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Schoolchildren: Dyslexia and Neurodiverse Conditions - Question for Short Debate

– in the House of Lords at 7:47 pm on 4th March 2020.

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Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat 7:47 pm, 4th March 2020

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the problems of and possible solutions for children in the school system with dyslexia and other neurodiverse conditions.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank everybody who has put their name down to speak in this debate. I should probably declare my interests, which I am afraid are slightly legion in this case: I am dyslexic; I am president of the British Dyslexia Association; and I am chairman of Microlink PC, which is an assistive technology company—there are probably a couple of other things, but I think we have the gist of it.

Why did I table this debate? It is because, at the moment, special educational needs are in trouble. It is a very good concept; many Governments have said over a long period of time that we will stop allowing X percentage—say 20% or 25%—of our pupils to be written off, which historically had happened. But we are now saying they shall be educated—great—and we have a legislative structure that says they shall be provided with help, and we have got ourselves into a position that is probably a classic case of the road to hell being paved with good intentions, where we are letting down people who are trying to fulfil all this.

Before we go any further on this, I apologise for starting with dyslexia; I realise it ain’t the only show in town. Autism, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, ADHD are all there, but dyslexia is the one I know best, the one I had the best briefing on, and the one I am least likely to make a mistake on.

The British Dyslexia Association reckons that 80% of those on the spectrum—and it is a spectrum—are unidentified by the time they leave school. We are only touching the edges. Most of those with most of the problems are probably not the most severe—those with the Belisha beacon that says, “There is a problem here, so come to it”; it is those at the edges, the people who are just underachieving, just failing. This is probably the group where we should put much more attention, because these people often do not get spotted, do not get assistance and either fail or, more likely, very much underachieve.

We have had descriptions of the issue, and as always the Library’s briefing captures it when it quotes a House of Commons Education Committee report, published last year, describing the system as,

“‘badly hampered by poor administration’ and a ‘challenging funding environment’ … The Local Government Association has stated that the current system is at a ‘tipping point’, as demand for SEN services has risen much faster than funding has been made available.”

We have real problems here. Why do we have problems? The fact is that somebody who is dyslexic, dyspraxic or whatever it is gets placed in a classroom that is designed for the other groups. If you are dyslexic, you are usually taught most of your subjects via a whiteboard or with somebody repeating dictation. You are expected to acquire the language quickly enough to be able to process it in that way. If you are dyspraxic, you are not writing it down quickly enough. If you have an attention deficit disorder, you cannot concentrate for that period of time. If you have autism, there may be a fundamental gap between what is being asked of you and how you understand it. Every one of these processes means that that challenging classroom situation becomes, for you, something that is either much more difficult to overcome or actually impossible.

What is the natural reaction to this of any pupil in that place? It is survival, is it not? To take dyslexia again, the classic reaction is either to disappear in the middle of the class—become invisible as much as you can—or disrupt it. Both are perfectly natural reactions. You have got rid of the pressure on you; you are fine. The fact that you are not being taught is something that will catch up with you in later life, but at the time, if you are eight or nine years old, you cannot deal with what is going on so you will take a survival method.

What happens to the teacher? The teacher does not know what to do, because they are not trained; it is as simple that. They are not trained to spot or to give support. If we cannot train everybody to be an expert in all these subjects, we can certainly make them slightly better at spotting problems. What we must do is quite simply bring the expertise into the school system. It will cost about £4,000 to get a level 7 qualified dyslexia teacher trained up, and it will be roughly similar, I am told, for the other major disability groups—and these are disabilities, I feel. You are supposed to get £6,000 spent on you by a school when you start. The first £6,000 comes out. Whatever happens, it is not expensive to get some structure in there. If we put extra units and extra response capacity into initial teacher training, we will probably save time and money in the long term and probably in the medium term.

Let us not forget that, the last time I looked, more than £80 million is spent on appeals to get an education, health and care plan. It has become a solution for some 3% of the school system. It was never designed to be that. The response I got, rather manfully, from the Government Front Bench in the past was, “Oh, but the Government do not lose all these cases.” No: it is only about 87%. Autism is greatly overrepresented in this process. Something is wrong here. Unless we get more support into the classroom and stop having to go back to local authorities, which are under budgetary pressure, again we have a problem. The school has a problem here. We need another approach.

The Government have said they will spend £500 million, I think—I forget the exact figure—on high-needs cases. What is a high-needs case? Is it the people who are already spotted, or is it those people who have had a moderate problem that could have been dealt with but has become worse? In the case of dyslexia, they say, “We will not come in and help you unless you have been failing for three years.” Let us take a moderate problem and make it that much worse, that much more difficult to deal with.

Let us also remember that, with a whole-school approach, we can look wider than the classroom. I have met people who have said, “Did you know you can get autistic people to do games?” Apparently, a lot of autistic people like cricket: nice function, nice individual team game. Apparently, they are good strikers in football, better than midfield generals. It is possibly understandable. These things go on. A PE teacher might be better at understanding dyspraxia. It was a great revelation to me—I should have known this, but I did not—that many people with dyspraxia have terrible trouble getting fit and staying fit. When you think about muscle memory, it probably becomes slightly more understandable. So let us look outside the classroom as well, because for some groups PE or playtime will become a response; a place to hide and get some relief. For others, it becomes worse.

Finally, one thing that hits all these groups, and probably hits dyslexics worst, is the marking of spelling, punctuation and grammar. You can lose 5% in English language, history, geography and religious studies, I think it is. That may not sound that big a thing, but I put it like this: at the top end of the problem, you are not going to get a 9 in a 1 to 9 grading if you lose 5% if you use dictation or computer-operated systems. I use computer-operated systems all the time. For English, you can lose 20%. It is said that if you spell out every word, you will not lose it for spelling. If you are dyslexic and using a computer-operated system, you cannot; it is almost impossible. The fact that the fine-detail memory or short-term memory of someone within the dyslexia spectrum is not good means that they are not going to take on the arbitrary rules of grammar and punctuation—and they are fairly arbitrary —and they will be marked down. And English, where you can lose 20%, is a gateway subject. If you do not get English, you cannot do X or Y afterwards. Noble Lords who think that that is bad should look at the functional skills problems in further education.

There are many problems here. I finish with a final anecdote, which the Minister’s office has certainly seen. There are skills that you could mark when you are using assistive technology. For instance, when the Minister’s office wrote to me asking what I was going to be talking about, I sent back a message. I meant to say, “The principal thrust of what I am going to say”, but apparently what came through was, “The printable thrust of what I am going to say.” Possibly that is a skill for not reading backwards. You could remark and put them down, but that is one you should get right. Will the Government give us their ideas about this? They are talking about increasing use of the technology going through the process—it is in one of the responses I have with me, I think it is from Michelle Donelan. You have something you can mark that people can achieve. Please, can we look at this and become slightly more realistic about the support that can be given?

Photo of Lord Touhig Lord Touhig Labour 7:57 pm, 4th March 2020

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for securing this debate and introducing it with knowledge and passion. Maya Angelou once said that we must

“teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.”

This debate is about including all children in education and ensuring our schools are proud of their diversity. My focus is on the positive impact that comes with providing a good education for every child.

I start by considering the problems children face in schools at the moment. Every day, autistic school children must contend with sensory challenges, social communication problems and a lack of routine. Looking at the bigger picture, I ask whether our education system is willing to teach or even capable of teaching autistic children at all. Why do I say that? A National Audit Office study in 2017 found that SEND pupils accounted for 45% of all permanent school exclusions and 43% of fixed-term exclusions, despite accounting for only 15% of pupils. This is not to mention unofficial “soft” exclusions, whereby parents are asked to take their children home for a “cooling off period”. In 2017, Ofsted found an “alarming number” of these, despite unofficial exclusions being unlawful. In 2017, 12% of inquiries at the National Autistic Society’s schools exclusion service related to informal exclusion. A survey carried out by the society and the All-Party Group on Autism found that one in four parents said that their child had been “informally” excluded at least once from school in the previous year.

In 2018, the Fischer Family Trust found that there were 7,700 more children “missing” from schools in England than the government figures revealed. What is being done to find these missing pupils and crack down on these illegal exclusions? The problem is also linked to the ongoing scourge of off-rolling—the practice of removing a pupil from the school roll without using a permanent exclusion. It is aimed at serving the best interests of the school, rather than that of the pupil. Ofsted found that off-rolling is more likely to happen to children who have special educational needs. Can the Minister say how this is being combated?

We should look for solutions first, and acknowledge that off-rolling can come from underfunding and school competition. Ofsted should crack down on schools that off-roll pupils and thereby deny them the education they deserve. It would also be worth reviewing school league tables and the role that competition plays in schools wanting to offload pupils who have worse results. We should encourage our schools to value all their pupils; the variety of ideas and talents that are brought from the neurodiverse community is so important. We must consider the role that school league tables play in promoting anti-neurodiverse practices in schools in favour of the superficial facade of good results. Do the Government intend to review school league tables?

Underfunded training and fewer resources to support children with special educational needs is another factor. While the number of children identified as having the greatest need rose by 10% between 2013 and 2018, funding for pupils dropped by 2.6% in real terms. The Government announced £700 million for special educational needs this year, but nothing in the following years. Why? Can the Minister explain that?

Finally, the benefits of ensuring children with special educational needs are in school are evident to all of us. Studies show that inclusive learning is beneficial to all students, not just those with special educational needs. Children with special educational needs have fewer absences, develop stronger skills in reading and maths, and their peers are more comfortable and tolerant, increasing self-esteem and encouraging diverse and caring friendships.

We are right to discuss this problem this evening. Children with special educational needs deserve to be, and are right to be, in school. First and foremost, we must ensure that they can be there in the first place. The beauty and strength of diversity that comes with ensuring every child attends school will improve the learning skills of all our children, ensure that they have a well-rounded education and contribute to the more inclusive society which we all want in our country.

Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 8:02 pm, 4th March 2020

My Lords, all those in our school system who seek to provide better assistance and support to children with dyslexia and neurodiverse conditions have no more determined and effective champion in this House than the noble Lord, Lord Addington. He deserves strong support across the House this evening. The current system is, indeed, in trouble, as he said at the outset.

A government review is in prospect. Announced last September, further details about it are eagerly awaited, as my noble friend who will be replying to this debate will be well aware. The review will need to be conducted thoroughly and swiftly, leading to clear recommendations for improvement. Sadly, these are not always features of government inquiries. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, and his supporters across the House will need to keep a sharp eye on this.

The all-party Commons Select Committee on Education, in its report last year on special educational needs and disabilities, found that

“the 2014 reforms have resulted in confusion and at times unlawful practice, bureaucratic nightmares, buck-passing and a lack of accountability, strained resources and adversarial experiences”.

This is a formidable catalogue of woe. It is up to the Government, through their review, to set the scene at last for the success we all want to see in the reformed system, created amid such high hopes in 2014.

I declare my interest as president of the Independent Schools Association, which works on behalf of nearly 550 smaller, less well-known schools in the independent sector, whose good work attracts little attention in the media. I wish that commentators and education pundits would look more closely at them. They would get a more accurate understanding of what the independent sector as a whole is really like today. Many of the association’s schools are giving very effective help and support to the kind of children who are at the forefront of our thoughts in this debate.

One school in particular always leaps to my mind when dyslexia is under discussion: Maple Hayes Hall School, near Lichfield. It is known to the noble Lord, Lord Storey. It achieves magnificent results year after year for the 100 or so pupils with severe dyslexia that it can accommodate. Ofsted rates it as outstanding. What is the secret of its success? The joint heads, Dr Neville Brown and his son Dr Daryl Brown, explain:

“Pupils who come to us have had great difficulty in learning their letter sounds, in splitting up the oral word into syllables and the syllables into their component sounds or ‘phenomes’, and in getting these sounds and their letters in the right order when spelling words. The dyslexic child has extreme difficulties in learning to read and write by phonics. We specialise in teaching methods which lead away from a dyslexic’s area of weakness and build on their strengths with a range of targeted teaching strategies which do not involve phonics or multi-sensory methods. A good all-round education follows.”

These world-leading experts are now working on a phenome dictionary, which will be the first of its kind in the world. What is truly tragic is the time they have to spend battling with local authorities which seek to obstruct families with EHC plans exercising their right to choose a place at the school. The government review must address not only the inadequate funding of the system as a whole but the bias of some local authorities which want to keep money away from schools such as Maple Hayes, despite the outstanding results achieved.

It is interesting to note that at Maple Hayes the emphasis is on moving away from a child’s weakness and building on their strengths. That is at the heart of the approach advocated by leading authorities on neurodiversity. An American expert, Dr Thomas Armstrong, said in 2017:

“Special education needs to change … For too long it’s been weighed down by a history emphasising deficit, disorder, and dysfunction … the role of the neurodiversity-oriented special educator” should be

“one of creating environments within which neurodiverse students can thrive.”

Some very useful comments were made by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, as to how a more positive approach could be achieved.

In this debate, we are all conscious primarily that the existing system is far from fulfilling the hopes with which it was introduced in 2014. But is there, perhaps, a deeper problem arising from the deficit model that the system incorporates? That, I think, is a question worth careful consideration.

Photo of Lord Bilimoria Lord Bilimoria Crossbench 8:07 pm, 4th March 2020

My Lords, it was very early—in kindergarten—when it was spotted that our younger son Josh might have an issue. By the age of six or seven, his prep school gave up on him, so we sent him to a specialist learning school here in London. It tried for two years but he did not improve that much. At nine, we sent him to boarding school—Bruern Abbey in Oxfordshire—a specialist school with 10 children to a class and two teachers per classroom. He improved and improved and got into one of the finest schools in the world at the age of 13. He was at the bottom of the school when he started but, last year, he finished at that school at 18 with three A*s at A-level.

There were three reasons for his improvement. First, we spotted it early. Secondly, we had access to the best possible teaching for his condition, which was dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD. Thirdly was his effort—you can get there. One of my team, Omaar from India, said it was spotted from the age of six that he had an issue. His parents got him tuition all through his schooling and he ended up doing a master’s at UCL. However, that is for people who can afford it.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for initiating the debate. In January 2019, 14.9% of pupils in England had a special educational need—SEN—and yet only 3.1% had an EHC plan. In its September 2019 report, the National Audit Office said that the current system of support is not “financially sustainable.” The Local Government Association has stated that the current system has reached a “tipping point” as demand for SEN services has risen much faster than funding has been made available. I have spoken to John Floyd, the headmaster of Bruern Abbey School, which now has 160 boys. He said that the law is good, but access to support is agonisingly slow and difficult. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, talked about the appeals process. John Floyd went on to stress the importance of teaching in the right way and observed that dyslexic children are not achieving their potential.

Professor Julie Allan, professor of equity and inclusion at the School of Education at the University of Birmingham, has said clearly that SEN children

“are not being supported adequately” and has referred to

“the view expressed by parents and special needs groups that there is a ‘crisis’ in SEN provision.”

She concluded:

“This failure to provide adequate support is, in part, a consequence of the increased demand.”

The CBI, of which I am vice-president, has said that the business case for diversity and inclusion is “rock solid” and yet EY research found that 56% of global senior executives rarely or never discuss disability in their leadership agenda. As a country, we have to do a lot more.

I helped launched DARE to Think Differently with Autistica, a wonderful autism charity founded by Dame Stephanie Shirley, one of the biggest autism benefactors in the world. It points out clearly that while 16% of autistic people are in full-time employment, 77% want to be in work. We know about the famous dyslexics, the Winston Churchills, Albert Einsteins and so on. Richard Branson has said:

“I was seen as the dumbest person in school.”

He has set up a fantastic charity and pointed out that dyslexic people have a unique set of skills that are really important to business. The 2019 House of Commons Education Select Committee report, Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, states clearly:

Special educational needs and disabilities must be seen as part of the whole approach”,

but goes on to observe that the approach of the Department for Education is

“piecemeal, creating reactive, sticking-plaster policies, when what is needed is serious effort to ensure that issues are fully grappled with, and the 2014 Act works properly, as was intended.”

The 2014 Act is a good piece of legislation. Does the Minister agree with that?

The number of families seeking help has surged by 11%. The National Audit Office has said that children with special needs are being marginalised. The rise in the number of special needs pupils forces them to travel out of area to school, while, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, schools are failing to diagnose 80% of dyslexic pupils. That is shocking. The British Dyslexia Association has said that diagnosis and support for such children is the worst it has seen since government funding started in the 1980s. According to the Department for Education, out of 8.7 million schoolchildren in England, it is estimated that 870,000 have dyslexia, but fewer than 150,000 have been diagnosed.

Every school needs to employ specialist teachers because the human cost of dyslexia in terms of the emotional and psychological impact on poorly supported dyslexic children is high. A report by the all-party parliamentary group for dyslexia, supported by the British Dyslexia Association, has said clearly that 95% of parents feel that they lack the knowledge and skills to deal with this situation. Some 70% of parents feel that schools do not support their dyslexic children. The association has recommended specialist support in each school; training for classroom teachers; adequate pastoral, academic and mental health provision; adequate, accessible information for parents; and that schools should invest in training and resourcing so that they meet the standards and ensure coherent national frameworks.

As Helen Boden, CEO of the British Dyslexia Association, has said:

“The human cost of dyslexia is too high, and we need to change that.”

Photo of Lord Mann Lord Mann Non-affiliated 8:13 pm, 4th March 2020

My Lords, for nearly 20 years I represented primarily former coalmining families in the so-called red wall. The first thing I was told in a school when I went there after I was elected was, “You shouldn’t expect too much of these kids because they are pit fodder”—as their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers had been. When I represented the fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers in industrial injury compensation claims where they had been done over by both their unions and their solicitors, I discovered a strange phenomenon. It took me a few months to grasp it. Every old miner who had come to see me would arrive with a daughter. Initially I thought that it was just for comfort, assistance and advice, but the obvious quickly dawned on me. They brought their daughters along because they could not read. My own grandfather could read but he could not write because he was left-handed and he was not allowed to write. He never wrote a thing. I do not know how he filled in his postal vote form or wrote out cheques because he never signed his own name. The problem is intergenerational.

When thinking about the success or not of the 2014 changes, let us not kid ourselves that the situation before then was better, because it was not: it was far worse, and it has not improved anything like as much as it needs to. The condition manifests itself in schools through behavioural problems. People did not say that their son or daughter could not read something or that they had special educational needs like the middle-class families did. You could identify where they came from by the school. In the mining villages, they would be expelled from school at 14 for behavioural problems. They had problems with the police and they could not get a job, so it was rather late in the day. Without question, my biggest failure was not to tackle this concept of special educational needs and what should be done about it.

I have drawn two conclusions about it. The first is that for the majority of children, having simplified, well-structured systems with good discipline—the kinds of things that the academies in the area I live in have been doing very successfully—improves their outcomes. But not all children are the same and the minority end up being excluded, as others have outlined. Children are being excluded in large numbers and it is always because of behavioural issues, but what lies underneath that is the fact that they do not have the core skills they need. If you have ADHD or dyslexia, that is a gap in core skills which needs to be addressed, and if it has not been addressed, it is patently obvious. The parents may have had the same problems and cannot articulate them. Actually, I found that there would often be a clash between the parent and the school because the school did not understand where the parent was coming from, so the problems were exacerbated even more. Not all children are the same in terms of education. That is a fundamental if we are to have the workforce we need post Brexit to meet the skills requirements of the country.

There is a second thing that the Government should think about. It was a big breakthrough to get the Law Society to redefine vulnerability. There has been some success, but not as much, with the Financial Conduct Authority and the Financial Ombudsman Service. Adults who cannot read and write cannot deal with the paperwork that is put in front of them by people in financial services. That is a vulnerability which means that when there is mis-selling, that vulnerability should be quantified as an issue that should have been pre-identified. If that is done, fairness in the system will be greater for all, and I would strongly recommend that to the Government.

Photo of Lord Sterling of Plaistow Lord Sterling of Plaistow Conservative 8:18 pm, 4th March 2020

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, splendidly keeps up a steady drumbeat of persuasion which, together with those of us involved in autism issues, has resulted in considerable extra support from Governments. Perhaps I may say to my noble friend the Minister that that support is much appreciated.

As I said in a recent debate, all the manifestos of the political parties stated strong support for those in our communities who have disabilities. I agree totally with all of the key points made by the previous speakers. I share the strongly held view of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, regarding the advantage to the taxpayer if these issues are understood fully in every school in the country. From head teachers to specialists, all teachers should be trained so that they are able to notice the early signs of dyslexia or autism in a child, which can then be passed on to the trained teacher. Early detection is absolutely key, to be followed up by the necessary support. Going through mainstream schooling plays a huge part in a disabled child’s ability to contribute as a member of society and gain that wonderful feeling of quiet self-esteem.

What is the reverse side of the coin? It is hopelessness, a feeling of failure and of not being wanted, neediness and increasing anxiety, leading to increasing mental health problems and, in many cases, early death. What is often forgotten is that no child with a disability is on their own. Parents, grandparents, siblings, friends and carers play a crucial part in their lives; but probably the mothers play the key, devoted role after experiencing huge personal stress and, often, break-up of the marriage. I suggest that strong action would now be right. The right financial support would transform the lives of many millions of people, as well as those of disabled young people. We have the empathy: let us do it now. To borrow Motability’s strapline, let us put disabled people and their families on the road to freedom.

Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Education) 8:21 pm, 4th March 2020

My Lords, I was very interested in the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Mann, because when I first started teaching in a place called Prescot, near St Helens, pupils who had behavioural problems or learning difficulties were referred to as “the remedials” and were pushed aside from the rest of the children. We have come a long way since then, thank goodness. I want to start by recognising the progress we have made in special educational needs in general, and dyslexia in particular. It is through the rugged determination of parents and numerous organisations, and their constant tenacity, that we have seen the progress we have made thus far. Speaking of rugged determination, one need look no further, of course, than my noble friend Lord Addington, who has secured this debate; we thank him for that.

If we go back 10 years or so, it was a very different state of affairs. Now, we have qualified special needs co-ordinators in our schools; whether they have the time to do the job properly, given their timetable commitments, is another issue. Many noble Lords have referred to the education, health and care plans, which were a really important development. Sadly, we did not realise at the time that their success in identifying special educational needs almost created an unsustainable situation. It was at a time when schools did not have many resources; schools and local government were facing huge financial problems. Parents felt let down, of course, when the appeals system became clogged up as well. We must ensure that those resources are there now for the education, health and care plans.

Two statistics really shocked me, and they have been mentioned already: 52% of teachers said they had no training in dyslexia; and, as my noble friend Lord Addington and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, mentioned, schools in England are failing to diagnose at least 80% of children who have dyslexia. Those are frightening statistics. Let us put this in perspective: 10% to 15% of children are dyslexic; 14.9% of our pupils have special educational needs; and 3.1% of our pupils are on education, health and care plans. We need to sort out all that potential and talent among young people. As a number of noble Lords have said, the earlier we do it, the sooner we can sort those issues out. It is a sad state of affairs that £100 million a year is spent by local authorities in legal fees, fighting the parents who want dyslexia support for their child. Imagine if we used that £100 million in schools: we would be able to solve many of the problems that have been discussed. Talking about schools, I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, to go to Maple Hayes School and I thank him again for doing that. I actually learned a tremendous amount and was very impressed with that school.

Most teachers still get little or no formal training in addressing learning difficulties. Most teaching courses include options on teaching children with special educational needs—but notice the word “options”: it is not compulsory. What do we need to do now? As the noble Lords, Lord Sterling and Lord Bilimoria, have said, we need to spot this early on. We need to make sure that schools have resources for special educational needs. Some schools are facing financial difficulties and then have to find £6,000 for diagnosis and support, which leads to delay and excuses, and that is just plain daft. All training of teachers—whether at college, university, teachers-direct or Teach First—must have mandatory components on special educational needs. Teachers need to be able to recognise learning difficulties and there needs to be CPD in all our schools: the British Dyslexia Association has suggested 30 hours. The BDA has suggested that dyslexic assessors train teachers to spot signs in the classroom. I am not completely convinced about this; if you released time for the special needs co-ordinator and trained teachers, that would not be necessary.

I hope that the rugged determination shown by your Lordships—my noble friend Lord Addington in particular—and the various associations will continue until we get this issue right.

Photo of Lord Watson of Invergowrie Lord Watson of Invergowrie Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 8:25 pm, 4th March 2020

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for the huge amount of work that he undertakes on behalf of people of all ages with dyslexia, of which securing today’s debate is merely the latest example. He speaks with great authority on the subject, of course, something of which I am sure the Minister will be aware.

Children affected by neurodiverse conditions are entitled to extra support in schools, but all too often these children and their families do not receive support they need to enable them to make the most of their life in general and their educational experience in particular. Not only does the £700 million of extra funding for SEND announced by the Government last year fail to reverse the funding cuts of recent years, it is less than half the amount that the Local Government Association says is needed annually for special needs and high-needs education.

Schools find it increasingly difficult to support SEND pupils due to the loss of learning support assistants and teaching assistants resulting from general school funding cuts, increased class sizes, long waiting times for SEND assessments, and the workload of special educational needs co-ordinators. Parents without the resources to obtain their own assessment often regard an education, health and care plan as the only way to get the support their child needs. Yet to achieve even an assessment of the child by a local authority—far less receive an EHC plan—takes on average more than a year: that is time wasted in which the child has continued to underachieve, lost interest or perhaps even given up on their learning.

This has led to the almost inconceivable situation whereby councils pay almost as much in legal fees to avoid EHC plans as it would cost to provide and support the plans themselves. As highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, councils lose 90% of the cases at the First-tier Tribunal when challenged, which surely underlines the futility of their stance. I am reluctant to blame local authorities, given the funding situation in which they have been placed by successive Governments.

Last year, Ofsted highlighted that even when a child has been assessed, they still struggle to access the services and support they need. In 2018, more than 200 children with a statement or EHC plan were awaiting provision—almost three times the figure in 2010. Amanda Spielman said:

“One child with SEND not receiving the help they need is disturbing enough, but thousands is a national scandal.”

That was Her Majesty’s chief inspector speaking, which should have caused great alarm in the DfE and among Ministers. Did it? A year later, the picture has not improved.

My noble friend Lord Touhig spoke, as he always does, with passion and panache on autism, which is the most common type of special educational need for children who have an EHC plan or statement, with 27% of these children having it as their main need. Despite these numbers, too many children on the autism spectrum are held back from getting the support they need to succeed, and 43% of appeals to the SEND tribunal are on behalf of these children.

The British Dyslexia Association has outlined policy changes to noble Lords that it believes are required for young people with dyslexia. Many GCSE and A-level exams still test pupils’ communication skills through a written exam, awarding marks for spelling, punctuation and grammar, or SPAG as it is known. This was also referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. This system is particularly disadvantageous to young people with dyslexia, who are marked down for a skill that can be easily managed in a modern workplace. Will the Government consider whether SPAG marks are the best approach to assessing communication skills for the modern workplace?

As the noble Lord, Lord Storey, said, awareness-raising of SEND issues in initial teacher training is simply not adequate to equip newly qualified teachers with the skills necessary to support SEND pupils in a classroom setting. The recently introduced ITT core content framework fails to give clear guidance on the amount and standard of training on SEND. It would be helpful to have an explanation from the Minister as to why the Government decided not to make the changes that the sector had asked for when the current approach is failing newly qualified teachers and young people with SEND.

In the short time available, it has not been possible to speak about other neurodiverse conditions, but that is not to ignore or disrespect the issues associated with dyspraxia, dyscalculia, ADHD or Tourette’s. We await the publication of the Government’s SEND review. On Monday in another place the Secretary of State said:

“We are very happy to look at any suggestions … because as part of our special educational needs review we are trying to see how we can best deliver these services for the benefit of every child.”—[Official Report, Commons, 2/3/20; col. 606.]

I welcome that, because it suggests that the Government are planning more than just changes to the funding regime—possibly even structural changes. I say to the Minister that both are required if SEND children and their parents are to receive the support that they need and have a right to expect.

Photo of Baroness Berridge Baroness Berridge Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade) (Minister for Women), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 8:31 pm, 4th March 2020

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in paying tribute once again to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, who is a noted champion of neurodiversity. I thank him and other noble Lords for their speeches this evening on this important topic.

The attainment gap that we are dealing with here is a very serious issue. It is the Government’s ambition that every child should have access to a world-class education of the type that the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, outlined. Therefore, it is clearly important that all children with special educational needs and disabilities—I will use the acronym SEND—including dyslexia and other neurodiverse conditions receive appropriate, high-quality support so that they can achieve well in their education and future lives.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Sterling that early detection is important. He referred to these children being in mainstream education. That is enshrined in law, and we are concerned that an increasing number of those with EHC plans—about 50%—are now in special provision.

As noble Lords will remember, in 2014 we introduced major reforms to the SEND system. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mann, for his humble recognition that, prior to these reforms, the situation was far from perfect and there have been improvements. This was part of the focus to deliver that world-class education for all our children. Our ambition was to establish a multiagency, person-centred system, from birth to the age of 25, that identified children’s needs early and focused on progress and outcomes.

These reforms gave vital support to more children, but, as has been recognised in your Lordships’ House, the problems they sought to address were complex and of long standing. For too many, the vision of the Children and Families Act is not yet a reality. On that score, I agree with many of the comments from the noble Lords, Lord Watson, Lord Addington and Lord Bilimoria. The vision that we set, on which there was a lot of cross-party support, has not become a reality for too many families.

That is why officials are working across government to review the SEND system. To assure the noble Lord, Lord Watson, it is a full, root-and-branch review. They are looking at ways to ensure the system delivers the high-quality, consistent support that should have been delivered by joining up health, care and education services. To that end, the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England are working closely with my department. They are working at pace, but these are complex issues. I am sure noble Lords would agree that it is more important to address them fully and get them right than to do so quickly. We welcome the scrutiny and challenge provided by the reports from the Education Select Committee and the National Audit Office, which will be taken into account in the review.

While the review is ongoing, we are continuing to build on what is working and improve what is not. I am pleased that the new Ofsted/Care Quality Commission inspection regime, which we introduced in 2015, has identified some really strongly performing areas, such as Portsmouth, Calderdale and Wiltshire. We also see improvement in areas that were initially found to have weaknesses, such as Middlesbrough, which recently had a strong revisit from the inspectors. These areas will have positively impacted on the experiences of the children and young people that we have talked about this evening, but I accept that this is a patchwork situation and we need to look at consistent provision across the country.

At the heart of the reforms was co-production, to ensure that children and young people with SEND and their parents and carers felt genuinely empowered, as my noble friend Lord Sterling pointed out in relation to parents’ involvement. Although I know that there are challenges around parental confidence in the system, as the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, mentioned, there are some fantastic examples of co-production in action. In Warrington, Ofsted and the CQC found that families are becoming increasingly influential in the design and implementation of plans and services across that local area. However, I accept that there is a patchwork nature to this provision.

To support this co-production, we are funding parent carer forums in every local area to ensure that they play a greater role in designing and commissioning local services. It is wonderful to hear of the role that noble Lords have played as parents to ensure the provision for their children and relatives. We are prioritising working with parents as the review progresses. The new Minister for Children and Families has already met parents to hear about their experiences.

We recognise the financial pressures that educational establishments and local authorities face. We are responding to this by investing £14 billion more in schools over the next three years to 2022-23, the biggest funding boost for a decade. This includes an additional £780 million to meet high-needs funding in 2020-21. Other years will be referenced in due course. This should support those with some of the most complex needs. It is a 12% increase in funding from the previous year, bringing the total high-needs budget to over £7 billion, to answer the queries from the noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord Watson, about the funding that is going into this matter. We have also invested a total of £365 million in expanding and improving special provision from 2018 to 2021 and opened 43 special free schools, with a further 48 in the pipeline and 37 currently being assessed.

In reference to the points made by my noble friend Lord Lexden, there is excellent provision in the independent sector. As I understand it, when an EHCP says that that is the specific provision for that child, the local authority should be delivering it, but we need to have those special places within the state-funded system so that they are available without having to go to the independent sector. However, the Government accept that additional funding will not in itself be sufficient to address pressures on the system, which was a theme of many noble Lords’ speeches. We must ensure that funding is spent fairly, efficiently and effectively, and that the support available is sustainable in the future. We are talking about young people’s lives, so it must be sustainable.

We are intent on avoiding the situation referenced in the moving story told by the noble Lord, Lord Mann. There are manifesto commitments regarding alternative provisions, but we need to avoid the scenarios that he described by having better provision and better support through EHCPs, and special educational needs support within schools, which is available to many children. About 11% of children are having that support but do not have an EHCP.

To answer the noble Lords, Lord Touhig and Lord Addington, and other noble Lords, obviously the school workforce is a vital part of delivering this support, and workforce development is critical to closing that attainment gap and ensuring that children and young people with SEND fulfil their potential. Qualified teacher status is awarded to new teachers only if they can show appropriate teaching approaches to meet pupils’ individual needs. There are SENCOs in each school, each with a master’s-level qualification, and should be at least attaining the specific SENCO qualification. There is more to do in relation to this, but there are examples of good practice where special schools and mainstream schools in certain areas are working together to share best practice, to upskill the workforce within the mainstream, because most children with special educational needs are within the mainstream system.

We have worked with SEND sector organisations to develop resources to assist with the early identification of and support for children with SEND, including neurodiversity. As I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Addington, is aware, these resources are available on the SEND gateway. Between April 2018 and March 2020, we have provided £3.9 million to the Whole School SEND Consortium, to support schools to embed SEND into school improvement and equip the workforce to deliver high-quality teaching across all types of SEND. As many noble Lords will be aware, the consortium includes the British Dyslexia Association and the Autism Education Trust. Through a specific contract with the Autism Education Trust, we have trained up over a quarter of a million teachers, but I recognise that there is more to do.

On the vexed issue of off-rolling, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, in relation to Ofsted, this is a stronger part of the new framework for Ofsted. There is a strength and focus around this issue. We do not want to see this practice happening. There are now examples of schools in which Ofsted have identified this practice and therefore the school is requiring improvement, or is inadequate, as a result of off-rolling. This is a practice that the Government do not want to see happening. Regarding exclusions, we must not be nervous about saying that there are certain groups more likely to be excluded. We must address this. It is also a matter that is part of the inspection regime.

Many noble Lords raised the issue of appeals, and this is quite a nuanced issue. Yes, there is a high rate of parents being, to some degree, successful in those appeals. The percentage remains stable at around 1.6%, but because the number of plans has gone up, the number of appeals has been rising. That situation will be part of the review.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, referred to assistive technologies. We recognise their potential to support pupils with special educational needs including dyslexia. Our edtech strategy, which was launched in April 2019, has identified accessibility and inclusion as one of five key areas of opportunity where technology can help drive a step change in support for these pupils.

On the point raised by my noble friend Lord Sterling, in our manifesto we have also committed to publishing a national strategy for disabled people before the end of this year. We are exploring multiple options for how we approach this, to ensure that there is a positive impact on disabled people across the country.

In relation to specific questions regarding the percentage of marks in certain qualifications for spelling and grammar, I will talk to my colleague, the right honourable Nick Gibb, about school standards, to fully understand how that might be impacting this group of students.

We are committed to improving the educational outcomes of all children and young people with special educational needs. The SEND review is an absolute priority for the Government. Debates such as the one we have had this evening are important for gathering information and views on the system. I am grateful for it and hope that noble Lords will continue to hold our feet to the fire. I expect to see much more of the rugged determination of, particularly, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, as we deal with matters that are so important to so many young people. We all wish to see a rapid closure of the attainment gap. It is a waste of talent if young people cannot access the support they need to fulfil their potential.

Sitting suspended.