Ross Duncan Interviews Mike Penning

In the past at school, there have been many people in the unfortunate position where their dyslexia had not been diagnosed.  There have been many written commentaries about this, identifying more of the negatives rather than positives about what can happen when people leave school without being correctly diagnosed or inadequately supported which ill-equips people whenever deciding to leave school.

When the Rt. Hon Mike penning MP was appointed Minister of State for Disabled People (2013-14) he admitted that he was “probably” the very first dyslexic person to hold this position.  Even though he was appointed by the Prime Minister, and felt he had been open and honest about his dyslexia, he does think dyslexia helped him in the role and passionately believes that it’s an advantage and part of his character.  He was convinced at the time that even David Cameron had “no idea” about his newly appointed Minister being dyslexic and therefore didn’t think it necessary for him to know.  His desire is that his example would encourage more people to come forward regardless their conditions.  He firmly believes that it’s something not to hid.

At school in the 60s, Mike said dyslexia was never heard of and it was something that wasn’t “really understood”.  It meant there was no help provided and he subsequently found school a “challenge”.  He politely describes himself as being “disruptive” and agrees about the importance of early diagnosis and testing.  It wasn’t till he left school at the age of 16 and joined the army that he realised that many others joining came from disruptive and difficult relationships at home.  His struggles, however, were different; his related to school.

Within 3 months of joining up he was told that he was ‘likely to be dyslexic’.  This was something he had never heard of before.  He gives full credit to the army for being so helpful, particularly in identifying a young Captain for the way he put him on the right path for future success.  By the time he left the army and joined the Fire Service he had no issues with his dyslexia as the army had by now equipped him to adapt to situations like this and he has used this experience ever since.

Although he believes that people deserve to live their dreams and have aspirations regardless of disability or learning difficulties, he could never realise that his own dreams would come true when he eventually left the fire service.  By writing a letter to a “fantastic Scotsman”, a former Conservative MP called Sir Teddy Taylor, his life was transformed.  It helped him on the way to becoming involved with politics.  In 2005, this once “disruptive” schoolboy became an MP.

Although no longer Minister of State for Disabled People he still retains an interest in learning difficulties and those conditions that are often described as invisible.  He believes as a society that we need to continue to mature in making things more equal so that people can live their dreams.   He feels privileged that he has had the opportunity to prove that dreams really come true.

Ross Duncan

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