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House of Lords

Tuesday, 29th April 2003.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Truro.

Dyslexic Learners

Lord Addington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made by the Adult Basic Skills Strategy Unit in ensuring that the appropriate assessment processes and materials for dyslexic learners are being commissioned to allow access to the core curricula for literacy and numeracy, as stated in Skills for Life.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, Skills for Life is the national strategy for improving adult literacy and numeracy. The Adult Basic Skills Strategy Unit is responsible for delivering the strategy. Learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, including specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia, are a priority group for the Skills for Life strategy. In order to improve the quality of teaching and learning for dyslexic adults, the unit has commissioned diagnostic assessment materials and learning materials guidance to improve access to the core curricula for literacy and numeracy skills.

Lord Addington: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer. Is she aware that I have had passed on to me by the British Dyslexia Association an example of one of the people who operate the helpline saying that the courses provided were not for dyslexics but for those who had missed schooling through ill health or for similar reasons? The effect of one such comment was compounded by an operator saying, "You do not need to worry about it anyway. My wife is dyslexic and runs her own business". Will the Minister assure me that that level of ignorance among the operators of the helpline will be dealt with forthwith? What process is in place to ensure that it does not happen in future?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am very disappointed to hear that example. The British Dyslexia Association is part of the reference group that supports us in our work. As the noble Lord is aware, the purpose of the strategy is to ensure that we assess, diagnose and work alongside dyslexic people, enabling them to be supported as they develop their skills. I shall investigate the particular incident, if the noble Lord will pass on the details. I share his dismay.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I understand that representation has been made to the department about the difficulty of taking up to five AS-levels on one day. The example discussed in this Chamber was 23rd May.

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Dyslexic pupils have particular difficulty in that they need assistance while sitting AS-levels. Taking five subjects in one day physically cannot be managed. It means that dyslexic pupils will be exempt from a normal part of the examination process.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, that is slightly different from the adult basic skills strategy. I heard about that case over lunchtime. I have asked for a written submission in order to ensure that we can deal with the query. In supporting dyslexic children, we ensure that they have additional time to take examinations. If, as the noble Baroness points out, what was proposed in the course of one day was impossible, it would need to be investigated.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, with reference to the core curriculum, is there still a serious dearth of dyslexic teachers?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I gather that the noble Lord refers to teachers who can support those with dyslexia or dyscalculia. I did not mean to raise a laugh; I was trying to be clear. It is important that those who have dyslexia can become teachers.

We are trying to ensure that in education broadly, and in the adult basic skills strategy in particular—the basis of the original Question—all teachers can diagnose and support dyslexic children. We endeavour to do that by working closely with the Dyslexia Institute and the British Dyslexia Association, in particular in the earlier part of education, to ensure that materials are available in schools, and that teachers' training enables them to support children.

One of the most interesting pieces of research that I have seen recently in this area demonstrates the absolutely critical importance of parental involvement. Students who are supported by parents working with them progress more quickly.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, the original Question asked whether processes and materials were available for dyslexic learners. Can the Minister tell us more about adults, particularly those involved in the Skills for Life exercise, who failed to learn basic reading and writing skills, often because they had dyslexia that was not recognised? Are materials available to them under the programme to enable them to pick up skills at a later stage?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, it is nice to return to the original Question. In May this year we will publish the diagnostic assessment materials. They are specifically designed to identify adults who may have dyslexia. There are many different reasons—a factor to which the noble Baroness alluded—which explain why adults do not have the literacy and numeracy skills we wish them to have. I understand that an estimated 7 million adults do not have the literacy skills of the average 11 year-old. Many different reasons can prevent their acquiring them, including other forms of learning difficulty or other specific disability. In addition, for various reasons, some adults simply have

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not received from the education system the skills they need. It is very clear that we want to ensure that those involved have the diagnostic skills.

We are also producing guidance on how to ensure that the Skills for Life materials are more accessible to adult learners and how to recognise learners who have dyslexia or dyscalculia. Materials are available. I planned to send the noble Lord, Lord Addington, a set; I shall also send them to the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Blatch.

Baroness Warnock: My Lords, as president of the British Dyslexia Association, I am particularly anxious for the Minister to reassure the House that the materials will be available to prisoners, many of whom are diagnosed as dyslexic.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, we estimate that 80 per cent of prisoners have poor writing skills, 50 per cent have reading difficulty and 65 per cent have number difficulty. Indeed, the materials will be available. We are working very closely with the Prisoners Learning and Skills Unit. It is represented on the dyslexia reference group and we are represented equally on the Prisoners Learning and Skills Unit looking at special educational needs.

All the courses are available to teachers in the full range of settings, including the Prison Service.

Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative

2.43 p.m.

Baroness Whitaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What they hope to achieve for their extractive industries transparency initiative at the G8 summit in Evian in June.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos): My Lords, we hope that G8 will endorse action on reporting of revenues and payments in the extractive industries under a voluntary compact being promoted within the initiative as part of a wider agenda on transparency and corruption. G8 endorsement would strengthen the commitment of stakeholders to the principles underlying the initiative and encourage governments and companies to come on board.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that positive Answer and I congratulate her on her work on the initiative. Does she agree with me, I wonder, that, although this is a relatively narrow and focused initiative, it can have a most powerful impact on enabling political stability and attracting foreign direct investment to developing countries?

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But initiatives need exemplars to show the way. Can my noble friend say what progress is being made to identify pilot governments who will stick their heads above the parapet and take part; such as, perhaps, Botswana or Azerbaijan?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, first, I should like to thank my noble friend for her comments about my own role. I entirely agree with my noble friend that, although this is a very focused initiative, it is one that could have considerable impact, not least because it would mean that the citizens in the countries that were making these payments transparent would then have an opportunity to hold their governments accountable.

We are holding a seminar in June. There was one in February. A number of governments, companies and NGOs were involved in that seminar. A number of countries have expressed interest in being pilot countries. At this stage I am unable to tell my noble friend which those countries are; we are still at the discussion stage. But once we have agreement, which may be in June, I shall be happy to write in further detail to my noble friend.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, will the noble Baroness please explain in plain English what the extractive industries transparency initative means?

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