Ross Duncan Interviews Simon Lydiard

Some people at school can excel immediately and land on their feet but with Simon Lydiard, a new retired senior Civil Servant and an Ambassador for Dyslexia Action, on his first day at school he fell flat on his face.  This was to be the tone throughout his school education.  No matter how hard he tried his efforts were in vain.  “I really did try very hard”.  Eventually in primary school he was referred to an Educational Psychologist.  It was identified that he had high levels of ability but that this wasn’t reflected in his work.  Therefore, support from teachers became inconsistent.

Like many children going through the school system in the 1970s the word dyslexia hadn’t really been heard of and people didn’t know what it meant to be dyslexic.  In Simon’s case this meant that no additional assistance was given or offered.  Support from teachers was inconsistent and, in extreme cases, some teachers were vindictive and humiliating.  This led to a lack of confidence.  Simon wasn’t given the opportunity to sit the grammar school entrance (11 plus).  These attitudes are ingrained in his memory and continue to haunt him today.

Moving into Secondary School, Simon’s struggles continued.  Although he enjoyed reading and writing he was incapable of producing two lines of legible work.  However, this led him to touch typing.  An inspiring head teacher intervened on his behalf by writing a letter to the examination board explaining the situation and asked them to grant permission to allow Simon to type his exams.  The request was turned down.  As a result, Simon only achieved a C pass in English Language O’Level.

Simon passed the Civil Service entrance exam; the Civil Service becoming his career path. He still didn’t know that he was dyslexic.  He was about to sit a promotion board (Grade 7) and an Open University exam but he knew that he would fail both.  He had self-diagnosed but knew he needed a more formal diagnosis to get reasonable adjustments.  This took a long time and much persuasion to convince his HR department to take his request seriously.  In the end he predicted, at best, he would scrape a pass but at worst, fail.  Surprisingly to him, he passed the Civil Service promotion with a very high mark, due to reasonable adjustments being in place.  In the end he got where he wanted to be but the path to promotion was, on occasions, sometimes marred.  On one such occasion a line manager was actively hostile, using his difficulties, identified in a reasonable adjustment report, to mark down his performance.  The only regret Simon had was that he never exposed his manager’s illegal act.

Positively, over time there can be changes in attitudes and working conditions and the Civil Service was no different.  Simon believes that there have been a number of distinctive changes over the years due to better awareness across the broader diversity ranges.  He thinks that disabled people need to make common cause with other under-represented diverse groups.

Ross Duncan

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