Amendment 44

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL] - Report (2nd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 3:15 pm on 21 October 2021.

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Lord Addington:

Moved by Lord Addington

44: After Clause 15, insert the following new Clause—“Lifelong learning: special educational needs When exercising functions under this Act, the Secretary of State must ensure that—(a) providers of further education are required to include special educational needs awareness training to all teaching staff to ensure that all staff are able to—(i) identify, and(ii) support,those students who have special educational needs; (b) providers of further education provide support for students with special educational needs or disabilities that is of an equivalent standard to those with similar needs in higher education.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment places a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that there is sufficient SEN training for teachers of students in further education and that there is support for students with special educational needs or disabilities that is of an equivalent standard to those with similar needs in higher education.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I have two amendments in this group, and I welcome the support of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham for them. They are both about special educational needs in the further education sector. Special educational needs in further education are a bit like they are in everything else: an afterthought. They are an afterthought with a couple of special bits of legislation attached, including education, health and care plans, which allow some support until the age of 25 but do not apply to higher education. For those who get to higher education with special educational needs, there is a nice, structured support centre based on the disabled students’ allowance—some of the old jobs of which are taken on by the institution.

Why did I need to preamble like that? My amendments are trying to take best practice from the other two areas of education and apply them to further education. If you happen to attend a higher education institution and you have an identified special educational need, the institution must do certain things—for instance, it must make sure that you have information capture available to you. A few noble Lords might ask what that is. It is where students can digitally record a lecture, seminar or whatever and transfer it into a format which they can take the information from. It could be putting it on to a screen or into verbal means. Basically, there are lots of clever things you can do with technology nowadays that you could not do 10 or 20 years ago which mean that just about anybody can access it in any way they want to. This is a duty in higher education.

Some might ask why I have tabled these amendments, as these two areas are different. I think it was the right reverend Prelate’s office which provided me with the fact that over 100,000 students taking higher education degrees are doing it at colleges—100,000 students are able to get this support, but they cannot get it if they are on a level 4 or level 3 course. I think level 5 is covered by it; if I have that wrong, I put my hands up, but the principle is still there. Why are we not taking the best practice from one area of education and applying it to another? Let us face it: making sure that further education is a viable option is central to this debate. Everything in the Bill implies that, and we have an overlap of provider, so why are the Government not doing this?

There is also the question of how to train people to deal with this, and that is also a part of Amendment 44. Virtually everybody with a special educational need or disability that applies in this sector—depending on which end you take it from—will usually have a slightly different learning process. Can they write or read well? Will they absorb the information in the same way? Can they tolerate the same amount of time concentrating within a lecture or tutorial? All these people are slightly different, and understanding that is the way that they can succeed. I once again refer to the disabled students’ allowance, which guarantees support in higher education. So, level 6 and level 4 apparently have two totally different systems which contradict each other, and there is a different structure again within schools. How are we going to make sure that the best is taken from one system and applied to another, especially where there is a very high level of overlap? You will have the expertise and you will have people involved in it. Even if it is not in your institution at the moment, the one down the road will know—pick up the phone and find out. It is not that difficult.

When it comes to Amendment 46 and teacher training in further education, we have an awareness programme for schools and those trained in them. It does not include that much, and I think it should be much wider. It is based upon the most commonly occurring problems that a teacher will have to account for. I should have identified my interests: I say once again in this Chamber that I am dyslexic, the president of the British Dyslexia Association and the chairman of a company that organises packages of support for people in work and education. In the school system, there is an awareness package which means that teachers have some basic knowledge of those most commonly occurring conditions. Dyslexia comes at the top of that list, but it is only the top. To highlight how difficult it is for the person providing the training, co-occurring difficulties are almost the norm. For example, it is very common for a dyspraxic student to also be dyslexic. There is a conglomeration of little oddities and changes in patterns of learning which are difficult to meet for both the student and the teacher giving the support. Teachers must have some knowledge, because more of the same is a guarantee of failure in many cases.

To give a little example in the case of dyslexia, if you say, “Oh, if we give him lots of spelling tests, he will learn to spell”, no, he will not. He will just forget more words. Give him the same spelling test a lot, and he will learn a few. That is the tip of the iceberg. Teachers need to work differently and need the knowledge to understand why somebody will not respond in certain ways. They at least need to know that they should find out more. If that degree of knowledge is not provided, there is almost a guarantee of failure or delay. This is fair neither to the person doing the teaching nor to the person receiving it.

Both these amendments call upon the Government to institute actions which have been done in other areas of the education system. They should make sure that they take examples from there. I would like to go further and institute better back-up and support. When the Minister replies, she will undoubtedly have a list of lots of regulations and all the things that should happen, but they do not, because there is no way of going forward and co-ordinating them. I also hope that the Minister from the second-half team for this Bill will carry on from the first-half team in recognising that we are not just talking about high levels of need. We need to make sure that somebody who is in danger of doing less well and possibly failing receives the same attention as somebody who is a dramatic failure. At the moment, requiring that stamp of approval from the plan or the official diagnosis—saying that you are of a sufficient level of severity to need X level of help—means that we are worrying about those on the edge, who might just get through on a good day but probably will not. With small adjustments to their behaviour or the way information is presented to them, those people can actually get through.

I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. I hope I do not have to press either of these amendments, but that is now in the Minister’s hands. I beg to move.

Photo of The Bishop of Durham The Bishop of Durham Bishop

My Lords, this is my first opportunity to welcome the Minister to her new role, and, indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Chisholm, to hers. In my own role as chair of the National Society—which I declare as an interest—I look forward to working with them both on many matters relating to education and the Church of England’s place as a major provider.

Turning to Amendments 44 and 46, which I was pleased to add my name to, I thank both noble Baronesses for the time they gave us recently to discuss them. The need for specific provision to be made to better meet the needs of students with specific learning needs and disabilities at all levels has been made—not for the first time—with great expertise by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and I wholeheartedly support these amendments. Given the range and varied nature of the learning needs among FE students, their lecturers, tutors, assessors and other staff must have the skills to recognise those needs to be able to adapt their own approach to teaching, learning and assessment, and to be able to promptly and appropriately refer students for more specialised or intensive support.

Amendment 44 does precisely what is required and, in addition, poses a challenge. Such high-quality support is very widely available in HE, often in the departments of FE colleges which deliver HE provision and from which it might be made more widely available. Is it not both educationally and ethically desirable that those on FE programmes should have the same access as their fellow students in HE?

Amendment 46 is also carefully drawn. It would require special needs awareness training that is relevant to students of ITT FE courses within an institution. It may be said that, in contrast to ITT provision for schoolteachers, the content, assessment and delivery of teacher training in FE is very different and that such a degree of prescription is inappropriate and much is already being done. In other areas, such as funding, governance, qualifications and many more, there is no such hesitation. In this particular field, the need for a strong lead from government and the investment it requires are, I think, fully recognised by Ministers, officials and the sector. I sincerely hope that the Government will be open to accepting these amendments.

Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Education) 3:30, 21 October 2021

My Lords, these are really important amendments from my noble friend Lord Addington, and I hope that the Minister will take note. Again, I would ask her, “Why not?” It is hugely important that in our education system, whether it be in nursery or in university, we are able to identify where there are special needs requirements. Teachers and support staff need that training, because when they are able to identify, they can provide the support that is needed.

I remember as a young teacher going on a very simple course—dare I say it, it was like a couple-of-hours course—on being able to identify children who suffer from dyslexia, but it taught me that if you could identify children who were dyslexic you could then give them all sorts of support. For example, if you handed out worksheets that were in a certain colour—and please correct me if I am wrong—those children could prepare, understand and read in a better way. That is why the amendment is important.

One would hope that children with educational needs would be picked up at an early stage in our education system, but that is not to say that it always happens. It is a very simple amendment. It says that all teachers should have that simple, basic training, and let us hear why not, and that the support needs to be there.

The other amendment also says something that we have been saying for a long time; certainly, my noble friend Lord Addington has been doing so. Why not have this as a definite component in our teacher training that all teachers should be exposed to—that they should learn about identifying special educational needs? Whether they are trained on the intensive Teach First programme, doing a SCITT programme or doing a postgraduate education course, everybody should have a component involving being able to identify individual children who may have special educational needs and understanding their requirements.

I hope the Minister will respond positively.

Photo of Baroness Wilcox of Newport Baroness Wilcox of Newport Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

These amendments would place a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that there is sufficient SEN training for teachers in further education so that there is support for students with special educational needs or disabilities that is of an equivalent standard to that for those with similar needs in higher education. The amendments would also ensure that there is sufficient SEN training for those involved in initial teacher training.

FE colleges, sixth-form colleges, 16-19 academies and independent specialist colleges approved under Section 41 of the Children and Families Act 2014 have specific statutory duties which include the duty to co-operate with the local authority on arrangements for children and young people with SEN, the duty to admit a young person if the institution is named in an education, health and care plan, and the duty to use their best endeavours to secure the special educational provision that the young person needs. These duties require extra training and support, which is key to their successful implementation. We fully support the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Addington. His specialist knowledge and understanding of this subject have identified clear gaps in the current provision that need to be plugged by these amendments to the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for his advocacy for learners with special educational needs and disabilities. I thank the right reverend Prelate for his words as well. I feel that, across the board, we come from a very similar position, even if the Government’s methods are slightly different.

Turning first to Amendment 46, I agree with the noble Lord that it is vital for our teachers to be trained to identify and respond to the needs of all their learners, including those identified as having special educational needs and disabilities. Where the Government differ is on the best way to achieve this aim. Let me explain our position. The new occupational standard for FE teaching, published in September, has been developed by sector experts who employ teachers. The standard sets out key knowledge, skills and behaviour, including a specific duty that focuses on the importance of inclusion, which—I hope that this vital point will ease the noble Lord’s concerns—will support the early identification of learners’ needs and enable teachers to respond to them effectively.

The occupational standard is the right place to set the expectations of our teachers. We have been clear that we intend to make public funding available only to training programmes that meet the new standard. For the reasons I have just set out, I believe that it would be inappropriate to specify particular course requirements in the Bill when a standard newly developed by sector experts already achieves this. I can assure the noble Lord that our intention is to drive up the quality of FE teacher training so that it can meet the varied and often complex needs of learners in the sector.

Turning to Amendment 44, the Government are committed to driving up the quality of teaching in further education and strengthening the professional development of the FE workforce. To that end, we are already providing significant funding for programmes to help spread good, evidence-based practice in professional development, including provision currently being delivered by the Education and Training Foundation to support the professional development of teachers working with SEND learners. It is also important to note that, under the SEND code of practice, colleges

“should ensure that there is a named person in the college with oversight of SEN provision to ensure co-ordination of support … This person should contribute to the strategic and operational management of the college. Curriculum and support staff in a college should know who to go to if they need help in identifying a student’s SEN, are concerned about their progress or need further advice.”

Ultimately, decisions must be made by providers themselves about what training is relevant and necessary in response to the specific needs of their learners and those who teach them. Of course, students with SEND must get the support they need to benefit from the lifelong loan entitlement. Students with SEND are an important part of our vision for and motivation behind a flexible skills system. We believe that this kind of flexible provision will be of particular benefit to these students. We plan to use the LLE consultation to build our evidence base on how to support all people to access or benefit from the LLE offer.

The noble Lord, Lord Storey, mentioned the importance of primary schools and nurseries in picking up pupils who may have problems. The number of primary school-age pupils identified with SEND has increased over the past five years. In 2021, pupils with SEND represented 17.2% of primary school-age pupils. The most common SEND support needs are usually in speech, language and communication. Among pupils with an EHC plan, autistic spectrum disorder is the most common type of SEN. This shows that children with SEND are being picked up earlier, which is so important and means that they can get support from the age of five onwards. I know this from personal experience, because I have a grandson who has mild autism. His support in his state primary school has been second to none, and I know that that will carry on right through for the rest of his education.

There would also be a further issue if this was mentioned on the face of the Bill. The Secretary of State would then have to specify requirements relating to one particular element of the training programme, SEN awareness, even if others were not identified.

I thank the noble Lord again for submitting these amendments and hope he is satisfied with the work being done in these areas. I hope he will feel comfortable to withdraw this amendment and not move his other amendment.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My Lords, here we go again. They say that they will take out pupils if they spot them, they will really get on with it, but they will not specify that you have the skills to spot them. They will not turn around and say that you are trained to spot that somebody has a moderate difficulty.

Pupils may get to having a plan, but local authorities have spent over £100 million resisting plans and—I repeat this—on a good day, around 85% of appeals are lost, but it is normally about 90%. Only tiger parents with sharp claws get their kids through that process. Most pupils are not picked up because of the education system we have at the moment, from school to college and onwards. Noble Lords should remember that most of those in college were not given the correct support at school, and most are not spotted or are spotted late. Without staff who are in a position to identify them and give support, the only way in which pupils can get support is by getting plans or higher levels of definition, which is expensive, slow and damaging to that person. The person trying to teach them cannot do it, so you have someone who is a pain in whichever part of their anatomy you care to choose in that classroom. That is what happens when people are not given a basic level of training.

I would like the Minister to come back on what I said about support for people in colleges—technical support, including information capture—as she said nothing about it in her reply. Does she have anything in her notes on this?

Photo of Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I did mean to mention that, so I apologise. There will be details on continuous professional development in the skills White Paper, which is committed to supporting improvements for FE teachers. This will include funding schemes to support educational technology and staff using digital forms of educational delivery, such as the ed-tech demonstrator programme; supporting new and inexperienced teachers by embedding early career support in government-funded programmes such as Taking Teaching Further and enabling access to high-quality mentoring; and running the FE professional development grants pilot, which is supporting collaborative, sector-led professional development approaches in the three key areas of workforce capability to use technology in education, subject-specific professional development, and supporting new and inexperienced teachers.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

I thank the Minister for sharing her notes. It is clear that her department does not get what I am saying. There are higher education institutions that have got this right. Why not simply take that technology which has been set up—if it is not there, you are in trouble—and make sure it is available for people who are slightly lower down the grading system? These people are, after all, trying to get jobs or training at the end of this. Clearly, the Government have not taken that on board.

I feel I must call a Division on this, when the time comes. I would like to divide on both my amendments, but I am prepared to withdraw Amendment 44. I shall seek the opinion of the House on Amendment 46, but I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.

Amendment 44 withdrawn.