Education and Society - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:02 pm on 8th December 2017.

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Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat 1:02 pm, 8th December 2017

My Lords, I thank the most reverend Prelate the Archbishop of Canterbury for opening this debate. He compared himself to the John Lewis advert, being looked forward to. Let us rather say that he is very much looked forward to here—maybe a wider audience should know about this and more people should tune in. He started off by talking about having a big picture and a vision, which is important. Other noble Lords have described their visions, which have agreed or disagreed with his, but mainly they have overlapped—we have a grand vision or strategy for education.

I will concentrate on a few practical issues which relate to specific groups. Many noble Lords will have guessed that I will talk about dyslexia and special educational needs, and I refer the House to my interests in these fields. With this large group, if you get it wrong, the following chain of events—the rest of your commands, and so on—do not work. I will start by asking a couple of questions that I have warned the Minister I would ask.

How are we doing on making sure that our teaching profession is better prepared to handle these diverse groups? They have different learning patterns, which means that when they get into the classroom, the efficient, established, traditional ways of teaching the mainstream do not work for them. About 10% are dyslexics, and then you have co-occurrence—comorbidity is the official term—with other groups such as dyspraxics, which is due to poor muscle control. Do teachers know how to tell if somebody cannot spell something correctly because they cannot hold the pen any longer or do not understand what the symbols mean? That is a skill that is very difficult to establish. When it comes to dyscalculia, does somebody not understand the maths in front of them because they cannot remember the equation? Is it dyslexia, or is it someone with dyscalculia who does not understand the concept of numbers? You are asking a lot of somebody there.

Changes in education were announced in A Framework of Core Content for Initial Teacher Training, published last year. It is rather a dry document but, importantly, it contains a commitment to people gaining better knowledge in this training. How far has that been developed? How far has it become ingrained? How far is it going? If we relied on initial teacher training, we would have a properly educated teaching workforce within roughly two decades. The noble Lord, Lord Bird, who is no longer in his place, made a very important point. He said that failure is incredibly expensive at all levels. People are failed not only in the school system but in the job market through unemployment. How are we driving this important training, and what is happening with continuing professional development to back up that initial teacher training? That is important because, without it, you will not enable people to benefit from any type of education.

Moving on through the educational process to further education, we have an interesting situation with apprenticeships. I have form when it comes to apprenticeships and dyslexia. Many people here will be wincing and saying, “Not that again”—my noble friend laughs, and well she might. After many years, the law of unintended consequences came in in 2009 with the apprenticeships Bill, which said that everybody should have English and maths qualifications. At the time, I asked, “Are you going to make every dyslexic pass an English paper?”. The reply was, “Of course we won’t”, but when the Bill was enacted, that is exactly what happened and people failed.

It was not until 2014 that that changed with the introduction of the Children and Families Act. Noble Lords may well ask why I am raising that again. I am doing so because the new guidelines for apprenticeships say that only those with an education, health and care plan or the old statement will get help. Returning to what I said at the beginning, it is an established fact within the education system that most people with a hidden educational problem such as dyslexia, dyspraxia or ADHD—you name it—are not considered sufficiently in need of a plan or statement. The vast majority in this group will not be covered, so once again failure has been guaranteed. The cock-up school of history comes to mind. Is something else going to be brought in which means there will be no help?

It is not just a case of working harder; your brain is differently constructed—the neurones do not connect together. You can improve the problem but you will never remove it. Schools resist having a high level of identification because it affects their budgets, and generally middle-class parents—the tiger parents—tear through and get the problem identified. We are guaranteeing that the groups with the lowest levels of attainment and the highest levels of failure will, again, be further punished. That cannot be right. Can the Minister give me an assurance that the Government will address the need for better forms of identification of problems that affect the general population? Clearly, further education and mainstream schooling are not talking to each other. I do not know which is breaking the Equality Act most, but they are definitely doing it. There are people with problems that are not being addressed.

I could go on to one or two of the problems in higher education, but I have run out of time and there is a question coming up next Thursday; I believe seats are still available. Will the Minister assure me that the problem with apprenticeships will be addressed? If he cannot we will go back to square 1—or maybe not square 1, but at most 1A.