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Queen’s Speech - Debate (6th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:59 pm on 22nd October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat 6:59 pm, 22nd October 2019

My Lords, before I make my remarks it would be appropriate—given what they will be—to remind the House of my declared interests and the fact that I am dyslexic.

I wish to address the subject of how people from neurodiverse groups and those with other disabilities get through exams, given that, in the new culture, they must have good spelling, punctuation and grammar. We have got to the nub of it quickly. This new culture is here: people must all have these largely technical skills, even if they have a brain like mine. I have a bad short-term memory and bad language-processing ability, which means that I acquire these skills slowly.

This is most manifest in the apprenticeship system, or the new T-level system that it is threatened will follow it. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, who has said that she will write to me to confirm this. This puts pressure on the people I have mentioned. From the information I have picked up, at the entrance-level requirement—which you must pass to get the qualification—between 30% and 40% of the marks will be removed if you use assistive technology that allows you to take the rest of the exam.

Once you have a job and the qualification, assistive technology will be provided through Access to Work. You will be provided with it if you are going to university with a disabled students’ allowance, but you will not get any marks for it if you happen to be doing an apprenticeship.

Many noble Lords will be thinking, “Why is he going on about this again? Didn’t we deal with it all those years ago in Children and Families Act?” The noble Baroness laughs, which is probably appropriate. We went through it all once because of the idea that you had to pass English to get through exams to become a carpenter or a hairdresser. Hairdressing was the first occupation that drew me to this issue because someone who had won a national prize was failing their apprenticeship because they could not pass the English test.

On 7 January 2014, the noble Lord, Lord Nash, said that,

“we will include new text in the skills funding statement to remind education and training providers of their duty to support young people with learning difficulties or disabilities and of their responsibility for providing reasonable adjustments, including the use of assistive technology where appropriate”.—[Official Report, 7/1/14; col. 1474.]

Which is true? Is it this new obsession with making sure that you can spell properly, even though you have a disability that says you cannot?

Let us go a little wider. If you have a visual impairment and depend on similar types of technology, differently formatted, or if you are dyspraxic—another big group; between the two, that covers 15% to 20% of the population —which of those commitments is dominant?

All those in this House involved in education are on the Front Bench at the moment. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackwood, will be justified in asking for support from them—I appreciate that that is the situation—but how are we are going to deal with this issue? I do not want to spend another three years boring this House senseless trying to get another solution to this problem. Something has gone wrong. Can the Government give us an assurance that they will put it right—and as soon as possible?