Schools: Dyslexia — Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:22 pm on 7th March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat 3:22 pm, 7th March 2012

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to ensure that there is adequate diagnostic testing for children with dyslexia in primary schools.

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, early identification of literacy difficulties, including dyslexia, relies on the regular monitoring of children's progress. We are investing in specialist dyslexia support for teachers, including initial teacher training, to help identify dyslexic pupils earlier. The new year one phonics screening check to be introduced this June will identify children who have not acquired phonic skills to the expected standard and help flag up those who may have additional needs, including dyslexia, and who would benefit from further support.

Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat

I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. As he rightly says, early identification of children with dyslexia is hugely important. However, he will be equally aware that very few primary teachers are qualified to carry out diagnostic testing, so that when referrals take place, they take a long time to sort out. Will he consider including as part of initial primary training a unit of training that is linked to the diagnostic assessment of dyslexia?

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I agree with my noble friend about the importance of teacher training in order to address these issues and he is quite right to say that we need to make sure that there are teachers with those skills in primary schools. The new standards we are setting for QTS include an emphasis on the ability to teach a range of special needs not specifically around dyslexia. I understand the particular point he makes, but so far we have opted to take a broader approach and then support teachers with improved materials and networks of either teaching schools or charities. However, I take his point about the importance of making sure that primary schools have the skills that they need.

Photo of Baroness Morgan of Ely Baroness Morgan of Ely Labour

Is the Minister aware that, in order to diagnose dyslexia, very often parents are asked to pay privately for that diagnostic testing to take place at a cost of £500? That is way beyond the means of many individual parents. We are therefore creating a two-tier system for those people who are able to afford that diagnostic testing and go privately, because it is not being done in many of our primary schools at the moment.

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

One of the issues that underlies this is the question of what diagnostic test is appropriate. One point that came out of the Rose review is that it did not recommend a specific diagnostic text because there are differences of opinion about which is the most effective. In terms of the support that is available, that review talked about a tiered approach to identify children with dyslexia and give them the support they need-through the SENCO and then other support that might be possible. I understand the noble Baroness's basic point about funding. The funding that we have put into special needs and central support through local authorities is still in place, but I understand the point that the noble Baroness makes.

Photo of Lord Walton of Detchant Lord Walton of Detchant Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister agree that dyslexia is just one of a group of specific learning difficulties which include, for example, dyspraxia, which is loosely defined as very serious clumsiness, and dyscalculia, which is difficulty in calculating? These are often misconstrued by teachers as representing global handicap whereas the individuals in question are often in other respects highly intelligent. What is the availability now of people with adequate qualifications in educational psychology who are likely to help in identifying early the affected individuals so that appropriate remedial measures can be adopted?

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I agree with the noble Lord that there is a range of conditions, and he listed some. The basic approach in trying to identify them early and put support in place applies to those as it does to dyslexia. The Government have put funding in place to recruit and train 120 additional educational psychologists, which I think is the number that local authorities recognised that they needed as things stand. I hope that that is part of an answer, but I agree with the noble Lord that it is important that the training talked about by my noble friend Lord Storey and early identification extends to all those specific learning difficulties.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Alloway Lord Campbell of Alloway Conservative

Is my noble friend aware that this is a very serious problem that arose more than 30 years ago as reported in the Law Reports? It has been raised in this House on more than one occasion over those 30 years and nothing has been done about it by any Government.

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I agree with my noble friend that this is an important issue that goes back a long way, but I have to disagree with him that no Governments have ever done anything. Recent figures that I have seen show that the improvement in educational attainment between 2006 and 2011 for children with specific learning difficulties, while much lower than we would like, doubled over that five-year period. Therefore, I do not think it is fair to say that previous Governments have not done anything. It is also fair to say that this Government share the determination of the previous Government to try to do whatever we can to address this issue.

Photo of Baroness Hughes of Stretford Baroness Hughes of Stretford Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, many local authorities, as the Minister will know, have also taken the initiative and promoted dyslexia specialist primary schools in their areas as a base for teacher training and to disseminate best practice in other schools. But the Government are now forcing hundreds of primary schools to become academies, independent of the local authority and separate from other local schools. Does the Minister really think that that is compatible with the kind of local co-operation that we have all agreed here today is necessary to improve provision for young children with dyslexia and other special educational needs?

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I certainly agree with that last point about the need for co-operation. Where I probably take issue with the noble Baroness is around her premise that academies working together in chains are not able to work together and share in a collegiate way just as all other schools have been doing for a long time. We are seeing that kind of working together emerging through academy chains and clusters and through teaching schools. That is the way forward.