMD conceptualises disability as a form of oppression created by unequal social relationships entailing the imposition of constraints on people with impairments and the undermining of their psychological well being (Thomas, 1999, p. 3). It differs from the social model in a couple of fundamental ways. Unlike the social model, the SRMD acknowledges the impact of impairments. Thomas (1999) uses the term 'impairment effects" to describe restrictions of activity resulting from impairments that are not reducible to social factors. In turn, she argues that a fuller understanding of the experiences of people with disabilities, requires acknowledgement of the varying levels of restriction imposed upon individuals by impairment effects and illness. Another key difference is that in contrast to the social model, which focuses exclusively on social barriers, Thomas's (1999) social relational model accounts for the emotional and psychological effects of disability. Thomas (1999) introduced the concept of barriers to being to refer to the psycho-emotional effects of dealing with oppression and stigma, arguing that greater attention needs to be paid to the emotional and psychological effects of disability:

The oppression that disabled people experience operates on the "inside" as well as on the "outside": it is about being made to feel of lesser value, worthless, unattractive, or disgusting as well as it is about "outside" matters such as being turned down for a job because one is "disabled", or not being offered the chance of a mainstream education because of "special needs". (1999, p. 45)

Thomas's conceptualisation of barriers to being helps comprehend the psychological consequences of exclusionary practices (Barnes & Mercer, 2018). The social relational model provides a useful lens to conceptualise dyslexia because it opens up spaces for thinking about the ways the experience of living with dyslexia is shaped by the interaction between psychological impairment and the socio-political context of one's lived experience (Macdonald, 2019). Furthermore, by emphasising that the relationship between disability and impairment is complex and evolving, the social relational model provides an effective lens to explore how the vagaries of context impact the personal and social effects of the impairment (Mortier et al, 2011; Thomas, 2004).

Interestingly, the social relational model has rarely been applied in qualitative research (Reindal, 2008; Thomas, 2004). Prior qualitative studies utilising the SRMD focused predominantly on disability sport coaching (Townsend, Cushion, & Smith, 2018), the educational experiences of deaf children (Snoddon & Underwood, 2017) and childhood disability (Connors & Stalker, 2007). Through drawing on the social relational model of disability, we analyse how wherever restrictions are imposed on top of the effects of dyslexia is simultaneously mediated by the school environment, policy enactment and parental advocacy.

3.1 Capital and education

The social relational approach offers a useful starting point for understanding the social dimensions of dyslexia; it is enhanced by pairing this orientation with sociological theories that provide insight into how individuals experience education. Bourdieu's conceptualisation of cultural capital is particularly useful, linking as it does relationships between social structures and individual agency, most notably through the formation of individual habitus (Bourdieu, 1986).

Cultural capital has been utilised by educational researchers to scrutinise the effect and demonstrate the significance of class in mediating student interactions with school systems and their family's interactions (Lareau, 2015). The concept encompasses an array of linguistic competencies, manners, preferences' and orientations (Bourdieu, 1986), with Bourdieu distinguishing three different forms of cultural capital – Embodied, objectified and institutionalised (see figure one).

Chart describing different forms of Cultural Capital. More description below.

Figure 1- Description of the different forms of Cultural Capital: Embodied, institutionalised and objectified. A radial list showing parts coming together to form one main or central idea. The central idea is labelled cultural capital. Three smaller circles stem from the central idea. Each circle refers to a different type of cultural capital, with two examples being provided for each type of capital: Embodied e.g. attitudes & dispositions, Institutionalized e.g. degrees & credentials and objectified e.g. cultural goods & resources.

According to Bourdieu's (1986) theory of cultural reproduction, when compared with children from working class families, middle-class children are significantly advantaged in gaining educational credentials due to their access to, and ultimate possession of cultural capital that aligns with the expectations of the education system. Cultural capital is a useful concept because it sheds light on the ways in which inequity in "the system" is driven in no small part by differences in parental knowledge of education systems and their ability to mobilize goods/knowledge effectively varies. Particularly important in the subsequent analysis are forms of embodied cultural capital that middle class parents are more likely to possess, including feelings of confidence to interact with key-stakeholders in schools and the degree to which they feel it is their right to intervene in their child's education (Lareau, 2015). However, as will be shown, although middle class parents are more likely to possess the cultural and economic capital required to perform the responsibilities devolved to them, in many instances' dyslexia trumps social class when it comes to considerations of educational advantage.

4| Methodology

4.1| Life story approaches to research

This study is built upon a life story approach, which focuses on the ways in which human lives are constructed via the stories people tell about their lived experiences, their interpretations of such experiences, and the meanings ascribed to them. The goal of a life story interview (LSI) is to ensure the interviewee can narrate their life in the way they choose to tell it (Atkinson, 1998). Life story approaches to research have proven attractive to researchers examining the experiences of marginalised groups, whose voices, up until recently, have rarely been included in research (Atkinson & Walmsley, 1999). Examining the life history research on people with learning difficulties, Goodley (1996) pointed out that life histories are useful because they "reaffirm the personal in social theorising, whilst providing a methodology in which individual and social worlds may be drawn together" (p. 333). Focusing on the participants' stories afforded in-depth insights into the unique experiences of the participants and these tell us about the process of policy enactment occurring in schools.

4.2| Recruitment, ethics and positionality

Prior to recruitment, the project was granted full ethics clearance by our university's ethics board. We were primarily interested in examining the impact of the proliferation of inclusive education policies introduced since the publication of the Disability Standards in 2005, so a limited form of criterion-based sampling was used, targeting participants aged between 18 and 23 years, who had completed a majority of their schooling in Western Australia and had been diagnosed with dyslexia. The two participants for this component of the study were recruited from a dyslexia information and support Facebook group that was predominantly used by parents. Both participants were white middle-class, women attending university.

The participants were sent a participant information form after expressing interest in participating in the study. The first author went through the participant information form with both participants' individually and in person, prior to the interview. After going through the participant information form, the participants were provided with consent forms. In signing the consent forms, the participants agreed to participate in the research and for the interview to be recorded. The first author explained that pseudonyms would be used in research outputs and that the name of the schools the participants or teachers would not be included in research outputs.

The decision to focus on the experiences of young people with dyslexia was informed by Thom's schooling experiences. Thom, who is a white male, completed his schooling in Western Australia and was diagnosed with dyslexia when he was sixteen. Author 2, Martin, was the project supervisor, and is an educational sociologist/anthropologist, with specific interest in the social effects of schooling. He had not previously completed research focused on disability and was interested in drawing connections between the experiences of dyslexic students and the practice of policy enactment in neoliberal times (Forsey, 2007; 2020).

4.3| Interview and analysis

One interview was conducted with each participant by Thom, both lasting 90 minutes. The interviews were held at a library located on our home university's campus. With the written consent of the participants', interviews were digitally recorded and transcribed by Thom. Portia and Dory were asked a linear set of questions to guide them in the process of sharing their school story (Atkinson, 1998). The questions asked the participants to reflect on their experiences from kindergarten to year 12, which is the final year of high school in Australia. The participants were also asked to discuss the key events that they associated with different stages of their schooling. The questions were not extensive, affording the participants the opportunity to follow their own lines of thought and describe their experiences in their own words (Dearnley, 2005). Where necessary, Thom gave the participants prompts or cues to go into more depth about specific topics that arose during the interviews.

Following transcription, the interviews were edited by removing questions and creating sentence/paragraph structure (Atkinson, 1998, p. 4), through which the transcript became a free flowing, cohesive narrative. As stories are an inherently human way of sharing meaning, crafting the interview material into a linear story helps facilitate accessibility of insight into the interviewees' experiences. The first stage of analysis involved interpreting the participant's narratives separately. Each narrative was read in full by both researchers and central themes relating to the participants' experiences were identified (Fraser, 2004). In addition to identifying key themes, key conflicts, characters (such as parents and teachers) and turning points were identified (Riessman, 2014). The second stage of analysis involved comparing the participant's experiences through the lens of the social relational model of disability and capital theory. Through comparing the participant's stories, we identified similarities such as the importance of parental support and teacher's lack of knowledge about dyslexia. We also identified points of divergence, such as Portia not struggling as much during her schooling and taking more of an advocacy role when compared with Dory's experiences. We read the narratives again in light of these comparisons to distinguish contextual factors that might explain the differences between the participant's experiences. Throughout this analysis we considered the wider political and social factors that shaped the participants' schooling experiences.

Dory's school story 5| The school stories

Dory was 22 years old when interviewed. She completed four years of primary school in England and was diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of six years. The condition was picked up very early (see McDonald, 2012) mainly because Dory's mother, a disability professional, was alert to the signs and arranged for Dory to be tested. Despite her diagnosis, Dory reports being provided with little support because teachers were unwilling to change their teaching style. Consequently, she was taken out of her mainstream class and placed in a special education stream in the school. Dory explained that throughout primary school she tended to self-identify as "dumb" and felt like she was "too dumb to go to school".

Dory migrated to Perth with her family around the end of her fifth year in primary school when she was ten years old. She was initially excited about moving to Perth, hopeful that Australian schools would be more supportive of her needs. Dory was soon to be disabused of this fantasy. Recalling a classroom experience from the end of primary school, she exposes the sorts of bullying teachers can inflict upon people with learning difficulties:

I remember having a teacher who was very assertive and made me feel uncomfortable. He would call me out and ask me to spell a word and I would freak out because he put me on the spot and I didn't want to look stupid in front of everyone. I got it wrong and he would make a wrong noise and made a comment saying I'd never get it right - My heart just melted.

Dory had to receive an Australian diagnosis for her dyslexia to be "recognised", which her mother duly presented to the school. It made little difference, however.

Clearly, Dory faced significant challenges during primary school; the situation did not improve when she entered high school. In fact, Dory labelled this period as "the worst" in her years of formal schooling. Dory's mother remained an important advocate during this time. She provided the school with materials about dyslexia and challenged teachers when they said Dory was incapable of attending university. Explaining the profound importance of her mother's advocacy, Dory expressed "If it wasn't for her I don't think I'd be here today [at university]". Despite her mother's considerable care, Dory observed that she didn't remember receiving support at her high school. The one reasonable adjustment that Dory received was extra time to complete tests, which allowed an additional ten minutes of working time per hour of an in-class assessment. Dory spoke of this "extra time" with a dismissive air, as something teachers considered sufficient to resolve all her problems.

The limited support provided by her school meant that Dory relied on out-of-school tutoring and dyslexia workshops, which exposed her to a more engaging learning environment. Dory explained the difference between the approach to instruction adopted by her teachers and her tutor, as coming down to the benefit of one-on-one, positive instruction:

The tutor made time to listen to me and ask why you think this full stop goes here and why do you think this coma goes here. She would just go over my work in depth and try and make me understand what was wrong, but do it in a way where it didn't dishearten me.

The support of tutors notwithstanding, Dory still experienced bullying by dismissive teachers and she continued to struggle with a lack of confidence. One experience with a teacher had a particularly profound impact on Dory, which she described vividly:

Every time he got one of my essays he would hold it up in class and say "I can imagine who's this is because I cannot read it, oh it's D's again". He would continuously say to me "what are you going to do with your life, your handwriting; my four year old niece has better handwriting". Just continuous comments. I would hold that in all day. One day I came home and burst into tears. I sat down with my mum and told her everything.

Not surprisingly, Dory's mother was furious:

She went to the school and provided him [the teacher] with a document and some legal documents from the Disability Discrimination Act and really fought him and said if you continue to bully my daughter…. He really didn't know how to take that.

Whilst Dory was taken out of this particular teacher's class, no improvement was made in the support provided to her. The negative experiences continued to build-up, impacting her emotionally:

I was really like what am I going to do with my life. Everyone around me was doing ATAR 2, attempting to go to university, and I just gave up on complete aspiration to do anything because of what these teachers told me I couldn't do. It really distorted my idea of life.

During her final year of school, Dory took two of a possible five examinations that would qualify her for university entrance. Dory completed high school, pursued technical and further education (TAFE) and became a disability support worker. Outside of the school system her confidence developed. She stated for the first time she did not feel discriminated against. She did not feel embarrassed. Backed by the encouragement of her lectures at TAFE, Dory is proud that she is about to begin studying social work at university, an area she is enormously passionate about. As she approached a new phase in her formal education, she reflected upon what needs to change to promote the inclusion of students with dyslexia, describing schooling as: "a broken system," where "We are all thrown into one basket and told to fit into one size".

Portia's school story

Portia was 18 when interviewed in 2018 and is currently studying history at university. She attended primary and high school 200km south of Perth in a large regional town. During the early stages of primary school Portia explained, "I always had trouble with spelling and I didn't know why". Portia was an otherwise good student and her inability to spell was put down to a lack of effort on her part. Due to her issues with spelling Portia explains "I felt like there was something wrong with me. It made me feel not confident in my academic abilities".

Despite her difficulties with spelling, during primary school Portia expressed that "there was not that much support, it was sort of non-existent". She partly believed she was not supported because she was in an extension class for high achieving students, where there was a perception that students had already mastered basic skills. Without any awareness of dyslexia, Portia explains that her continuing difficulties made her not "try as much and question if I was intelligent at all. It sort of bleeds out".

Nearing the end of primary school, Portia's father began teacher training. During his teaching practicals at a range of schools, he learnt about learning difficulties. Around about the same time Portia's cousin was diagnosed with dyslexia, leading Portia's mother to research online about getting her a diagnosis. This led to the decision to get a preliminary check out by a psychologist. Most of the details of her meeting with the psychologist were fuzzy in Portia's memory; however, she clearly remembered the discussion as to whether or not she should pursue a diagnosis: "The psychologist said, you probably have it, but don't get diagnosed. You probably won't receive that much help in school anyway and it costs a lot of money".

Believing that she was unlikely to be provided with much support, Portia's parents decided not to pursue a diagnosis. Portia explains that this decision was strongly influenced by financial factors. Not having the certainty of a diagnosis left Portia unsettled: "It led to me being quite insecure about whether or not I was dyslexic. And if I was, then what did that mean?" Portia's feelings of insecurity dissipated when she entered high school. She explained that in high school, spelling became less important and that she appreciated her teachers' very direct approach to instruction, especially their clear advice on how to structure essays. The improvement to Portia's experiences demonstrates the importance of effective instructional approaches and the extent to which dyslexia affects a student's schooling can significantly decrease because of this. Although she was not provided with extra support at school when compared with other students, a sharp increase in confidence drove Portia to put considerable effort into removing barriers to engagement: "I struggled a lot at first with essay writing but I studied a fair bit. It didn't come naturally to me, structuring the essay, I remember writing a lot of practice essays and working and working on the structure". Portia also benefited from tutoring by her father. Comparing her father's approach to instruction, to that of her teachers, Portia explained that her father looks for ways to get around her learning difficulties, instead of trying to disregard them.

Whilst Portia's confidence increased during the early years of high school, when she entered year 10 teachers returned to focusing on her spelling errors and she began to struggle during in-class assessments, for which Portia felt she never had enough time to edit:

I would make myself stop after a certain period of time. If I had a 45 min essay, I would say I want five minutes of this, five minutes of this. I would make myself follow those times. I don't know if this was always the best, but it forced me to finish. I did run out of time, but in sections. So, I would have written a full essay, but only half as much as I would have wanted to. I think it impacted my grades because I was always told to write more in literature, but I didn't know how I could write anymore!

Around this time, Portia became aware that dyslexic students in the English class were using extra time during assessments. Considering the frequent comments that she needed to write longer essays, the opportunity to receive an additional ten minutes for in-class assessments, and the still lingering question of whether or not she was dyslexic, ultimately pushed Portia to pursue a formal diagnosis. When she completed the testing, the psychologist confirmed that Portia was dyslexic. Portia explained her main reaction to the diagnosis was relief: "It was like, I'm not just making this up, there's a reason behind this. I think it gave me a lot more confidence. I always had the same struggles, I was always going to have the same struggles, but there was finally a reason behind it. Their acknowledgement was very important to me".

Following this feeling of relief, Portia faced the issue identified by the psychologist 5 years prior: having a diagnosis would have little impact on the support provided to her. Portia took on the responsibility of handling the process of informing the school of her diagnosis and while her History teacher in particular responded positively to the diagnosis, aside from being provided extra time "nothing really happened". With extra time, Portia was able to extend the length of her essays, which was useful because as noted earlier, her teachers frequently commented that she needed to write longer essays.

Portia's peers' reaction to her receiving extra time amounted to one of the most stressful periods of her schooling. Classmates continuously asked her "why do you have a diagnosis? Are you just doing it to get extra time?" Due to these comments, Portia and the other students decided to no longer use extra time. Leading up to her Western Australian Certificate of Education examinations, Portia and her parents completed paperwork to apply for extra time, which they submitted to Western Australian Department of Education's School Curriculum and Standards Authority. Portia did not receive extra time and vividly recalls the moment of reading the letter from the department of education: "I remember the phrase because you can read you don't qualify for extra time. I always found it a bit weird, I still don't particularly understand it, because I still have dyslexia".

Even with the stress that resulted from not receiving extra time, Portia went well in her exams and is now attending university in Perth. Reflecting on her schooling experiences now at university, Portia identified that greater knowledge about, and acknowledgement of dyslexia would have been significantly enabling for her.

6| Discussion

Dory and Portia's school stories provide powerful and rich insights into the lives of people with dyslexia. Their experiences grappling with an education system that did not adequately address their needs resonate beyond the Western Australian context these stories arise from (Riddick, 2010; Singer, 2008; Collison & Penketh, 2010). Their experiences demonstrate how disability is a relational phenomenon, which sees the cognitive impact of dyslexia simultaneously mediated by the school environment, educational systems and the approaches of administrators and teachers to policy enactment. The differential access to social and economic resources available to family units is also deeply significant. In analysing these realities attention is paid to how differences in Portia and Dory's school environment, particularly the variance in level of discrimination they faced, influenced the disabling effects of dyslexia. Also significant are the ways in which, in both cases, it was the students' parents who took responsibility for ensuring their child's needs were recognised and accommodated. The analysis, therefore, focuses on the impacts of differential access to social and economic resources on the ability of families to perform the responsibilities devolved to them.

6.1| School environment

We learn from Dory's and Portia's experiences that teachers do not necessarily attribute student's difficulties with literacy to dyslexia. Interactions with the teachers eroded their confidence, sometimes leaving them feeling stupid and worthless. Their narratives support Thomas's (2004, p. 31) observations about how "the oppression that disabled people experience operates on the 'inside' as well as on the 'outside' through being made feel lesser than others". While Dory and Portia attended schools that were not supportive of their needs, they faced different levels of stigma. The contrasting levels of stigma they faced influenced the extent that dyslexia had a disabling effect. For example, particularly during early high school Portia's teachers were generally more supportive than Dory's appeared to be. Portia's teachers used a direct approach to instruction, which she preferred, affording her opportunities to develop coping mechanisms, such as how to plan for in class essays, which significantly decreased the impact of dyslexia on her ability to cope with schoolwork. In contrast, Dory reported being mocked and bullied by teachers throughout her schooling, which impacted her self-esteem and ability to cope with dyslexia in significant ways. Offering a poignant insight into how an exclusionary school environment can disable a young person from within Dory was left wondering what she could do with her life beyond school – university entrance did not seem to be an option for her and she lost interest in pursuing this path mainly because ''of what these teachers told me I couldn't do''.

In addition to influencing their ability to develop effective coping mechanisms, Portia and Dory's school environment probably influenced the forms of parental advocacy taken up from within their families. Dory's ongoing struggle with school-based discrimination in part explains why, in comparison to Portia's parents, Dory's mother needed to play more of a role advocating for her daughter in school. This helps highlight how school environments influence the disabling effects of dyslexia and a student's subsequent need for parental advocacy.

6.2| Devolved policy enactment and inequity

Throughout their education, Dory and Portia experienced a body of teachers demonstrating little awareness of dyslexia, a pattern repeated in many schools across the globe (Bell, 2013; Chista & Mpofu, 2016; Indrarathne, 2019). It as appears to be the case that most teachers, and by implication school administrators, lack any real awareness of dyslexia and its effects, then devolving responsibility for inclusive practices in relation to dyslexia by the State to schools represents an abrogation of responsibility to the important commitment to inclusive education expressed by many State authorities and legislators.

In Australia, teachers are not receiving adequate professional training on instructing students with disabilities or learning difficulties (Department of education, employment and workplace Relations, 2012; National People with Disabilities and Carers Council, 2009). Insufficient teacher preparation is considered one of the key limitations to the approaches that Australia, among other nations, have taken to implementing inclusive education (Anderson & Boyle, 2015). In their stories, Dory and Portia highlight the apparent incapacity of their teachers to fulfil the responsibilities devolved to them. Dory and Portia's experiences illuminate how when teachers have little understanding of dyslexia, coupled with a limited capacity to provide support, the primary responsibility for approaching the sorts of just treatment promised by educational policies is shifted to families, particularly when it comes to diagnosis of the child's condition and securing support for them if and when a positive diagnosis is attained.


Currently costing around AUD $1,000 to attain, a diagnosis is clearly dependent on a family's financial capital. In Australia, individuals with specific learning disabilities such as dyslexia are not eligible for individual funding and the cost of diagnosis is not covered or rebated by federal or state governments. This funding arrangement is likely to reduce the accessibility of diagnosis because many families from low socio- economic backgrounds may not have the financial resources to obtain a diagnosis. Furthermore, there are a range of additional supports and services that parents often pay for. For example, in order to be considered eligible for reasonable adjustments for year 12 university entrance examinations, students are required to receive another diagnosis of dyslexia. The impact of the availability of financial capital, even for individuals from fairly privileged backgrounds, is made observable when we compare Dory and Portia's stories. Dory's family was affluent enough to be able to pay for her diagnosis - both in the UK and in Australia. In contrast, Portia explained that financial factors contributed to the decision not to get an early diagnosis. Whilst a diagnosis may not have improved the support she received, Portia explained that without the certainty of knowing whether she was dyslexic, she continued to question her abilities throughout primary school, blaming herself for the ordeals she faced. Picking up Mills' (1959) famous coinage of the sociological imagination, the diagnosis certainly helped Portia identify the ways in which her personal difficulties were in fact social problems, or at least it helped her to stop blaming herself for the difficulties she faced.

There are also cultural and structural matters to deal with that can preclude some families from even knowing about what sorts of support is available to them, let alone navigating the systems and processes once these start to open up to them. Dory was diagnosed with dyslexia unusually early because in addition to her family's financial position, her mother held qualifications in the disability sector (marking an unusual amount of institutionalised cultural capital). In contrast, Portia explained that her parents had researched online about dyslexia, following her dad briefly hearing about learning difficulties in a teacher training course.

Portia's and Dory's recollections of their parents' advocacy highlights how the ability of parents to assume responsibility for their child's condition depends to a significant degree upon their possession of embodied cultural capital that is associated with the middle classes. Research has shown that middle class parents make significant personal investments in their children's academic development when compared with parents from lower-socio economic backgrounds (Lareau, 2015).When parents seek a diagnosis, the attitude that parents should be highly involved in their children's education and monitor their child's academic development is particularly salient. In view of the salience of the embodied capital associated with the middle classes, the expectation that parents will be involved in identifying their children's learning disability is likely to further impede low SES students' access to a diagnosis. As Ong-Dean (2006, p. 108) points out when discussing how social class affects access to the diagnosis of learning disabilities "to acknowledge that by increasingly linking educational needs to individualized and ostensibly organic traits, which parents are involved in identifying, we necessarily favour the involvement of those parents most capable of participating in highly technical educational decision making" (p. 108). The cost of a diagnosis and the presumption that parents have embodied cultural capital that facilitates accessing a diagnosis help to explain Macdonald and Deacon's (2019) finding that "There was a significant variance (p = 0.00) between socioeconomic status and the age of diagnosis" (2019, p. 10).

Enacting Policy

Once a diagnosis is finalised, the diagnosis report must be presented to school management. Ideally, the report would be followed by the provision of reasonable adjustments or, at the very least, consultation with the student concerning the support they require. In reality however, this study and others focused on the experiences of parents with dyslexic children, indicate that the support outlined in policy are to varying extents secured through negotiation between schools and individual families (Earey, 2013; Washburn, 2014; Ong-Dean, Daly & Park, 2011). The reliance on mothers to advocate for their children is indicative of how neo-liberal policies have devolved an increasing amount of responsibility to parents for their child's physical, social, and educational inclusion (Crozier, 2019; Saltmarsh & McPherson, 2019). The expectation that parents will advocate for their children is likely to create inequity because research has shown that middle class parents feel a stronger sense of entitlement and confidence to intervene in their children's education when compared with the responses of parents from working class backgrounds (Lareau, 2015; Ball, 2003).

Supporting this view, Dory's mother confidently contested with schools that Dory needed support, as Dory explains "My mum just put up a big fight and said no, you need to change the way that you are teaching". Nevertheless, the only form of support provided to Dory throughout her education was extra time for class assessments. Dory's experiences show that even parents from privileged backgrounds, with significant capital at their disposal, may not get the outcomes they desire. This finding indicates that the attitude of teachers significantly influences the efficacy of parental practices and the value of capital. Dory's experiences also highlight how the absence of clear guidelines in policies targeted at the needs of students with learning disabilities, and the issue of inadequate teacher training, limits the potential outcomes of parental advocacy.

Compared to Dory, Portia's parents did not play a key advocacy role. Portia's parents did not need to advocate for her to the same extent as Portia's because, as noted earlier, her teachers were more supportive and she did not encounter persistent discrimination. When Portia eventually received her diagnosis, anticipating additional time for assessments, she took responsibility for explaining her condition to each teacher. Aside from different personality traits, Portia was likely more able to adopt this responsibility than Dory because she had relatively good relationships with her teachers, her difficulties were less severe and she was diagnosed at a later age. Portia's teachers were happy to provide her with extra time, however, she was ultimately denied extra time for her WACE examinations. Interestingly, the negative attitude of Portia's classmate towards her gaining extra time for tests led to her refusing to use this "privilege", despite recognising that it enabled her to manage her workload more effectively.

Portia's experiences raise important questions pertaining to societies and the government's understanding of just educational provision. Portia's use of extra time was restricted both socially and officially by an underlying attitude deeming her an "unworthy" recipient of reasonable adjustment because she was a high achieving student. As Portia explained however, without extra time she lost marks and did not believe her true ability was reflected in her in-class essays. This suggests that the conceptualisation of reasonable adjustments and access in current policies need to be extended to promote an understanding that the provision of extra support is not just about ensuring equal access to education, but also equal opportunity for achievement. However, it is also important to recognise that reasonable adjustments alone are not enough to realise inclusion. Critiquing reductionist models of inclusion, Slee (2011, 108) argues that inclusion is not a "technical problem to be solved through an ensemble of compensatory measures". Portia's experiences point to the limitations of relying on compensatory measures, especially when they are difficult to obtain, to ensure students can attain equitable opportunities in examination and other forms of time-limited assessments.

6.3| Devolution, capital and inequity

As already shown, devolved approaches to IEP, depending as they do on schools autonomously enacting dyslexia student's legislative rights, tend to result in responsibility for just and equitable treatment of dyslexic students being transferred to parents. This finding speaks to how neoliberal reform compels parents to take responsibility for their child's education, producing an expectation that parents will advocate for their child (Nygreen, 2019, p.209).

The participants' experiences show that, regardless of class, there are considerable limitations to the extent families can realistically operationalise support outlined in policy. Nevertheless, because middle class parents feel more able to assume the role of a policy actor, transferring responsibility for inclusion to parents is likely to be an influential factor generating the forms of inequity exacerbated by social class revealed in Macdonald and Deacon's important study (2019). Portia and Dory's experiences also reveal that a student's school context significantly influences the efficacy of parental practices and the extent to which dyslexia has a disabling effect on students in schools. This indicates that realizing social justice in schools is a dynamic process, shaping the practices of parents, student's teachers and peers, in addition to education policies and various forms of social difference, including social class, gender, race/ethnicity, and ableness. These findings illustrate the importance of future researchers utilizing conceptual frameworks that allow for a critical analysis of how an individual's personal, social and political contexts shape the experience of living with dyslexia.

7| Conclusion: Who is responsible for inclusion?

Applying the socio-relational model to analyse the schooling stories of two young persons with dyslexia, reveals the ways in which devolved approaches to policy are instrumental in shifting responsibility for the delivery of equitable education for students with learning disabilities to their families. Demonstrating how families are differently situated to take on the responsibilities they have been devolved, offers a useful, empirically rich contribution to Macdonald and Deacon's (2019) call for research that examines the social and political dimensions of dyslexia. The experiences shared in this paper illustrate that it is of the utmost importance to properly assess who is currently responsible for ensuring the delivery of inclusive practices in schools, and who should be responsible. This is essential because as Dory and Portia's stories help illustrate, too often parents become primarily responsible for ensuring that the support outlined in policies are implemented in schools. The analysis presented in this paper also illustrates how the enactment of inclusion is a dynamic process, shaped by relations between schools/teachers, parents, and students and their peers. More research is needed to further understand the challenges faced by students with dyslexia from different socio-economic backgrounds. In particular, we acknowledge that the absence of working-class experiences of dyslexia, to say nothing of race and gender, is one of the limitations of this study. Further research on the experiences of people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds will allow a more in depth understanding of social and academic inequalities associated with dyslexia, recognising more readily how individual struggles are social issues that can and should be addressed by those charged with ensuring that educational institutions really do offer an education for all.


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  1. Initials included in this section: Students at Educational risk (SaER), The Disability standards for education legislation (DSEL) and the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).
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  2. Australian Tertiary Admission Rank, determines student entry into university.
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