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Education: Special Educational Needs

Volume 738: debated on Monday 25 June 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to ensure that young people with special educational needs are appropriately supported to enter further education, higher education, training, apprenticeships and employment.

My Lords, Support and Aspiration: A New Approach to Special Educational Needs and Disability—Progress and Next Steps sets out our aspirations to help young people in England with special educational needs to make a successful transition to adulthood. The new education, health and care plans will require services to work together to agree a plan which reflects the young person’s needs and their future ambitions covering education, health, employment and independence. We have also developed supported internships as a way of providing meaningful work opportunities for young people, which we will be trialling from September.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. Is he aware that Work Choice, the scheme intended to help the disabled into employment, has had very little success in helping people with autism to find a job, while the Work Programme itself seems to find great difficulty in placing anyone with autism in employment at all? Given that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, has said that the Government will double the number of people with autism in employment from 15% to 30%, will the Minister tell the House when the Government will publish a programme to achieve that?

My Lords, first, I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, about the importance of doing everything that we can to address the problem of how we help young people with autism into work. The previous Labour Government published a strategy on that in 2009, which the current Government are working with and trying to build on. As the noble Lord says, my noble friend Lord Freud is working in this area. He recently set up an employer round table, where guidance was published for employers to help them with recruiting young people with autism. That is clearly work that we have to carry on. I do not have an immediate and easy answer because, as the noble Lord knows better than I do, this is a long-rooted and difficult problem. But I can say that the Government are committed to doing what we can to work with a range of organisations to address the problem.

Does my noble friend agree that when dealing with the less commonly occurring disability groups there will need to be a driving sector for unusual problems? Has my noble friend got an example of where this has been successfully achieved—for instance, with the Department of Health being able to drive what happens in the Department for Work and Pensions or the Department for Education and Skills?

I think the point that underlies my noble friend’s question is the importance of finding good practice and sharing it, and trying to make sure that the historic divisions and silos between different parts of Whitehall are overcome. I cannot find an immediate example, although he may have one that he can share with me. But we need to find ways in which to overcome those silos—and that is, of course, the principle that underlies the proposals of my right honourable friend Sarah Teather on reforming the whole special educational needs system.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the new technical colleges led by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, are already playing an invaluable role for children whom our schools have failed? They may not have special educational needs, but they have come out of schools inadequately educated. Will the Minister comment as to the commitment to extend the new technical college programme going forward?

That takes us a little away from autism, and it is the case that we need to think about the particular help that we put in place to help children with special educational needs and learning disabilities all the way up to the age of 25. I would not like to lose sight of that, as that is what lies behind the Question.

As for the university technical colleges, the Government have increased the number significantly. We have a number now going forward. We inherited one from the previous Labour Government, and I have been happy to build on that. Now, some 34 have been approved and are moving towards opening.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that support will also be given to those with special educational needs who are in the hands of the criminal justice system?

Yes, my Lords. I know that that is a subject that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, feels very strongly about. He and I have had the chance to discuss that issue, and we need to do what we can to address those needs. It is obviously the case that special educational needs and behavioural issues often lie behind the reason why those young people are in those institutions in the first place.

My Lords, we very much support the principle in the SEN Green Paper that a simplified plan involving social care, education, health and benefit providers would make it easier for young people to access the support they need to flourish in the employment market. But given the complexities involved in these proposals, can the Minister confirm that the current pathfinder pilots, which are only just getting under way, will be completed and evaluated before introducing the very radical changes in primary legislation that will be needed to make the proposals happen?

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the support that she has given to the idea that lies behind our SEN reforms, which is to try to bring these services more closely together. As regards the evaluation of the pathfinder pilots, 20 are under way and we will be publishing regular quarterly reports. I think that the first one is out today and I will make sure that the noble Baroness has a copy. A more formal interim report will be published in the autumn, which will help shape the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill that is also scheduled for the autumn. The lessons that we learn from the pathfinders will help shape that legislation. We will all need to scrutinise that very carefully.

Is the Minister aware that people training to be dental chairside assistants are allowed to sit the relevant exam only three times? I met one such person recently who has failed the written exam twice and has now discovered that she is dyslexic. She says that to get special assistance she will have to produce many hundreds of pounds, and that if she does not get that assistance and does not pass the exam the next time she will not be allowed to continue in employment although the dentist who employs her is completely satisfied with everything that she has done. She has passed all the other sections of the exam except the written part. What help is available to people like her?

I afraid that I am not aware of that case, but perhaps I could have a word with my noble friend afterwards and look into that on her behalf.