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.