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Volume 696: debated on Tuesday 20 November 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What assessment they have made of recent reports claiming to have found a new solution to dyslexia.

My Lords, we are aware of a range of approaches to teaching children with dyslexia. It is for schools and local authorities to decide which approach they use. The British Dyslexia Association has not, as yet, accredited the approach recently reported in the newspapers, but we are working with dyslexia organisations through the new “No to Failure” project, which is piloting and evaluating the impact of providing specialist dyslexia training to teachers, and specialist tuition to children with dyslexia.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. Can he also tell us what coping strategies are being built into the new plans for the teaching of young adults, and for those who are staying on later at school? As he is undoubtedly aware, many people have been missed in identification and support in their early years. How are we to structure it so that we do not reinforce that type of failure in extra schooling?

My Lords, the further education sector is under a duty to see that its institutions properly address special learning difficulties. For young people making the transition from schools to further education institutions, or wanting to access their services, that provision should be put in place by the appropriate authorities.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that dyslexia is one of a group of developmental disorders of variable severity that may occur in people of otherwise perfectly normal, or even higher than normal, intelligence? Amusia refers to those who are tone deaf and dyspraxia to those who are inherently extremely clumsy but, of all such conditions, dyslexia is the most easily recognised and characterised disorder. Is the Minister aware of the research work being done by Professor Stein and his colleagues in Oxford? It seems to suggest a new method, contrary to the traditional technique of intensive individual learning to overcome that deficit, which is well worth further exploration.

My Lords, there is a wide range of approaches for tackling dyslexia among young and older children. The key is to ensure that there are properly trained teachers who can undertake screening, so that issues are addressed as soon as possible after children start school. That is why we are investing significantly in teacher training in this area, including introducing new modules into initial teacher training; we are piloting that at the moment. As the noble Lord rightly says, if this issue is addressed we can realise young people’s full potential in education.

My Lords, as someone who is dyslexic I particularly liked the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, said that we are of higher than normal intelligence.

Does the Minister think that Ofsted has the knowledge and expertise to assess schools for dyslexia teaching, as it often seems to fail in picking up support for dyslexic children and young people?

My Lords, I am well aware of the superior intelligence of the noble Baroness as she interrogates me across the Table. As she rightly says, many people with dyslexia go on to perform extremely highly. It is essential that the education system picks up their particular problems and addresses them. As she knows, Ofsted conducts inspections of individual schools but is not able to go into that level of detail with them. However, schools are expected to complete self-evaluation assessments and part of the self-evaluation form that schools complete concerns their ability to address special educational needs.

We are also improving the training for special educational needs co-ordinators, who must be present in each school. Training for new co-ordinators will be mandatory from next year. Part of their role is to see that proper provision is in place, including the screening of children for special educational needs when they arrive in school.

My Lords, what steps are being taken to increase the quality of teaching, in terms of teachers and education, among prisoners? There is a high level of dyslexia among the prison population.

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right that that is a huge issue inside prisons. That is why we have considerably expanded resources for prison education, responsibility for which has moved to my department so that the issue is given a special education focus and is not seen as part of the normal criminal justice system.

My Lords, I understand that 27 per cent of young people going into education have English as their second language. How many of those 27 per cent have problems with dyslexia?

My Lords, I shall write to the noble Baroness to give her the latest information that we have on this issue. I am not aware that dyslexia rates are significantly higher among ethnic-minority communities, but I shall see that the noble Baroness gets the full statistics available.

My Lords, has the Minister seen the research by Professor Karen Bryan of the University of Surrey, which shows that a large proportion of the speech, language and communication difficulties experienced by children and adults in prison have previously been undetected? Will he therefore reassure us that adequate resources will go into the identification of people with those difficulties as they enter the prison system?

My Lords, the noble Lord is completely right that too many of the learning difficulties experienced by those in youth offending and adult prisons have not been properly identified in schools. The resources that we put into special educational needs in schools have significantly increased. Local authorities’ planned spending on special educational needs has risen by £2 billion since 2000-01 and now stands at £4.9 billion. So the Government are investing very significantly in this area, but I would be the first to accept that we have further to go.

My Lords, may I revisit something raised previously? What mechanisms are there to ensure that new advances and suggestions in England are also acted upon or able to be discussed, at least, in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, in the devolved educational settlement?

My Lords, officials in my department and the research communities on which we rely interact very closely with our counterparts in Scotland and Wales. On the issue of dyslexia, for example, we have worked closely with Scottish universities, which, led by the University of Aberdeen, have adopted new approaches to training teachers in addressing dyslexia. Our teacher-training institutions in England have paid very close attention to work in Scotland in that regard. So there is close co-operation.