|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Some 20 to 30 per cent of offenders have learning difficulties or learning disabilities that interfere with their ability to cope with the criminal justice system. There is a mismatch between literacy demands, offending behaviour programmes and the skill level of offenders. This is rather like the days before the Plain English Campaign had its effect on government publications, when literature was addressed to people with a reading age of 12 or 14 in the language of someone with an adult reading age. It is no good providing help to people in language that they cannot follow. Prisoners with learning difficulties and disabilities are excluded from elements of the prison regime, including opportunities to address their offending behaviourthe one possible approach to redemption and rehabilitation that they have. That may breach the Disability Discrimination Act.
There are legions of these people and they should not be there. A great many of them are there because of failure earlier in their lives, which is why we need to put a system in place in primary and secondary schools that catches them. It is not good enough just to do it at the beginning, because these things can often only be caught later on.
What I have in mind is not altogether clear from the amendment, but the amendment, or something like it, would be central to it. In every school, there should be someone sufficiently qualified to identify those who are at risk of dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, dysgraphia, Aspergers syndrome, attention deficit disorder, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, Meares-Irlen syndrome, or a high level of co-morbidity of two or more of any of those conditions. There should be someone in every school who is able to say, That looks like a possible case. That should discount at least 57 per cent of the school population. The remainder would be referred
17 July 2008 : Column 1442
For that to happen, children have to be assessed at appropriate stages. The stages that I have chosen are before the childa sixth birthday, thereby giving him time to be established in a school and for the teachers to get to know him; in the second year after completion of key stage 1, thereby allowing two years before the next stage, so that the whole programme is not reversed just before the key stage is reached; and in the first year after key stage 2, for the same reason. The way in which this should be done would be prescribed by the Secretary of State. He could say who was to do it and, more importantly, he would prescribe the qualifications necessary to do it.
That brings me to training. The Government have training modules available for awareness of dyslexia and so on, but they are not mandatory. I suggest that there should be a mandatory element of awareness of dyslexia incorporated into initial teacher training programmes. I further suggest that every school inspector should be required to be thoroughly trained in this specialism, so that inspection in this area is properly carried out. I hope that I have made what I intend clear but, if I have not, this is Committee stage and I am very happy to return to my feet. I beg to move.
Baroness Morris of Bolton: I thank my noble friend Lord Elton for shining a spotlight directly on this issue. Noble Lords will know that I have spoken on the matter previously and that I firmly believe, as do many Members of the Committee, that too many children have learning difficulties that go undiagnosed. Such children begin to struggle at school not because they are bad or uninterested but because they are not able to keep up with their peers or with the teaching. It is these children who are at risk of falling so far behind that they simply drop out of the system altogether.
It is essential that learning difficulties are identified as early as possible, so that those who suffer from them can be helped to overcome their problems and so that teaching can be tailored for their more specific needs. The list of learning difficulties specified in the amendment is a helpful indicator of the learning difficulties that can be diagnosed as hindering a childs educational development. My noble friend makes a valid point about initial teacher training. I hope that the Government will give this issue all the attention that it deserves.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: Other noble Lords will know that I have spoken on this issue on many occasions. I have a great deal of sympathy with this amendment. It is important that there is early diagnosis and early treatment. Not long ago, I participated as governor of a small primary school in the permanent exclusion of a nine year-old. It was quite clear from the papers that accompanied the child that he had had difficulties more or less from the moment that he went
17 July 2008 : Column 1443
I can remember that, when we talked about the Every Child A Reader programme, I asked the Minister whether it should be rolled out more widely. He responded by saying, Ah, but it costs £2,000 a child. I pointed out that spending £2,000 per child at the age of six was infinitely better than spending £60,000 at the age of 16. That remains the case. Early diagnosis and support are vital.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, talked about the need for every school to have someone capable of making that assessment. A great deal of work is going on in training a special educational needs co-ordinator in schools and there is a great deal of CPD training for teachers in this area. In the primary school that I talked about, we have a talented SENCO, who has done and continues to do a great deal. Clearly, the amount of support from local authorities varies enormously from one to another and, in particular, there is a great shortage of educational psychologists. It is extremely difficult in some areas to get any consistent support from educational psychologists. Frequently you get one person, then another and then another. To be classed as requiring school action or school action plus, an educational psychologist must be present.
In the school that I am talking about, 25 per cent of pupils are classed with special educational needs. We get visits from educational psychologists two half days a term, which is just not enough. There are needs and a long waiting list of children to see the educational psychologist for assessment. It is vital that sufficient educational psychologists are trained to support the sorts of services that children need.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I very much support what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, and the way in which he set it out. There is a huge cost in not addressing this issue much earlier. The postcode lottery aspect, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, makes it crucial that more thought is given to how much more attention we can give to dealing with and supporting as far as we can young people with these problems. As has been mentioned, a huge percentage of young offenders in prison suffers from these sorts of problems. If anybody thinks that that is not costly, they have another think coming.
I am glad to hear that teacher training is going on in some areas. A worried teachers basic knowledge of when a child needs to be assessed is crucial, but I suggest that there is also a need to have, particularly in larger schools, a governor with training and experience. Training for school governors is not as compulsory as it should be. It takes place in some areas, but by no means all.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: The noble Baroness might like to know that I have been designated the special educational needs governor of my school. I have not found time to attend the detailed training that goes with it, but I felt that the training that I had had in this House by going through various Bills, including the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill, was helpful.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: It is enormously reassuring to know both that the noble Baronesss school has appointed such a local authority person and that, as we know, she is more than well qualified; the school is extremely lucky to have her in that role. I hope that the Minister will give us some further reassurance, as every penny spent in this direction will save money in the long run.
Lord Dearing: We all feel strongly about this big issue in education. I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising it. In support of this amendment, I should say that, yes, to have early diagnosis is immensely valuable, but it must result in the allocation of resources. One knows that local authorities strapped for cash are reluctant to provide the resources required, and one has to be satisfied that the head will use those resources for the purpose for which they are provided; that is, to assist those young people. Perhaps there should be a Bill on this issue in its own right.
Lord Lucas: Is not one of the great lessons from West Dunbartonshire and other experiences that doing such assessments on all children provides knowledge and understanding that will avoid a great deal of expense later and will lead to much more success in the education of children? I am glad to say that a lot of schools take this issue seriously, pick up early on the conditions that children start school with, and take appropriate action. That is a pretty good formula for being a good school. All the needs of all the children are looked after and they are filled with the enthusiasm for learning which they need, particularly when they start secondary school, which can be a bit of a leap for many. It is just good practice, but it has not spread as it should have done. Perhaps that is because the connection between spending money up front and saving it later has been allowed to loosen. Given best practice, it should save us a lot of money, although it involves spending money now rather than waiting until there is a crisis later.
Lord Adonis: The provision of resources in this area has significantly increased in recent years. Planned local authority expenditure on special educational needs has increased from £2.8 billion in 2000-01 to £4.9 billion in 2007-08. Of course, the issue is to see that the money is spent wisely and that it is dedicated to special educational needs once it goes into the general budgets of schools. To ensure that that takes place, we need the eternal vigilance of governors, notably those with particular responsibility for special educational needs, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. The role that she performs on her governing body is essential to ensure that the interests of students with special educational needs are properly safeguarded.
The issue, as ever, is how far we prescribe from the centre, which we need to keep under review. Elsewhere in our debates we are criticised for unduly prescribing to local authorities, let alone to schools, what they should do. Having earmarked this funding and seen that it is provided to local authorities, and making the requirements that we do in terms of the duties on governing bodies, we depend on them to take their responsibilities with the seriousness that I know the
17 July 2008 : Column 1445
As Minister with responsibility for special educational needs, I completely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on the importance of early identification and intervention. All maintained schools have an ongoing statutory duty to identify and make suitable provision for children with special educational needs. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, the special educational needs code of practice highlights early identification and intervention as an important feature of effective provision for SEN.
We are promoting greater awareness and improved confidence in recognising and addressing childrens special educational needs through our inclusion development programme. The first phase of that, which is a systematic programme of training for teachers, includes resource materials for early education providers, schools and initial teacher training institutions on dyslexia and speech, language and communications needs. Subsequent phases will produce similar materials for autism and behavioural, emotional and social difficulties.
Lord Adonis: The inclusion development programme is voluntary. However, we are introducing new units into initial teacher training in respect of the undergraduate course followed by a large proportion of primary teachers. Of course, it is at the primary level particularly that early identification is needed. Those units within the undergraduate teacher training course have been piloted successfully. A few weeks ago I attended a launch event with all undergraduate providers of teacher training courses to make those units available to them and strongly to urge that all providers include them within their undergraduate courses. I did so alongside Sir Jackie Stewart, a tireless champion of improvements in teacher training in this area. He made an impassioned case for all providers to ensure that they embed these units within their courses.
I have not made them mandatory because, again, I am anxious not to over-prescribe, in this case, what university education departments should do. However, we could not have done more to urge upon the undergraduate providers of teacher training courses the importance of the new units and the great difference that they can make to the ability of primary school teachers to meet the special educational needs of their
17 July 2008 : Column 1446
However, we have gone that stage further in mandatory training for special educational needs co-ordinators in schools, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, referred. Every school must have a special educational needs co-ordinator. We reviewed the position of SENCOs long and hard and we decided two years ago that we would make their training mandatory and accredited nationally. We are in the process of introducing that training and discussing with the teacher associations how we can do so in a way that meets the needs of SENCOs and leads to a significant improvement in the competence with which they carry out their functions.
We are prepared to consider mandatory measures where we believe they are critical to improvements in schools. No one is more important to the overall provision of special educational needs services in a school than a SENCO. It is essential that there is one senior teacher who has a thorough grasp of the schools responsibilities in this area, and that is why we have taken the step of requiring mandatory training for SENCOs.
The Childrens Plan, which we published last December, announced funding of £18 million further to improve school workforce knowledge, skills and understanding of special educational needs through initial teacher training and continuing professional development. That £18 million is funding, among others, the developments that I outlined to the Committee a moment ago.
Furthermore, in May this year, the Government asked Jim Rose, who conducted the 2005 review of the teaching of reading in primary schools, to make further recommendations on the identification and teaching of children with dyslexia. We expect to receive Sir Jims recommendations early next year. He will look in particular at the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, as to the provision of more specialist teachers able to carry out functions, including assessments. He will take account of developments since 2005, including the Every Child a Reader programme referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, which we introduced in conjunction with KPMG. It is a great example of the Government working in partnership with charitable and other agencies to bring about change.
Latest evaluations show that over 86 per cent of children who received reading recovery in year 1 went on to meet national expectations in reading at the end of key stage 1 in comparison to 84 per cent nationally. This is very welcome news. Reading recovery is an intervention programme targeted at five and six year-olds who are experiencing difficulty with learning to read; we are significantly expanding it over the next three
17 July 2008 : Column 1447
Lord Elton: I am most grateful to all who have taken part in this debate, particularly the Minister, who has again proved that his heart is in the right place. We just need to make sure that his pocket is full enough. I know that Governments want swift returns for investment, and this is the great difficulty in doing anything to reduce offending or improve employability, because what you do for the child of five is a reward to the state when the child becomes an adult. The Minister can comfort himself with not only KPMGs figures but also the Princes Trusts figures. It reports that £70 million is lost to the economy per week due to educational underachievement in terms of productivity resulting in foregone income. The amounts of money to be saved are enormous. As I said to start with, we are looking at a great pool of potential unrealised and talent unqualified. I conclude by saying:
If anything motivates me in politics its this. When I see potential unrealised, and talent unfulfilled, and opportunity denied, thats where weve got to be and its the right economic future as well as the right way of dealing with opportunity in our society.
I am quoting the Prime Minister, George Brown, in a speech made in May 2008. We are all on the same side
17 July 2008 : Column 1448
Lord Elton: My biggest comeuppance in politics was when I was standing in Loughborough and, thinking I had done frightfully well, asked the person who had driven my most distant supporter, an old lady on the edge of Bosworth constituency, whether she had said why she voted Conservative. He said, She said that George Brown is such a nice gentleman, you have to vote Tory. It made me realise that I had been wasting my time. I will not waste your Lordships time. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|