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Volume 729: debated on Monday 18 July 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made in making apprenticeships fully accessible to those with dyslexia.

My Lords, we have been taking forward the commitment to develop an alternative way for disabled people to demonstrate their suitability for an apprenticeship. We have developed an initial recommendation. The next steps are to confirm wider endorsement of the proposed model and focus on implementation. External experts continue to advise officials on this and other disability access issues in apprenticeships. We are currently reviewing these advisory arrangements and would welcome specialist input on dyslexia.

I thank my noble friend for that reply. Will she confirm that it is an absurdity that people can get special arrangements to help them through the A-level system whereas dyslexics are failing a communication test which they have to take in the apprenticeships process and are thus not being allowed to qualify, when direct access to this qualification would allow them to earn a living? Is this situation not an absurdity, and will the Government assure us that they will report back to the House when they have corrected it? If not, we are going to go back to it again and again.

The noble Lord is an expert in this area and has spoken to me about this question so I am able to give him my hope for the reassurance that he is asking for. He is talking about the option of key skills as opposed to functional skills in apprenticeships. We have looked at this and extended the options of key skill apprenticeships only on a temporary basis until autumn 2012, because not enough providers were geared up to offer the functional skills which we—and which I know that he and employers—actually prefer. We are well on the way to providing this. We wanted to ensure that there was continuation during this time. However, it does seem very odd that you can get into university or take your GCSE with a functional skill that is not being provided at apprenticeship level. I give the noble Lord my personal assurance that I shall make sure that we continue to address this.

I support the noble Lord, Lord Addington, in the plea that he has just made. As somebody who is involved in apprenticeships at many levels, this has been an issue for me as well. The sector skills councils have been looking at how they will overcome this and I think that some of them have been giving advice to government on it. The parallel which the noble Lord, Lord Addington, mentioned is awful. People can get all that support for an A-level, and the Government are trying very hard to make sure that apprenticeships are as widely available as possible, but they cannot get the support that will enable them to learn a skill and get a job.

The noble Baroness is absolutely right; it is one of those things that happened. As she will know, one or two very poor cases have highlighted the problem, and we are all working very hard to see how we can overcome it. Any input that we can receive, particularly from people with dyslexia, will be an enormous help. We are consulting very widely on it.

My Lords, my younger son has dyslexia. It was lucky that a kindergarten teacher spotted it early so that from that time onwards we have been able to give him help which we hope will allow him to go on and do anything later on in life. Are the Government doing enough to train teachers to spot dyslexia at as early an age as possible and to provide the learning support? The Minister’s response to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, was very encouraging, but are they doing the same to help pupils at school?

As the noble Lord will know, the education Bill is currently going through the other House and will introduce many things. When it completes its passage a duty will, I hope, be placed on schools to make sure that there is good independent advice, particularly on careers. However, we are carefully monitoring the position at the earlier ages to make sure that all our children have equal opportunities. We really aspire to equal opportunities in this matter as well.

My Lords, I recognise what the Government are doing in relation to this particular problem. However, there is a huge demand for apprenticeships generally and for apprenticeships for people with disabilities specifically. Does the Minister agree that it might help if the Government stipulate the need for apprenticeships when they let procurement contracts, placing a special emphasis on those with disabilities? Should they not act similarly in relation to government departments?

I was very interested to hear the noble Lord’s suggestion. I wonder why he did not do it when his people were in government.

You did, did you? Okay, then I have no doubt that we are carrying it forward, as we do with many of the things that you did. What support is available for disabled apprentices? Additional funding is available, and we are taking forward the work that you were doing in the past. I am sorry, that was cheeky.

Is the Minister aware that the Joint Council for Qualifications guidance is clear on support for students with special needs? Does she think that providers should be required, rather than just following guidance, to ensure that all elements of the courses are accessible for students with disabilities including dyslexia?

My Lords, does the Minister speak only for people in England who suffer from dyslexia, or is this also an opportunity for those in the other countries of the United Kingdom?

I am speaking for England today, so I am assuming that this is a devolved responsibility. If it is not, I shall come back to the noble Lord with more information. I think that it is definitely a devolved responsibility.