Skip to main content

Education: Skills

Volume 736: debated on Wednesday 14 March 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the key skills and functional skills requirements in the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 are compatible with the Equality Act 2010 in relation to accessibility for dyslexic and other disabled conditions.

My Lords, the apprenticeships provisions within the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act are compatible with the Equality Act. Employers say that basic English and mathematics are essential for apprentices. The specification of apprenticeship standards for England sets out minimum requirements for apprenticeships. Key skills are being withdrawn as they are not fit for purpose and, from October, apprentices can choose between the GCSEs or functional skills for English and mathematics.

I thank the Minister for that Answer and draw attention to my declared interests. Does my noble friend agree—I have shown this to her—that I have some legal opinion which might contradict that? Does she acknowledge that, at the moment, there are people who are failing to pass the English qualification because of dyslexia who could be helped through to degree level if they chose that path? There is also evidence which shows that people are having problems because those who administer these tests do not know what they could do. Under these circumstances, does not our Government have a duty to make sure that something which has been brought forward as a great saviour of our skill force—the apprenticeship—is made fit for purpose?

The noble Lord is an expert on this subject and I think carefully about the answers that I give him. Yes, he had already given me sight of the Question he was going to ask. There is no evidence to suggest that the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act is not compliant with the Equality Act. The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a critical friend in order for us to be assured of continued compliance, and it stays alongside us. On tackling the colleges and providers, where a college or provider is not using appropriate access arrangements they may lose their right to deliver these qualifications as an approved centre. We will be watching that situation very carefully. Both English and mathematics, of course, are ongoing problems for people with dyslexia but, where barriers to access remain, as a last resort individuals can be exempted from up to two or three of the assessed components within the functions skills—I have checked this and found it to be right—speaking, listening, communication, reading and writing. In the last event, two or three of those components can be removed to make it as accessible as possible.

Perhaps I might add that the employers are very keen that everyone should have basic English and mathematics, and we know how difficult this is for many people with dyslexia. However, it is important, if we can, to keep people with disabilities and dyslexia inside the system and to help them to be as much a part of our community as everyone else. So, wherever it is possible to keep people inside the community, we will. I am sorry that my answer was long but the issue is important.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that many of our excellent tradesmen and tradeswomen would readily acknowledge that when they were young they were not too good at passing exams? We must be very careful when encouraging young people to come into apprenticeships that we do not make exams a barrier.

That is absolutely right, and that is why it is important for us to have functional skills, which are much more accessible to people with disabilities. I would be happy to talk to the noble Lord further on that matter.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that those students who go to university who have special needs are supported, perhaps through a scribe or assistive software, but that is not the case with apprenticeships. How would the Minister advise on this case? An apprentice electrician had an outstanding report on his practical skills from his employer. However, as he failed his key skills component, his employer was unable to retain him and he is now, sadly, unemployed. What advice would the Minister give to that young person as to the support that we could give him and other apprentices?

I am very sorry to hear this. We have just commissioned Peter Little to carry out research and recommend improvements to the accessibility of these apprenticeships. In April we will publish his report and a plan setting out exactly what we will do to improve and to help the situation.

My Lords, since this Question refers to disabilities other than dyslexia, is the Minister aware of the report published today by the Scottish Association for Mental Health about discrimination against people with mental illness in employment? Will she get a copy of it and consider its recommendations and applicability to England and Wales?