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5.36 pm

Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater): I read the Green Paper with interest, but I saw little on special needs training and teaching for children aged 14 to 19. I tried to find out whether there was an audit of special needs teachers and trainers in the United Kingdom, but there does not seem to be; nor could I find out how many teachers are special needs trained. When I talked to people at the Dyslexia Institute, which is by far the largest special needs training body in the country, they said they could stream children aged 5 to 6, but by the time those children become 14—or young adults—they can do little because by then the education system has almost failed them.

I wonder whether the Government would consider the American system. In the 1970s and 1980s, there were reading wars in America, believe it or not, and a debate in Congress on how children would be taught to read from an early age to when they left college at 19. Congress passed the Reading Excellence Act and gave $110 million for 10 years' research into longevity and convergence—in other words, how reading will be affected in future. America is therefore almost at the forefront of special needs teaching in the world.

In the United Kingdom, there has been three years' research into literacy on behalf of all children and there is only enough money to evaluate 250 children. Unfortunately, because of the amount of money given to the researchers, they have had to lower the age from 14—which they wanted to use—to seven and a half.

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The money was given by the Department for Education and Skills, the lottery and, interestingly enough, W. H. Smith. Together, those three bodies gave £500,000 to examine that very complicated and difficult subject. However, as I have said, there is nothing about that in the Green Paper.

I also wonder whether the Minister is aware that the Dyslexia Institute is directly helping children aged 14 to 19 who are on remand or bail. Instead of excluding them from the education system or not allowing them to take part because they have been stigmatised in the eyes of society, the institute is trying to help with their education because a lot of those people have special needs problems. They can then return to mainstream education, so that they can read, write and articulate themselves, as we can, and be given the chance to go forward and get jobs or start apprenticeship schemes. That issue needs to be considered because, again, nothing in the Green Paper addresses it.

I also considered the school census, which I mentioned in a debate two days ago. The Government want to include in the schools census children's names, addresses and postcodes, on which I have a particular view, but I wonder whether there is a chance to include special needs training. If no one keeps such records and considers the issue in the longer term, people will not be able to carry out certain academic research and we will not be privy to it. Surely one way of doing that is to include that information in the schools census, so that education departments, research establishments and other organisations have a chance to evaluate what special needs training those young adults will require, not only now but 10 to 20 years from now.

The legal ramifications are interesting. In America people have taken the American Government to court for failing them in education. Under the convention on human rights that we have enshrined in our legislation, will we have the same problem, at least potentially, whereby we have not developed a child's ability as far as we could because we have failed in special needs? I should be grateful if the Minister would comment on that.

The Minister could consider helping the Dyslexia Institute. It has 360 staff, most of whom are teachers and virtually all part-time on a low wage. It is trying to pioneer distance learning for as many people as possible throughout the United Kingdom. It covers the whole United Kingdom. In that way it can deal with problems without somebody having to get to a certain location, unlike the Learning and Skills Council. People can log on at a library or some further education centre to continue study on, for example, the three Rs. The institute is looking for some help from the Government. I see nothing about this in the Green Paper, yet this is the very age group that needs help now.

A slight problem arises with the devolved countries of Wales and Scotland. The Scottish education system is different from ours and faces a problem getting enough specialists through the system to teach in Scottish schools. The situation in Wales is better because the system is the same as in England. Again, would the Minister look at that?

This country is the undisputed leader in this type of education within Europe. We are leading the way, which is marvellous, but can we keep the momentum? The Dyslexia Institute is exporting its expertise to European countries in an effort to take education forward. An hon.

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Member made an interesting point about language training. Any dyslexic will find English and other languages difficult. If we can encourage other countries to take part in language training, surely it will be of benefit to us all.

Last year the Dyslexia Institute looked at 3,048 young adults and children across 145 outposts and 94 extra outposts to try to make sure that all young people regardless of age have a chance of being seen by a specialist if they feel that they need help. It is also working to look at 7,200 psychological assessments. Special needs covers not just the inability to interface in mainstream schools, but help at other levels. I am not saying that any part of the community is better or worse than another; I am just saying that people need to be assessed at that level. The fact that the institute with the small amount of resources at its disposal is looking at 7,200 people a year shows that there is a problem at this level.

In summary, I ask the Minister to look into this for the future because there are ways to address it. Research has been done in America and is being done here, but it needs a commitment from Government to look ahead. Since 1970 when dyslexia, dyspraxia and other conditions were discovered, all Governments have failed to address the problem through a lack of financial commitment. I ask the Government to give a commitment in the Green Paper or in future legislation that they will provide funding or look into funding, either through county councils, specific educational trusts, universities or other organisations, to help these children as they cannot help themselves. Direct intervention is needed by Parliament to put money into education departments across the United Kingdom. This is a United Kingdom problem; it is not specific to any one area. I hope that the Minister will take those points on board and will not let our children down. In this area we all fail our children.

5.44 pm

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North): I must declare an interest in that I am vice-chair of governors at Luton sixth form college. I have been associated with the college for nearly two decades. It was the first sixth form college, is one of the largest and has a tremendous record of success in educating young people. There is also a first-class college of further education, Barnfield college, in my constituency. We have heard much about further education colleges and their successes. I taught A-levels in various subjects, so I have some experience.

When I was teaching in the 1970s, I noticed that the enormous difference between those studying A-levels and those studying other subjects was one of social class. In our college, we tried to educate A-level students and others, such as day-release students doing manual courses, in the same classes, at least in liberal studies. That is where those social divisions really showed up. Our educational problems have been complicated by social divisions. I am glad to say that they are reducing, but I fear that if we are not careful, those social divisions will re-emerge and become strengthened by the fragmentation of our education system, particularly at secondary level.

I worry about some of the Government's initiatives on specialist schools. The parental choice approach to secondary schools is also causing problems of social class. That will undermine not just the comprehensive system,

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but our success in bringing those who have not achieved so highly up to the standards of which they are capable—standards that we want them to reach.

Widening participation means considering those who are at the bottom end of educational achievement, not those at the top. Fragmenting the system and introducing specialist schools is to do what we have always done: considering the top end, rather than the bottom. Those of us who had the good fortune to go to university and who had a fairly pressured, rigorous secondary education have had all the advantages, and we must ensure that the rest of the population—the two thirds, or three quarters, who never had them—have them in future, especially those in the bottom two or three deciles.

Luton sixth form college has many successes. At the moment, 60 per cent. of its students are from ethnic minorities. Every year, 500 ethnic minority students, mainly from the Asian communities, obtain A-levels and go on, mostly into higher education. In terms of integrating into society people who have come from the far-flung fields of Pakistan and Bangladesh, from the Indian communities and the West Indies, Luton sixth form college is doing a tremendous job at every level. However, it has its problems.

The Sixth Form Colleges Employers' Forum Ltd. recently published a document called "In a Class of their Own". I know that it has been passed on to the Minister, who has kindly written back saying what a good document it is. All hon. Members should get hold of a copy, and I draw attention to the last page, which states that if we doubled the number of sixth form colleges, we would transform education in this country.

The sixth form college is a very efficient way of educating people. Such colleges take students who have lower abilities. The value-added factor for marginal ability students is tremendous in sixth form colleges. That is because they have optimum-sized classes. Very small classes do not work, neither do very large ones. The optimum class size of sixth form colleges really does work. In addition, a variety of teachers teach the same subject. That leads not to competition between the teachers, but to a variety of approaches, which leads to best practice from different teachers. Students who have particular strengths can tune their subjects carefully because they have the maximum possible subject choice owing to the large number of parallel classes. That cannot be done in small school sixth forms.

I went to a small school sixth form, so I know that they do a good job in many ways, but they are limiting. Sixth form colleges provide all the advantages of variety, which helps students to play to their strengths. They will not be tied to particular groups of subjects because that is all that is taught in the school.

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