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Education and Training: People with Hidden Disabilities

Volume 738: debated on Thursday 28 June 2012

Motion to Take Note

Moved By

That this House takes note of accessible education and training for those with hidden disabilities such as dyslexia and autism.

My Lords, first, I thank everyone who has taken the trouble to put their names down for this debate. I must also declare a series of interests. I am not only dyslexic but vice-president of the British Dyslexia Association and patron of the Adult Dyslexia Organisation, and I work for Microlink, a company that provides support for those with disabilities and of which I am chairman.

When I linked autism and dyslexia and included them in hidden disabilities, the main point that I was trying to make was that anything that is not easily spotted at the start of the educational process, whenever someone chooses to take that, leads to problems if it impedes one’s learning or classroom situation. How early one gets in and identifies the problem is crucial.

I will say only a few words on autism, starting with Asperger’s, for the simple reason that there are many people in the Chamber who know far more about the subject and can talk from greater depth of knowledge than I will ever be able to. Those with Asperger’s, who are on the edge of a spectrum, are often identified later as a result of interaction with other people outside the home when it becomes less difficult to spot. This would be made much easier if someone was trained in the initial stages of education and in the classroom, and indeed if that training was not a limited introduction, to be able to spot it later on as problems start to manifest themselves, often simply because they were not dealt with earlier.

The problems of social interaction—taking things too literally; not being able to communicate properly; non-verbal communication, which is so important even when talking in this Chamber—create other problems if they are not picked up. We must have someone who can recognise these problems and get in earlier. I am really calling for people to be trained throughout the education process to pick these up. Also, education and training are supposed to be lifelong. All conditions for which there is not this embedded knowledge, and even sometimes when there is, are going to be spotted later on in life. Therefore, we must not limit ourselves to training just in the education sector.

I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Hill, may find himself having questions directed at him that might go to BIS, to the Department for Work and Pensions, or to the Department of Health—certainly in the case of autism. We had a little exchange earlier in the week when he asked what the best lead department would be to drive something. I suggest that when it comes to some of these conditions, the Department for Education could be of the most benefit, certainly for dyslexics. The basic few examples that I have given for autism and dyslexia are very clearly there.

A good point is dyslexia, because the problem occurs when one starts to use written language. Dyslexia, which I believe means “difficulty with words” in Greek, becomes apparent of course when one starts to learn to read and write. To access all forms of education and training in our society as we are going through, one has to have those two basic skills. If you do not deal with those, you are at an eternal disadvantage.

This situation is getting more prominent—I was about to say worse—for the simple reason that as we formalise our skill base more, measure it and try to support people, there are more and more occasions when you have to write something down or react to written information. Whether it is on paper or on the screen, that requirement is always there. There is a greater emphasis on the written paper in the modern driving test, as opposed to the one that I took. I do not have to go on much further because we can all think of examples. That is what we have if we do not deal with the situation for certain people.

It is reckoned that 10% of the population are on the dyslexia spectrum. I think it is 1% for autism. We could have mentioned many other hidden spectrums, such as ADHD, dyspraxia and dyscalculia. We are probably getting up to about 15% without trying. I do not know what that percentage is in every classroom, but it is a very high one, so we must have a degree of knowledge based in that classroom for early intervention.

Why have I brought this matter forward at this present time? It is because we are having a look at the whole special educational needs sector—we are coming down the track. The Government have made proposals. However, I do not know whether this was intentional—I hope that it was not—but the people concerned with these non-obvious disabilities have heard warning bells rung by some of the language that was used. This may be a chance for the Minister to muffle those bells a little in the process of his speech. I refer to things like, “We will concentrate on things and get a whole cross-departmental approach towards making sure that people go through. We will cut down the number of people on the special educational needs register. We will concentrate better”.

Unless we have people with expertise based in the front, identifying the problem, we cannot do these things. Even if we redefine someone with dyslexia as not having a special educational need, because the system can use it, they are still dyslexic, and dyslexic throughout their lives. It is not something that you get rid of; it is a disability and it is to do with the organisation of your brain. It is there for ever, as I know to my cost.

Aside from this, going into my personal history, I wonder how many other people in this Chamber have been congratulated on their improving handwriting on Christmas cards in their forties.

My noble friend says “the opposite”. I look forward to hearing from him later on.

It is something that stays with you, and you have a different developmental pattern. Sir Jim Rose said in his report:

“Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling … Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness”—

I shall not try to say that twice—

“verbal memory and verbal processing speed … Dyslexia occurs across the range of intellectual abilities”.

There is a great deal more in that vein to be found in the document from Dyslexia Action. It is always there, and you will always have a different learning process, which means that every time you go into a new phase of your educational and training process you will always have the problem. The way in which it is dealt with will change over time, as will the way in which you deal with it and your interactions with other people. That will change under the pressures on you, but it is always there. If we get teachers trained initially and then make sure that others throughout the system have the support and knowledge of what was happening, we will take a huge step forward. We must make sure that the interaction and the different learning process never become a barrier. We must allow people to explain it.

If someone has the condition explained to them, they start to be able to take the appropriate steps to mitigate the condition. If a teacher goes up to a child and says, “You’re not stupid, you’re dyslexic”, that teacher and all other teachers have an infinitely better chance of a positive relationship than they would if they did not identify the problem. You can then go and tell the parents. The dyslexia world is full of the recurring story of parents saying, “My child is dyslexic and I have discovered that I am”. How do people get through life? They will say, “I never take notes—I always ask someone to do it for me”—as a result of having never kept a pen on their person for more than about three seconds at a time. They are dependent on partners, and so on. Those are the success stories.

In our prison population, about 70% or 80% are reckoned to have problems with literacy. Every single assessment of the prison population that has looked at it has come up with the figure of about 50% being in the dyslexia spectrum. If you take on board the idea that if you cannot access education you cannot access training because you cannot go through the process with a technical ability to read and write—and thus you cannot get employment—you have a far greater likelihood of becoming an offender. Asperger’s, I am afraid, is also highly represented. Possibly not communicating as other people do might lead to conflict. It is a very complicated and worrying situation. If you do not get in there early and coherently, it will cause problems.

What do I want done? Sir Jim Rose presented, under the previous Government, a model for the better training of dyslexics within the teacher training programme. You have to make sure that that is used not only in the initial training but throughout the system. Throughout the process of training, it is equally appropriate. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, might well be able to regale my noble friend on the Front Bench with the long series of meetings that we have had over apprenticeships. The previous Government decided that they would reassure employers about standards in training and said that everyone must pass an English key skills—now functional skills—test. When challenged on this, they said that they would make a change, but I think that it fell through the cracks in the changeover of Governments. All I know is that I have spent the better part of two years chasing around to get those people the same support and help to get an apprenticeship that you currently have to get a degree—or at least for there to be no greater barriers.

At the last meeting I had, it was agreed that assisted technology could probably be used to get through this test. Someone said, “Well, no one has complained about it—we haven’t had one letter or e-mail”. You get that degree of resistance further up. I have had meetings with the Department for Work and Pensions, usually under the last Government. There is nothing new here. They said, “Well, yes, we’ve got people with needs who are long-term unemployed. We should help them”. “How?” “Oh, it’s complicated—we’d have to get more training packages”. “Yes, please do”. The Department for Education is uniquely placed to set a precedent for good training and awareness. That department can drive this. If it cannot, it can at least build the engine and hope that someone else will put their foot on the accelerator.

We must do something here to address the problem. Some 10% of the population with dyslexia are underachieving in many cases, sometimes becoming a drag on our society. The figures for autism might be smaller, but the problem is as profound, man for man, if not more so. We have to try to address the problem, but we will not do so unless we get a greater degree of awareness throughout the system. We have to get agreement. Every time a dyslexic has to deal with a form, they are at a disadvantage. Every time you ask someone to fill in a process that has anything to do with reading and writing, a dyslexic is potentially disadvantaged. We have to make sure that at all these points there is someone there who understands and, when you say, “I am dyslexic”, will understand that slight adaptions should be made. Assistive voice to text and text to voice technology is very old beer now. I have been using it personally for over 12 years. It is now comparatively easy to use. We have a way forward. This is something that could be integrated into the classroom more easily. It need not be that big a problem—all you need is slightly different patterns of dealing with this.

I look forward to hearing from my noble friend when he replies that the Government are taking this on board and that his department is driving this through the whole machinery of government. If it does not do so and merely concentrates on the schools aspect, it will leave people with a wonderful set of skills for one part of their lives and leave them to fall off a cliff the next.

My Lords, I refer the House to the Register with my interest in autism charities. It is a great privilege to follow my noble friend who has brought the debate to the Floor of the House today. He is a passionate advocate, particularly for those with dyslexia, and also always speaks out for those with what he termed—I think quite rightly—the “hidden disabilities”. As he said, somebody can meet someone they do not know, talk to them, observe them and not think that there is a problem—particularly with dyslexics and those with autism, and those on the more able end of the autistic spectrum such as people with Asperger’s syndrome.

Although there is still so much more to do, we know that several things have been done that have improved matters for all these children. When I started out as an MP more than 20 years ago, I remember in my constituency casework meeting professionals both in education and in health—doctors and teachers—who denied that autism or dyslexia existed at all. There were parents in my constituency who were paying privately for their dyslexic children to have tuition on Saturday while their classroom teachers denied that such a condition existed.

It has been a real battle to get autism up the agenda. Of course, both Houses agreed in the previous Parliament to an Autism Act. I say to my noble friend that I am increasingly concerned at the number of government departments that seem to be oblivious to the fact that there is an Autism Act on the statute book. Yes, it does focus very much on health, social care and integration—but it particularly affects those in transition out of education through those very difficult years into adulthood. I urge my noble friend—as I have urged other colleagues in other government departments—to make sure that, when they are legislating and looking at codes of practice, they look at what the House has determined should be the future for people coming out of education who are on the autistic spectrum.

In the classroom there are so many things that relate both to dyslexia and to the more able children on the autistic spectrum. I was very interested to see the article, “Dyslexia Still Matters”, in Dyslexia Action, which sets out effective practice that would make a difference. There were four very simple points, any of which could apply to autism as well. The first referred to:

“A whole school ethos that respects individuals’ differences, maintains high expectations for all”.

We know that children who are different in any way very quickly become subject to playground bullying and name-calling. All too often in a classroom situation it will become apparent to other children that they are struggling with the work. This of course applies to both autism and dyslexia. I hope that we have gone past the stage where they are subject to name-calling by teachers. That sounds rather shocking but I can think of several examples where teachers told children that they were “thick”. These memories will have remained with them well into their adulthood. One can only speculate on the impact that this had on both their self-confidence and their ability and willingness to learn in later life.

Dyslexia Action also refers to:

“Knowledgeable and sensitive teachers who understand the processes of learning”.

I am a great advocate of integrated education for children with a whole range of disabilities but I draw a line where the school does not understand the condition well enough to take those practical steps—very often environmental ones—that will enable a child to learn. I emphasise “learn” because there are children who because of their nature sit passively at the back of the classroom and allow education to wash over them year after year. It is quite common, for example, that children with autism are very sensitive to light and noise—even to the noise of a lot of children talking in close proximity. They struggle to concentrate and hold on to thought processes and eventually give up.

What happens to those children? It is not rocket science. There have been enough studies into this for us to be able to deal with it. It should not be an ongoing problem. These children start to develop what we might describe as challenging behaviour in the classroom. The children—particularly the autistic ones—who start to chuck the chairs about are the ones who suddenly get the attention. The ones who sit quietly at the back and end their school days without the benefit of the proper education that their intelligence tells you that they were clearly capable of obtaining—they are the ones we are letting down. I come back to those who start throwing the furniture about. Challenging behaviour is difficult for any teacher in a classroom setting. We are all aware of the need for the teacher to think of the whole class and not just that one child who, on an ongoing basis, may be disrupting the education of the others.

I must say to my noble friend that I have concerns and have had them for a long time. Although the Government—and the previous Government—no longer believe that so many statements should be issued, one of the reasons for trying to obtain a statement for a difficult child in a classroom setting concerns the allocation of extra teaching hours for a teaching assistant. All too often that teaching assistant is not trained in the needs of that individual child—whether dyslexic, dyspraxic or autistic—but is used all too often to assist the teacher with the general management of the class as a whole. Therefore, the need for the individual child who has a statement of educational needs to really motor on with their education is something that, very often, is not addressed just by having a teaching assistant in the classroom, particularly in respect to autistic children.

Of course, autistic children are different. It is a danger to just lump them all together. Their needs will be different. They are individuals. Their teaching needs will be best addressed by an environment and a teaching process that recognise what those needs are—which needs to be put together after very careful assessment. If we are going down the route of not having as many statements—I am a great advocate of statements; I cannot think of how many constituents I have gone into battle for who wanted a statement or challenged one, and I feel that statementing helped a great many children—there is at least a need for all children, statemented or not, to come through education with their needs being assessed and recognised. That is important not just while they are in the classroom; it is equally important when they go through that transitional period of adolescence and into adulthood, when they may need to access training such as apprenticeships, further education or, in many cases, higher education, which a great many of these children are capable of obtaining if they have the right package of support.

I want to share something with my noble friend. I suspect that his colleague in another place, Sarah Teather, will already be aware of it because on 11 July she will address the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Autism. The group has put together recommendations that we believe should apply to all autistic children. This will read across to other children. The recommendations are that every school should have a lead teacher for autism, and that all children and young people with autism and special educational needs should have an action plan, whether or not they have a statement, so that as they move through the transition period a record of what their educational needs were in school can go with them. The thing about children and education is that how you communicate with them when they have a communication disorder will apply as much when they become adults as it did when they were in the classroom. We are now talking about skills and services for life because, as my noble friend said, they will have this condition throughout adulthood—it does not apply only to the classroom.

The all-party group also recommends that there should be meaningful support for all young people with autism and SEN up to 25 years of age, including those who are not in further education. Some of these children, including some of the brightest, take a few more years than other people, because of their needs, to get there. If you do not give them the opportunity, the cut-off points in terms of their age can be detrimental. We have had debates in this House about the need to consider the needs of children through to age 25, and I think that the Government have been receptive. I hope that my noble friend will accept this.

Of the adult community with autism, 60% rely on their families for financial support and 40% live with their parents. Many people who have adult children with autism and other types of lifelong disability would recognise immediately that parenting is for life—it is for as long as you can continue to support that child. There are, therefore, very elderly pensioners supporting pension-age children. That is not unusual. It is important that we address the fact that many of these adults are sitting at home without the training or opportunity to make the positive contribution that many of them would like to make. That does not mean that you can just fix them up with a job. I commend my noble friend Lord Freud, who is not here, for personally taking a great interest in seeking to raise the number of people with Asperger’s syndrome who get into work. He has set up a group that is liaising with employers to show them that such people, with the right package of support, can make a great contribution to their own independence in paid employment and to the economy of the country.

However, we should recognise that some issues regarding disabilities in training and employment in the workplace are more easily resolved than others. Some adaptations for disabilities, after management has been made aware and has put in practical adaptations, do not subsequently take up any management time. This is particularly the case with the Asperger’s group. They need ongoing support in the workplace—although not to do the job; they can do some high-level jobs—and someone who understands how they function. How the individual functions and what works for them is as important in the classroom as it is in the workplace. We should help them make that transition and give them as much support and education in the workplace as we provide in the classroom.

My Lords, I sincerely congratulate the noble Lord on winning the ballot for this very important debate on the disabled. I want to widen the range of his examples, because there are others who are disabled in different ways and there are general lessons to be learnt from the problems arising from how we deal, or fail to deal, with one form of disability, which then reflects on somebody else. I note the remarks of the noble Baroness who has just sat down on the importance of parenting, which is a lifetime problem. That is significant, too, for the disability that I will deal with.

I take part in this debate without any expertise whatever, not even “a veneer of expertise”, as Mr Clegg has apparently said. I declare an interest as one of my grandchildren suffers from type 1 diabetes. It is a disability that is particularly acute for the young. I am happy to say that he is able to do most things except contact sports such as rugby, which is a pity. He sails, fences and skis, which pose no difficulty. I have been trying for some time to get separate figures for research into type 1 diabetes, as opposed to type 2, the latter of which affects, in the main, older people. Type 1 sufferers—the young in the main—are growing in number at an alarming rate. At last, I think I am making a breakthrough in the answers I am getting, which I appreciate. I believe I heard the Minister, some months ago, responding to a question on the issue of education for the disabled. He was both understanding and appreciative, and I said that if the opportunity arose I might say something in the future. I believe it is only in recent years that some of the difficulties of children with problems, sometimes underlying ones, are being understood better and allowances made for them.

When I was at school, and even while my children were small, the problems of a child with dyslexia were not properly taken account of. Today’s report from Dyslexia Action states:

“Knowledge, understanding and expertise is patchy and Dyslexia Action too often still hears accounts of parents struggling to have their concerns recognised and addressed at school”.

That was the tenor of some of the remarks. The report goes on to say:

“Difficulties in their children’s learning are not picked up early enough”.

I say no more.

I return to type 1 diabetes. I attended a meeting in the House only this week on the research that is taking place on type 1. However, I fear a real breakthrough on causes and treatment is yet to come. The causes are not properly understood and more research on such things as artificial pancreases is required. Despite all the care in the world, and even with the modern pumps that are worn by children, there is no assurance that the sugar/blood condition, if that is the correct term, is correct at all times. The problem can be particularly acute at night and I would not weary the House by reciting the number of telephone calls that sometimes have to be made at night to an absent parent, of the type the noble Baroness referred to, when the child is away on school activities.

As far as education is concerned, it boils down to this: there is no guarantee what condition the child with this problem will be in the next morning. It is an unremitting battle to take every step to avoid a hypoglycaemic event—the right blood-sugar level is crucial. If a child has had a difficult night, even if he avoids a hypo, I suspect he is not in as good a frame of mind as his counterparts to face difficult and testing exams. It is very bad luck indeed if he has had a hypo the night before or even an unacceptable blood-sugar level. Should one make allowances for this kind of disability or for any other disability?

In a different world, I read of questions being asked about some notable individuals who have distinguished themselves in Paralympics in the past and I read press reports as to whether they were really as disabled as it was thought at the time. As a criminal lawyer, who has had the privilege of examining and cross-examining medical experts over the years in a whole range of cases and conditions, I know that some judgments in these fields frequently have a degree of subjectivity. Hence, the inevitable difficulty of getting acceptable yardsticks on which to make allowances.

I do not wish to traverse subjects such as cot deaths but we will all have read about the cases, some of which I have been involved in, that involve a huge amount of controversy. Part of the difficulty of getting yardsticks is that the degree of subjectivity can be very high.

I fear that I have no real answer to the question of how best to deal educationally with a child who has been close to or, worse still, has developed a hypo the night before his exams. Perhaps the way forward—this point has general application—is for examiners to have some sort of guidelines concerning the need, to be accepted by preliminary identification. I have dealt with one disability but the same applies to the kinds of cases on which the noble Lord has concentrated.

The answer—these are only suggestions—may be to provide extra time in an exam for any child with a disability, or perhaps, appreciating the problems that might be entailed, some flexibility over the timing, perhaps postponing an examination for just a few hours. Such conditions would be helpful in ensuring recognition of the problems of any disabled child, whatever his disabilities. A temporary blip in a child’s condition should not be allowed to endanger a proper assessment of his talents or perhaps handicap him unnecessarily in his further educational prospects.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Addington on securing this important debate.

When reading the briefing material that came to those of us who had our names down to speak in this debate, there was one particular statistic that jumped out at me. It was that, in a study carried out in 2003, 41% of a sample of 1,000 unemployed people were dyslexic. I do not know whether there has been an update, because that was almost 10 years ago, but it is a pretty damning figure. Therefore, if your Lordships do not mind, I am going to stretch the topic of this debate very slightly beyond education and training into the employment which we hope will result from them and which is an important component of a fulfilled life.

An example from the Dyslexia Foundation about an organisation called Training Plus Merseyside in my city of origin, Liverpool, was instructive. In 2004, it was told that 4% of its clients had a special educational need. It obviously had a hunch that this was a gross underestimate, so it did something about it. It did some staff training, invested in screening tools, paid for psychological assessment and used ICT interventions, and it found that the real figure was nearer to 30%. What that tells me is that, at least at that time, the number of people slipping through the diagnosis net at school was far too large and many of those were landing up as NEET—not in education, employment or training. Indeed, all young people with disabilities are two and a half times more likely to fall into the NEET category than their fully able peers. Of course, there is a large cost, both personal and economic, to this, so we need to get it right at the education stage before the situation becomes entrenched.

The Government understand the importance of early diagnosis and intervention and have announced professional assessments of children’s health and development at the ages of two and five, as well as the phonics check at year one in primary school. I hope one can assume that the two and five year-olds’ checks are done by multidisciplinary, experienced professionals, but the phonics test will be administered by ordinary classroom teachers. That is why it is so essential that all teachers, in their initial training, have a meaningful SEN unit, including information about how to recognise and source appropriate help for children who achieve low scores in the phonics test and who therefore may suffer from dyslexia at some level.

Of course, it is far more likely that the parents will have noticed a problem—particularly with that other hidden disability, ASD—long before the child goes to primary school. It is really sad that so many of them say that they struggle to access appropriate care in therapies. I met a parent recently who noticed something wrong when their child was two and sought medical advice when he was two and a half. The doctors would not intervene until he was three, by which time his fairly normal vocabulary for his age at two had all but disappeared.

For parents with a child with severe ASD, working with their child and supporting him through his therapy and exercises is a full-time job. It is an enormous commitment, often meaning that they have to give up their own career, with the resultant stress on the family budget. However, if the condition is caught early enough and appropriate interventions are provided, the results can allow that disabled young person to be quite functional and lead a pretty normal life. However, adjustments have to be made in the education and work place and the person supported to reach his full educational potential and then become a productive worker. Even NICE says that this is a cost-effective intervention.

In schools, if the condition is not detected, as Charlie Taylor, the Government's behaviour adviser told the education Select Committee this week, it can result in bad behaviour. The noble Baroness, Lady Browning, has given us some graphic examples of that. As he pointed out, this is not the child's fault and should not be treated as such. Sadly, many employers also do not understand the conditions that we are talking about today and make no allowances.

Another thing that struck me in the briefings was the statement from Ambitious about Autism that:

“At 16, young disabled people hold the same aspirations to stay in education and find fulfilling careers as their non disabled peers”.

Well, of course they do; but, sadly, only one child in four with autism continues their education beyond school due to lack of suitable courses and lack of support. However, many do persist and get university degrees. When you think of the struggle that they have had, it is tragic to learn that a quarter of graduates with autism are unemployed. That is much higher for their age group despite the fact that seven out of 10 employers who have autistic employees report a very positive experience and would recommend employing people with autism to other employers. It is a terrible waste of talent after such a struggle. It is no wonder that many of them succumb to mental health problems, welfare dependency, and so on. This must change.

The Government have introduced the Youth Contract to help unemployed young people to get into work, and I think we can safely assume that many of them will have dyslexia or autism, or may be somewhere on either of those spectrums. Can my noble friend the Minister tell me what special provision is being made within the Youth Contract for these young people? If it is not for them, who is it for? It is doubly important that these young people are catered for with appropriate courses and support into work, especially in the light of the impending duty to stay in education or training until the age of 17 and then 18.

I return to education and the much more common condition of dyslexia. The Government have made clear their deep commitment to improving literacy. They are also changing and improving initial teacher training and continuing professional development. These two things go together. In this country we work with teachers to improve their practice. We do not sack head teachers on national television, as Michelle Rhee, the director of education in Washington DC did. We have nothing to learn from a city that let its schools get into such a bad state, where half of 15 year-olds were illiterate and 1,000 teachers were considered incompetent. Things are different here.

Will my noble friend the Minister say whether all the future vehicles for initial teacher training—including the ones in the new training schools—will have a compulsory SEN component, including training in how to recognise dyslexia and how to access the right support? Can he also say what is being done about teaching assistants? Again, the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, mentioned their importance. They are now an indispensible component of the staff of modern schools—especially primary schools—so it is vital that they have opportunities to specialise in supporting teachers with children with disabilities or special needs in their classrooms—which, actually, is most of them—and that they have a clear career path if that is the way they want to go. Can the Minister say something about that?

It surprised me recently to discover that the Open University teaching courses, often used by teaching assistants to move on to be a full teacher, do not have the option to specialise in SEN. One has to do a general teaching degree first. This is a pity as many teaching assistants already have good experience with children with special needs and could do well on a specialist teaching course. If this is not correct, I hope someone will give me the information.

As we have heard, Dyslexia Action is calling for a national dyslexia and literacy strategy. You cannot have a literacy strategy without addressing dyslexia. As the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, has pointed out, there are four simple key elements: whole school ethos; knowledgeable teachers; creative adaptations to classroom practice so that all children can be included; and access to additional learning programmes and sufficient resources. This does not seem too much to ask and I hope the Minister can assure us that this will happen.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and congratulate him on obtaining this debate. Like other noble Lords, I admire the determination with which he has pursued these issues on many occasions in the House. I welcome the fact that we are debating this issue with the Minister because, from our exchanges both during education Bills and subsequently, I know what a keen interest he takes in these matters. Knowing that we are dealing with and talking to someone who has such an interest is encouraging for those of us who have concerns in this area.

I, too, have benefitted from the briefing that we have had for this debate, particularly from Dyslexia Action. However, I do not want to speak only about dyslexia because I find from the briefings that I get from organisations in all the various parts of the spectrum—ADHD, autism and so on—that they all have similar areas of concern. The best thing we can do is to bring all those groups and their concerns together and try to unite them in a common strategy. After all, the process is the same, as I shall discuss, and it is only individuals with particular problems who have to be treated differently within an overall strategy.

I declare an interest as chairman of the All-Party Group on Speech and Language Difficulties. Currently we are conducting an inquiry into the links between speech, language and communication needs and social disadvantage. I shall mention some of the emerging evidence that we are getting because it is relevant to this issue. In that connection, we have had two days of evidence this week, which I have found the most valuable and inspiring days I have spent in this House, listening to practitioners in the field.

As I have explained to the House, my motivation stems from an experience in a young offender establishment in Scotland when the governor said to me that if he had to get rid of all his staff, the last one out of the gate would be his speech and language therapist. When I asked why, he explained that the offenders could not communicate either with each other or with the staff, and until and unless they could, no one knew what to do with and for them.

I met the marvellous woman who was carrying out this work and asked her what she did. She said she had assessed them all and found hideous shortcomings, which she was able to do something about. I asked her who was the best person in England to do this work and she named a professor at Surrey University, who I asked to come with me into a young offender establishment, and she did. She assessed the boys there and found all kinds of things which were not being picked up in other assessments conducted in reading, writing and other skills.

These include substance-abuse-induced memory loss, hearing problems and sight problems. Most telling of all, however, 100% had the communication difficulties associated with 1% of the population. Clearly, there is a link in all this. I will not bore the House, but subsequent work in putting two speech and language therapists into young offender institutions for two years, academically evaluated, proved within a month that they were an absolutely essential part of the establishment.

Secondly, it identified very clearly that picking up these problems at the age of 15 was far, far too late. It has got to be done earlier. It is not just being able to engage with the people who were looking after them in the young offender establishment; they had missed out on being able to engage with teachers throughout the whole process of life until then. No doubt, that failure had a lot to do with the fact that they were in those establishments. A statement was made to me, which I have never forgotten, that the inability to communicate was the scourge of the 20th century, and it is certainly that of the 21st century. I couple that sentiment with two other statements that I have repeated on many occasions in this House. One was the marvellous remark of Winston Churchill’s in 1910 that,

“there is a treasure, if you can only find it, in the heart of every man”,

with the clear implication that it is your duty to find it. Secondly, it is my firm belief that the only raw material that every nation has in common is its people, and woe betide it if it does not do everything that it can to identify, nurture and develop the talents of all its people, because if it does not and it fails, it has only itself to blame.

Thinking that through, therefore, I am very concerned that people with hidden difficulties and disabilities which could be identified early must have them identified, so that the talents and the treasure can be nurtured and developed not just for their benefit, but for the benefit of the nation as a whole. In preparing for this debate, I looked at my shelves upstairs and I was staggered at the amount of information and the number of reports on the subject. For instance, we had the Bercow report of 2008; the Department for Children, Schools and Families’ better communication plan; the Field report on the foundation years; the Marmot review of health inequalities; the Allen report on early intervention; a joint consultation on the new approach to special educational needs from the Department for Education and Department of Health; the Department for Education’s statutory framework for the early years; the 2012 Green Paper and the pathfinders; and, only today, another document from Dyslexia Action, Dyslexia Still Matters. These reports, together with masses of papers from the Communications Commissioner, the Children’s Commissioner and many practitioners, all say the same thing: that if we are going to make progress, we must intervene early—and the earlier the better—to discover difficulties and disabilities and do something about them as soon as possible.

I turn to the evidence that we have been hearing. I was very pleased to hear from the Department of Health that four new service models are being produced jointly by that department and the Department for Education, together with royal colleges, health visitors, UNISON and others, with pathways for parents, children and practitioners. Two have already been introduced; one for pregnancy and the early weeks of life and one for pre- and early school from two to 10. Another two will be introduced for the nine to 19 year-olds. Furthermore, I am glad to see that there is one for the criminal justice system. There is clear evidence in this that the health and well-being boards which were formed in the recent Health and Social Care Bill have a very important part to play in this. Interestingly, however, a number of our witnesses have said how much they wish that the phrase “mental health” was eliminated from our vocabulary and “mental well-being” was used instead. It is a much more satisfactory term; “well-being’ is a “doing” word, and might make people understand the problem better.

I come to the practicalities. We heard from a health visitor and a speech and language therapist from Northern Ireland that compulsory assessments are being conducted on every child at the age of two, and that health visitors have been trained by speech and language therapists to understand the symptoms they are looking for. They are picking up difficulties as well as disabilities, which is enormously encouraging. Northern Ireland has an advantage in that health and social care work together, which is not the case all over the country. The witnesses highlighted how hugely important this is because otherwise you begin to get fragmentation, which is difficult to deal with.

We then heard what is being achieved in Stoke-on-Trent. It has adopted a motto to the effect that communication is everyone’s business and regards intervention as a multi-agency activity. Some 5,000 people have been trained to identify symptoms. They are not only teachers and parents, but policemen and voluntary sector workers. People are on the lookout for these things and the response is co-ordinated. Stoke has developed a staged pathway which I believe is a model that others could follow with advantage. Indeed, Staffordshire has been fortunate to have had for many years some visionary people working in this area, with research that goes back 10 years showing the benefit of taking this sort of work further.

We heard from representatives of children’s services and speech and language therapists in Walsall. They realised that children entering secondary school had also not had problems identified. They have been assessing people as they enter secondary school. They have been doing this as a pilot for three years and they have some interesting data. Moreover, some schools have found that they have to do these assessments not just when pupils arrive, but at various stages of their passage through the school. I hope that that is not something which will be dismissed. It was interesting to note that after our evidence session, the people from Stoke married up, if you like, with the people from Walsall because they clearly reckoned that they had something to learn; you have to carry on beyond the early years.

Carrying on is the lesson in some excellent work that has been devised by the English Speaking Board for enhancing employability. What is absolutely crucial is the word “transition”. Whatever we do with those who have hidden disabilities and difficulties, having found them, we have to concentrate on the transitions from stage to stage not only throughout their education but on leaving school and making the transition into the workplace, and then on through life.

Later in the year we shall issue a report about this. It will say, frankly, that we think this is an area that needs national oversight. We are concerned that local authorities will be responsible for certain parts of it, with the healthcare and teaching sectors responsible for others. Unless someone pulls all this together, people will continue to fall through the cracks.

The other message that comes through strongly in the report I saw today from Dyslexia Action is that the solutions lie in using existing knowledge and good practice because there is masses of it out there. Rather than reinvent the wheel, for heaven’s sake, let us exploit the valuable expertise and experience of the marvellous people who do this terrific work.

As the title of this debate suggests, it is essential that appropriate teaching and training are available and accessible to all people according to their ability and talent. The ethos of the English Speaking Board is that every person is an individual with unique capabilities and problems who must not be compared with another; rather, each must be judged on their own merits. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure the House that a national approach which makes certain that people are not allowed to slip through the net from the moment of an early assessment at two years of age is what the practice will be, and that what is done in Northern Ireland will become common practice throughout the whole of the United Kingdom.

My Lords, we are indeed indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for securing this debate and also for the very powerful advocacy that he displayed when he opened it this afternoon. Finding a job is difficult enough these days, especially if you are a young person. Consider how much harder it is if you are disabled. In particular, if you are a young person with learning and developmental disabilities, accessing the right support and opportunities to find a job is especially challenging. On top of this, you are part of a substantial cohort of young people with special educational needs and disabilities, all of whom are likely to be unemployed, too.

In 2009, the Department for Education showed that 30% of young people who had a statement of special educational needs when they were doing their GCSEs, and 22% of young people with a declared disability, were not in education, employment or training when they reached the age of 18. This compares with just 13% of their peers. The Department for Education’s National Pupil Database 2009-10 reveals that just 20% of children with special educational needs and statements achieved five A*-C grades—less than one-quarter of the rate for children without special educational needs.

One person in every 100 has autism. Consider the detrimental effect that this has on the employment prospects for adults with autism. Too many autistic children and their families are being let down by the special educational needs system and are struggling to access the support that they need. That is why I and a great many others welcome the Government’s decision to reform the system through the forthcoming children and families Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Browning, has been a great champion and we all admire the hard work she does on behalf of people with autism. She referred to the All-Party Group on Autism’s recent report, The Right Start: Reforming the System for Children with Autism, of which I have a copy. As a result of publishing the report, we will press the Government to ensure that the legislative opportunities down the tracks for change will benefit all children with special educational needs, especially and including those with autism.

Our report, which is based on a public survey and expert evidence from young people with autism, parents, teachers and professionals, leaves us believing that the Government’s forthcoming legislation is perhaps a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make some significant change and improvement. Briefly, I will draw the House’s attention to just five key points from the all-party group report. They cover training and best practice; specialist support at school; involvement of parents and young people; transition, or the extension of the SEN system up to 25; and accountability.

On training and best practice, 84% of respondents to our survey said that teachers were not given enough training to teach and support children with autism effectively, yet we know that training is essential to understanding this complex matter. It is therefore necessary that the Government continue to fund the development of successful training programmes. We also believe that where specialist knowledge exists it should be shared. Schools should be able to draw easily on the expertise of neighbouring schools.

As a subtext, and on a matter that I have referred to before in the House, over 70% of youngsters excluded from school in England have SEN. That statistic should alarm us all. The mother of an autistic child gave evidence to our All-Party Group and said,

“My son is very articulate and very bright, but he’s autistic. The headteacher just thought that he was a naughty boy, who needed some anger management, and he got excluded on a couple of occasions”.

In a major National Autistic Society survey, 17% of children with autism have been suspended from school at least once, and more than 4% have been excluded permanently from at least one school. More than that, 32% of parents surveyed were asked to collect their child at lunchtime or before the end of the school day for reasons other than that the child was ill, and some 19% of parents reported this happening on more than four occasions.

Unless this is officially recorded, these types of exclusions are illegal, and we need to get this message across. Experts who came to give evidence told us that almost every single case of exclusion from mainstream school could have been avoided had more staff been aware of the children’s needs, and had there been better planning at school level to support children with autism.

On specialist support at school, our report highlights the fact that children with autism can have a range of complex difficulties that often need specialist support—that is pretty obvious. Far too often, however, parents say that this expertise is simply not available. We certainly hope that the Government will ensure that all children with autism have access to the support that they need, including those without a statement, or an educational health and care plan. We certainly believe that every school should have a lead teacher for autism—a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Browning.

Moving on to the matter of involvement of parents and young people, we discovered that less than half of parents of children with autism considered that they were truly involved in shaping the support that their children need and receive at school. Autism professionals we met agreed with this, and so did 30% of the teachers. Over 90% of parents said that they wanted to be more involved, and that they wanted schools and local authorities to work closely with them, sharing information and ensuring that a consistent approach is taken at home and at school.

The SEN system is to be extended to 25 year-olds, and they, too, must be involved in the decisions that affect their lives. As for transition, for too many families the struggle for services intensifies as young people reach adulthood, and as we were told in one evidence session, as statements of special educational need come to an end it often feels “like falling off a cliff”. The Government have decided, I believe rightly, to extend the SEN system to 25 year-olds, but they must ensure that many more young people with autism can access the support and opportunities they need to live independent adult lives, and that those who are able can enter apprenticeships and gain employment. Our inquiry was told by one parent:

“When my son leaves school he has no future. I suggested work experience placements for young people with autism. At the moment they have nothing”.

That is simply unacceptable.

In quoting the noble Lord, Lord Freud, again, I echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, who has been a great supporter of and friend to those who work actively on behalf of people with autism. The noble Lord said that the Government want to increase the number of people with autism in work to 30%, doubling it from 15%. We all share that ambition and we back him to the hilt in that.

Finally I will touch on accountability. An important aspect of any reform must be greater accountability for parents. Too many parents who came to give evidence to us said that they had to fight constantly to gain access to the support that their children needed. That is why we need an effective complaints system encompassing all state-funded schools, and it must be a priority, in order to ensure that parents have confidence in that system. Like many others, I wait eagerly for the children and families Bill, hoping and praying that it will help to show us the way forward.

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lord Addington on initiating this debate. Like them, I commend him on his consistency and persistency on these topics over many years. I must first of all declare an interest as the honorary president of Ambitious about Autism, the national charity for children and young people with autism, and I also declare a family interest in dyspraxia.

We have made some progress on the education of children on the autistic spectrum over a period of years, both under the previous Government and under this. I pay tribute to the two current Ministers who have shown an interest in this subject: my honourable friend Sarah Teather and my noble friend Lord Hill, who is to reply today. I will use this important debate to highlight the situation faced by young people with autism at a slightly older age and to suggest some solutions that might improve their ability to access education, training and employment. In view of the superb contributions that have been made in the debate, I will inevitably echo quite a large part of what other noble Lords have said.

What stops young people with autism accessing education and training? Ambitious about Autism research shows that 51% of Britain’s schoolteachers have never received training to help them support children with autism. The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, referred to exclusion. Children with SEN are currently disproportionately likely to be excluded from school as a result of this lack of skills and understanding in their teachers. Responding to our research, 43% of parents reported that their child with autism had been formally excluded within the previous 12 months, and 55% of parents said that their child with autism had experienced an illegal exclusion of the type mentioned by the noble Lord in which parents are called in the middle of the school day and told to take their child home. Department for Education statistics show that 27% of children with SEN are excluded from school a year, which is eight times the rate of children who do not have SEN. Exclusions have an obviously damaging effect on pupils’ educational progress and attainment. They also put pressure on parents. Many parents have said that their child’s exclusion had a detrimental effect on their employment and therefore on their family finances.

Beyond the problems surrounding exclusion, the current lack of teacher training in autism means that young people with autism are often in a classroom without any teaching staff who understand their needs. Quality of teaching is very important in ensuring that pupils with autism are appropriately recognised and supported and go on to reach their potential. Just one in four young people with autism continues their education beyond school. This is in part due to a lack of suitable provision, which my noble friend Lady Walmsley mentioned, poor funding structures and a workforce that requires additional support and training to support learners with autism. However, we know that young people with autism want to access employment and training, and we also know that they need the right support in order to do so. While there is a dearth of education and training available, young people with autism have very limited options.

A host of reports from recent years provided evidence that the transition to adulthood for young people with autism and other disabilities is poor and that there is a serious lack of educational opportunities for this group. Ofsted states that,

“the real choice of education and training opportunities at 16 was limited for many young people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities. Inspectors found few courses available for young people with the lowest levels of attainment”.

What impact does this have? The social impact of unemployment for young people with autism is huge. Not continuing in education or training beyond school leads to a loss of potential for young people and society. Disabled young people are 2.5 times more likely not to be in education, employment or training than their non-disabled peers, which is a direct result of failure to access appropriate education or training. Many young people with autism have very limited choices when they finish school. Often their only options are to stay at home with their parents or go to a residential care home, often with people twice their age. Failure to provide opportunities for education and training that will lead to employment denies young people with autism the right to fulfil their potential and contribute to society.

In addition to social costs, failure to provide for young people with autism leads to higher long-term financial costs. The National Audit Office found that £1 million per person could be saved by supporting young people with learning difficulties to gain the skills to live more independently. It also found that supporting a disabled young person to access work reduces lifetime costs to the public purse by £170,000.

So what is the solution? First, we need training for all school staff in autism and an awareness of other special educational needs and disabilities. I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said about bringing all of this together. This could include compulsory SEN training and a core autism module in initial teacher training. It is important that it is not just teachers who are included but also teaching assistants and supervisory staff such as mealtime supervisors.

Secondly, a school admissions code that ensures schools and admissions authorities are obliged to place children with autism in suitable schools is essential. We must guarantee an excellent education for all children and young people with autism. It is essential that schools have fair exclusions policies that ensure exclusions do not occur as a result of an unmet special educational need.

Thirdly, we need to ensure that government initiatives such as the Youth Contract are accessible to young people with autism and other disabilities, as a number of noble Lords said. Can the Government explain how they will make the Youth Contract fully accessible to disabled young people? Can they confirm that Access to Work funds will be available for young disabled people doing internships and volunteering placements?

Raising the participation age to 18 is welcome, but it appears little thought has been given to what this might mean for young disabled people, many of whom are not in employment, education or training—not through choice but through a lack of suitable provision. The raising of the participation age will help young people only if it coincides with the development of more and better educational provision. Have the Government committed the extra funding that is needed to meet the additional needs of young disabled people who are currently not participating? How have they calculated the level of this need? The funding must take account of all additional needs, not just those of young people with statements of SEN.

As part of Finished at School, Ambitious about Autism made a number of recommendations to improve post-16 education for learners with autism. I welcome the fact that one of those recommendations—a legal right to educational support for young disabled people up to the age of 25—has been adopted by the Government. I hope that, accompanying this, there will be a funding system that will give young people and families more information, choice and support, a cross-government focus on outcomes and destinations for young disabled people and a further education workforce with the skills to support young people with autism to achieve their ambitions.

It is not, however, all about government action. Ambitious about Autism, my own organisation, has launched a new strategy to create more and better services beyond school age. As part of the strategy, the charity is developing and launching new services to enable young people with autism leaving school to continue to learn so that they can transition to living and working as part of their home community. Its aim is to establish a new community-based college that is a partnership between specialist and mainstream provision.

Lastly, I have a few points on education, training and employment for people with Asperger’s syndrome—high-functioning autism—as well as others on the autistic spectrum. As the National Autistic Society says, while there are similarities with autism, people with Asperger’s syndrome have fewer problems with speaking and are often of average or above-average intelligence. They do not usually have the accompanying learning disabilities associated with autism but they may have specific learning difficulties. These may include dyslexia and dyspraxia, or other conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or epilepsy. With the right support and encouragement, people with Asperger’s syndrome can lead full and independent lives.

People with autism, including Asperger’s syndrome and high-functioning autism, often have much to offer employers. With the right support, they can contribute fully to the workplace. In a study carried out by Research Autism in 2008 for NAS Prospects (London) on the experiences of employing people with autism, seven in 10 employers questioned had had a positive experience of employing someone with autism and said they would recommend it to others.

The NAS has launched its Undiscovered Workforce campaign, which works at a national level with Ministers, employers and others, and at a local level with campaigners, MPs, local businesses, universities and individuals. I commend that campaign. I also very much welcome the particular interest shown by my noble friend Lord Freud in his capacity as Welfare Reform Minister—this was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Browning—and the interest shown in employment issues by my honourable friend John Hayes, the Employment Minister in BIS. The NAS seeks to increase the availability of specialist employment support for those seeking work and those already in work to transform attitudes and increase opportunities for people across the autistic spectrum to fulfil their ambitions in the workplace.

Therefore, will the Government pull all these aspects together through their disability strategy, the Youth Contract and the forthcoming children and families Bill—which has also been mentioned in this debate—to make sure that young people with autism and others with special educational needs are appropriately supported to enter further education, higher education, training, apprenticeships and employment? I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Addington not just for securing this debate but for his passion in making sure at every opportunity that these matters are at the forefront of our consideration. I am sure that his determination will succeed.

I declare an interest as a practising head teacher. I was very mindful of what my noble friend Lady Browning said about young people being labelled in the past. Because of their learning difficulties, they were often regarded by their peers, and sometimes by their professional teachers, as “thick”. From my first teaching job, I remember a teacher who was very keen on literacy and would test every child on their reading age every month. She had a chart on the classroom door with the names of all the children—there were 40 of them then—and their monthly reading age. Because some of the children had learning difficulties—sometimes specific learning difficulties, sometimes global learning difficulties and sometimes dyslexia, although we did not know that at the time—their reading age never moved. Therefore, the teacher would say, in an almost patronising way, “Poor little Michael”, or, “Poor little Dominic”, or whatever their name was. That was not the fault of the teacher but it created huge problems. These were not just learning problems; as was rightly said, it often led to bullying.

This did not just happen in schools. When I was doing my education degree, I vividly remember a very highly regarded lecturer in education almost dismissing dyslexia, saying, “There’s no such thing. It’s just made up. They don’t have dyslexia in China, do they?”. That was often the view at the time. Thank goodness we have moved on.

We then moved on to a period in which we began to understand dyslexia and other learning difficulties but did not know what to do about them. Resources were very limited. It would often be a parent who came into the school and said, “I think my child is dyslexic”. The teacher would say, “Oh yes?”, and would eventually get around to thinking about what might be done about it, but the resources were not there. We have come light years in what we are now able to do. Both the previous Government and this Government have taken enormous steps regarding special educational needs and are to be congratulated on what they have done. That is not to say that there are no further things that we should do.

I give one example of the progress that we have made, which touches my heart. A very close friend of mine has a daughter who has mild cerebral palsy. Although she required a bit of pushing from her parents—she was in the independent sector—she has been supported all the way through her education. She is now at Leeds University, which has been fantastic in supporting her. She obviously has a scribe whenever she is doing exams and so on. When she could not get the work in on time, they said, “Come on, we’ll help you and make sure that’s right”. She repeated one year. This year, she will get her degree and the following year she will do a two-year masters degree. That is something of which, as a nation, we can be duly proud.

The only reason I got involved in this debate is my own personal experience. The previous Government rightly used the phrase, “every child matters”. If we are going to make sure that every child matters, that has to be in everything. I look at my own school and at what we now do. First, we have an ethos that recognises particular special needs issues. On dyslexia, we have a qualified SpLD teacher who is, thanks to government funding, undergoing her masters. She is qualified to diagnose specific learning difficulties. The staff are also trained to identify characteristics of learning difficulties. They then use a checklist and go to the head of special educational needs. If that resource did not exist in schools, we would have to try and buy in a specialist teacher, or we would have to go and get the school psychologist, which would often mean a waiting list of six to 12 months. Having the resource in the school itself, having the staff qualified and trained, makes a huge difference.

What happens when a child is identified as dyslexic? Obviously, we involve the parents. We put together strategies in the classroom. We look at intervention strategies. We look at one-to-one teaching. We look at a multi-sensory programme of teaching. Most of us learn in an auditory or visual way. If a young person is dyslexic, we need to do lots of oral work and what we call “over-learning”—learning strategies to cope.

What do we need to do as a country? Again, I agree with my noble friend Lord Addington and other noble Lords have made the same point. We need to ensure that the training is there. In each school, there ought to be somebody who is fully qualified. That needs to be a crucial, integral part of our initial teacher-training course.

A lot of colleagues will have had information from Dyslexia Action, and the Dyslexia Foundation from my home town. The work that they have done to case study and highlight has been tremendous.

I am grateful to the Minister for always being prepared to listen and give information. I think that he is probably fed up of my Questions, but I have asked him a number of them on dyslexia. They not only show that we understand what needs to be done, but they indentify next steps. The money that has been made available by the Government is to be commended. However, looking at the uptake of funding and the number of people who have taken training places, region by region—I will not embarrass various regions—there are huge regional variations and that gives me cause for concern.

In a recent Question I asked whether the Government would consider asking teaching training providers how many compulsory courses there were and how many optional courses there were. Sadly, we do not hold that information centrally. We need to hold that information. We need to know how many teacher training establishments make this provision, so that we can plug the gaps. We need to get that information.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones that we have made huge progress. I am heartened at what we have heard but I am absolutely sure that progress will continue to be made. With the noble Lord, Lord Hill, a Minister who listens and I am sure is prepared to act and, in the other place, a Minister, Sarah Teather, who believes strongly in special educational needs and early intervention, I am hugely optimistic.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for initiating this debate today. He has an impressive track record of campaigning on these issues and both he and a number of noble Lords have given some very well informed and passionate contributions this afternoon. I really appreciated the opportunity to listen and learn. I would also like to place on record my thanks to all the people—both the individuals and the organisations—who wrote to us with some very constructive solutions for the way forward, but also with some harrowing accounts of some of the problems we face with these issues.

I begin by reiterating the point acknowledged by my noble friend Lord Morris, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and others in the debate, that while dyslexia and autism represent a proportion of the problem, there is a bigger challenge of hidden disabilities. For example, to give some other statistics, more than 3 million people have asthma in the UK, one in 200 people had epilepsy and one in four people will experience mental health problems—or should I say mental well-being problems—with an increasing number of young people in this category. Overall, it is estimated that around 70% of people with a disability in this country have a hidden disability. As the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, rightly suggested, there is much to commend a united strategy to tackle these issues although there are individual elements to each of the disability issues, as we know and as we have rehearsed this afternoon.

The truth is that we have improved our medical skills in diagnosis and treatment, but these have not been matched by the ongoing learning and support guarantees necessary to enable young people to lead enriched lives and fulfil their potential or—as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, put it—to enable us to find the treasure within them. Despite the progress resulting from the Equality Act, we are still confronting levels of both overt and covert prejudice, institutionally and socially. These are lifelong challenges with very different solutions needed at every stage.

As we have heard, for young people with hidden disabilities in particular, even once a diagnosis has been made there is a subsequent fear of being adversely judged and labelled, or alternatively being disbelieved. At the same time, young people do not want to draw attention to their disability and appear to be different, either because they are embarrassed or, as we have heard this afternoon, because they fear bullying in a school or social environment. As a result they do not always access the funding and resources to which they are entitled.

While the original SEN programme played an important part in moving disability and special needs towards centre stage in the design and provision of local authority, school and personalised support—I thank the noble Lords who paid tribute to the previous Government’s efforts in this regard—it had undoubtedly become too bureaucratic and formulaic in its execution. There were too many agencies involved, no incentives for joined-up services and a degree of piecemeal funding.

Therefore, we welcome many of the aspirations in the Government’s special educational needs Green Paper and their response to the consultation. We support the concept of a single, simpler birth-to-age-25 assessment process and care plan with the right to a personalised budget for parents and young people to buy in support services. Parents tell us that these proposals match their aspirations for their children’s ongoing care. We welcome the requirement for earlier testing and intervention—another point made by noble Lords this afternoon.

We welcome the emphasis on providing an education that will help young people with disabilities into meaningful employment. But given the complexities of the new arrangements, and the need for parents to be reassured that there will be an improvement in the support given to their children, we would caution against rushing into legislation before the outcome of the 20 pilots, which are currently experimenting with the new proposals, have been properly evaluated.

The Minister will know that the interim report on the pathfinder pilots published this week is already flagging up some worrying concerns. For example, it is proving difficult to get agencies to work effectively together; assessments are being duplicated, not streamlined, as was the original intention; and the higher costs are judged not to be sustainable. More importantly, there are increasing criticisms that, contrary to their stated and well received objectives, the pathfinders are failing to involve young people themselves in the shaping of the new services. I raised this matter in Questions earlier in the week, and I once again urge the Minister to confirm that the full conclusions of the pathfinders will be evaluated before the Children and Families Bill is published. I would be grateful for his comments on this.

We would also expect the Government to set out clearly how the funding for these new, improved services will be guaranteed at a time when specialist posts are being lost due to deep cuts to council budgets and to health and welfare budgets. Could the Minister explain how the transition from separate budget heads in education, health and social care to an integrated, personalised provision will work in practice? Will they be expected at a local level to transfer funds into a separate pot, and it will it be ring-fenced?

As the Green Paper acknowledges, and a number of noble Lords around the Chamber this afternoon have said, education and training are central to addressing the needs of young people with hidden disabilities. As has been mentioned, it starts with initial teacher training courses and the need for compulsory modules on identifying, understanding and providing for children across the full spectrum of disabilities. It needs to be supplemented by specialist teachers trained in supporting young people in the classroom. It also requires sufficient teaching assistants, properly funded and trained to support the individual learning needs of specific children in the classroom. Those points were echoed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Browning and Lady Walmsley.

It also requires top-class careers provision in schools, which can give disabled young people specific advice about further and higher education courses and the employment options available to them. The Minister knows our continued concern about the quality of advice being provided by the new schools-based careers service, and we have a specific worry that children with specialist support needs will not get individual face-to-face advice to aim their skills at achievable ambitions. Perhaps the Minister could comment on this. Surely it should be a fundamental right of all children throughout the education system to have the same rights. Can the Minister clarify the legal position with regard to SEN children having access to academy places, and their rights once admitted? Would he agree to review the legislation if it is found to discriminate against statemented or SEN children?

While no one would pretend that the provision in schools is perfect, the message from many disability groups and individuals is that it is the transition from school to higher or further education and ultimately into meaningful employment that remains the biggest challenge. Parents who have seen their child have good support at school can be shocked when they view the adult options available when their child reaches the age of 16 or 18, with specialist adult facilities dominated by much older attendees, often with complex needs, or when they are faced with an FE syllabus that does not provide courses on a full-time basis, leaving parents struggling to provide home care at other times of the week when courses are not being provided. This is why FE colleges need to be centrally involved in pathfinders and why it is essential that they have a statutory duty to be involved in the transition planning for individual young people at a very early stage in their education so that appropriate provision can be laid on in the FE colleges to meet their needs sufficiently in advance.

Finally, as several noble Lords have highlighted, the real challenge highlighted in this debate is about those with hidden disabilities finding and keeping meaningful work. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, identified, the statistics are, quite frankly, depressing. Disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people. Some 22% of young people with a disability were not in any form of education, employment or training when they reached the age of 18—twice the level of their peers. The Labour Force Survey showed that, in 2011, 41 per cent of men and 43 per cent of women designated longer-term disabled were also unemployed. The result, as we have heard, is too many young, capable people trapped at home with increasingly elderly parents.

The Sayce report for the Department for Work and Pensions identified a number of solutions with which we concur, particularly the personalised approach and the expansion of the Access to Work scheme, which they describe as the Government’s best kept secret. This helped 37,000 disabled people into work in 2009-10. However, it needs to be better funded and more focused on helping those with hidden disabilities into work. The Government also need to focus on those with mental disabilities rather than seeing their role as just providing practical adaptations and support. Much greater emphasis should be placed on helping people access mainstream apprenticeships rather than separate, short-term internships, as seems to be the trend at the moment.

These are challenging issues—particularly challenging against a backdrop of central and local government cuts and welfare reform—that might face any Government. This Government have set out ambitious solutions for helping those with disabilities access quality education and jobs. However, with reducing budgets, the practical implementation may well elude them, leaving parents and young people frustrated and disappointed. In this context, I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in response to this debate to reassure us.

My Lords, I would congratulate my noble friend Lord Addington but I think he has had enough praise already this afternoon. He spoke, as I knew he would, with a great deal of knowledge. We all know the passion that he brings to the subject. I was grateful to him for doing so, and to my noble friends Lady Browning and Lord Clement-Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, who spoke with equal authority about autism. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, brought up the subject of diabetes, which I thought broadened the debate in an interesting way. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, spoke about speech and language difficulties, which is another manifestation of some of these issues that we are seeking to find solutions to.

As well as being a good debate, it is a timely one because, as noble Lords have said, the Government are introducing their children and families Bill, which in a way, I hope, sets the framework for much of what we have discussed this afternoon and how we hope to be able to improve things in future, because that Bill seeks to put into legislation a new framework for the education and training of disabled children, young people and those with special educational needs. The whole purpose of that new approach is to seek to promote better and earlier identification of children’s needs—one of the recurring themes this afternoon—and a better transition from school to further education, higher education, adulthood and the world of work, which I think is one of the other recurring themes of this afternoon.

To my noble friend Lord Addington, who was keen that I should muffle some bells, I think was his phrase, I would say—I am sure he knows this—that the purpose of these reforms is not reclassification or trying to knock people off lists but about trying to bring together what has been too disparate a range of provisions into a simpler and more coherent whole.

Perhaps I may set out our overall policy direction, bring your Lordships up to date with the latest position in some key areas, and then try to respond to the main points put to me. We have heard a number of facts this afternoon. It is the case that there are some 220,000 children with statements of special educational needs. Last year, there were more than 165,000 young people aged between 16 and 18 with a self-declared learning difficulty or disability studying in mainstream further education colleges. We know that these children are less likely to achieve well at school and are four times less likely to participate in higher education. At 16 or 17, young people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities are almost twice as likely as their peers not to be in education, employment or training. Those figures and others that we have heard this afternoon powerfully underline the case for reform.

As we have been reminded, under the current system, needs are often picked up late, families too often have to battle to find out what support is available, teachers and lecturers feel hampered by bureaucracy and lack the skills and confidence to meet those needs; and young people over 16 with SEN have weaker entitlements to support in colleges than if they had stayed at school, and lack clear routes into independent living and work. I think there is broad agreement that the system needs to change and that the objectives of the Government’s reforms are the right ones. I welcome the support given by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, in that respect. I accept her point that there are practical issues that we will need to work through. However, the direction of travel has broad endorsement.

Put simply, our goal in these reforms is that from 2014 we will have a better integrated assessment process that is more streamlined and better involves children, young people and parents. There would be a single education, health and care plan for children and young people with statements or learning difficulty assessments for post-16 education in the current system. This would help to deal with the important point raised by my noble friend Lady Browning and others about the current cut-off at 16 and the problem that brings. The proposals will include an offer of a personal budget, for those who want it, to give families greater control over the services they use. The plans will give parents the right to express a preference for any state-funded school, including academies, or college. There will be a requirement that local authorities publish a local offer of services for disabled children and young people, and those with special educational needs. We will also introduce statutory protections comparable to those currently associated with a statement of SEN for 16 to 25 year-olds in further education, with access to routes of appeal.

In order to prepare the ground for the new system, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, said, we have set up 20 pathfinders, covering 31 local authority areas and their health service partners. These pathfinders are testing out many of the proposals set out in the Green Paper, such as education, health and care plans and the local offer. I listened to the points made by the noble Baroness about some of the practical concerns, and I agree that my department will need to reflect on them and take them into account as the proposals are taken forward. We will publish an interim report later in the autumn, and we will work with a range of different services to take the lessons on board.

We are also keen to make progress with the Bill in order to get the new system in place. We plan to publish draft SEN clauses for the proposed children and families Bill in the first week of September. A period of consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny will follow before the Bill is introduced to Parliament in spring 2013. That will provide an opportunity to pick up on some of these practical issues. Subject to the approval of Parliament, we hope that the Bill will gain Royal Assent in spring 2014.

One of the recurring themes this afternoon has been the importance of early identification. Here we are taking action on a number of fronts. We are, for example, recruiting and training an additional 4,200 health visitors by 2015, and identifying whether a child is disabled or may have SEN is a core part of the training for those health visitors. When parents have concerns about their child’s development and learning, they will be offered additional support and, where appropriate, referred to another health professional such as a speech and language therapist or a paediatrician.

We are also working to bring together the early years progress check at age two in the new early years foundation stage with the healthy child programme health and development review at age two to two and a half. That picks up on a point made by my noble friend Lady Walmsley. Our long-term ambition is to develop one properly integrated health and early years review to support children’s development, drawing on the expertise and professionalism of both the early years and the health workforce.

We are working with the Department of Health to see how we can best achieve this. We have asked Jean Gross, the former communications champion for children and young people, to lead a group exploring ways of improving that information sharing, and are expecting findings from that in October this year. Our aim is that the new integrated track, bringing these two aspects together, will be introduced in 2015, when the additional health visitors to whom I have just referred have been recruited.

A number of noble Lords raised the issue of reading difficulties. My noble friend Lady Walmsley mentioned the phonic screening check, the first of which was carried out earlier this month. It will help to identify pupils who have not met the expected standard in phonic decoding, and schools will then be expected to provide appropriate support to help them make good progress and master these essential early reading skills. I think it was alluded to this afternoon that it was the Rose review that underlined the benefits of systematic synthetic phonics for teaching those with dyslexia.

There is also some evidence that schools are getting better at identifying children with autism. The department has been collecting data on the number of children with different types of SEN who either have statements or are on school action plus. The statistics show that, in 2004, 31,000 pupils were identified as having an autistic spectrum disorder. This had risen to 61,500 in 2011, which seems to suggest that there is a greater recognition of autism in the education system. However, there is still a need to recognise and diagnose autism earlier, and we certainly expect local areas to take account of guidelines that are available, such as the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence’s guidelines on the identification and diagnosis of autism.

I will say a few words about early language, an issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. In March, the Government announced an early language development programme to train practitioners to help children up to five years old, particularly those with SEN, by focusing on improving communication and language skills. The programme will help the most disadvantaged children with a special focus on the under-threes, who are at risk of language delay. The new early years foundation stage framework, which my honourable friend Sarah Teather has been working on and which is to be introduced in September this year, will also make a number of improvements. There will be a stronger emphasis on the three prime areas most essential for children’s healthy development: communication and language; physical development; and personal, social and emotional development. We have commissioned the Early Language Consortium to deliver a three-year early language training programme to train practitioners to identify language development problems and then work with children and families.

That takes me to the importance of teachers and training, which is one of the recurring issues. My noble friend Lord Storey spoke in a very practical way about some of the steps that a school takes in dealing with these issues, which I found helpful, as opposed to some of the more abstract ways in which the issue is explained to me in the department sometimes. We are taking action in a number of ways to improve teachers’ skills in identifying and addressing the special educational needs of children and young people. The new standards for qualified-teacher status include a specific focus on meeting the needs of children with special educational needs or those who are disabled, which was a question raised by my noble friend Lady Walmsley. We have launched a scholarship scheme for teachers to improve and extend their knowledge and expertise when working with disabled pupils and those with SEN, including their knowledge in specific impairments. That scheme has already awarded funding to around 400 teachers to undertake specialist postgraduate qualifications.

My noble friend Lady Browning and others also spoke about the importance of teaching assistants having the necessary skills, so we have launched a similar scholarship scheme for the most able support staff working with disabled pupils and those with SEN. That should enable support staff to gain degree-level qualifications to build their skills and expertise, including in specific issues such as dyslexia.

The Teaching Agency has developed advanced-level materials on autism, dyslexia, speech, language and communication difficulties, and behavioural, emotional and social difficulties. We have increased the number of special school placements available for initial teacher training to up to 900 in 2011-12. We have provided funding for up to 9,000 school SENCOs to complete the mandatory higher-level SENCO award, and we are also funding a further 1,000 SENCOs in 2012-13.

Reference was made to the role of the voluntary sector, and we are supporting that sector as well in helping teachers and schools. Through the voluntary and community sector grant programme we have funded the Dyslexia-SpLD Trust, providing £1.4 million over two years, to raise awareness and support parents. We also provided a grant to Dyslexia Action, with the RNIB, to make more than 650 core texts available in a digital format for dyslexic pupils.

In addition, we are funding the Autism Education Trust to develop national standards for those working with autistic children, as well as training at universal, enhanced and specialist levels, and delivering that to at least 5,000 staff across the country.

Perhaps I may say a few words about the Achievement for All programme, which coaches and supports schools in improving the attainment of their pupils with special educational needs. We know that schools using the programme saw children make greater progress in English and mathematics than other SEND children across the country. In a significant number of schools involved in the pilot, they even exceeded the progress of non-SEND children nationally. An independent evaluation carried out by the University of Manchester showed that pupil attendance was significantly improved, with an average increase in attendance of just over 10%. It also showed significant improvements in behaviour, including lower levels of bullying—one of the issues that we have talked about—stronger relationships between schools and parents, and a greater awareness of and focus on special educational needs. We are now spending £14 million to roll that programme out across the country so that more children can benefit. More than 900 schools have joined the programme since last September and the number is on course to be 1,500 by the end of this year.

We also talked about successful transition into adulthood—an issue referred toin particular by my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones. We are running a trial of supported internships in 15 further education colleges this autumn. We are providing funding over a couple of years to 25 colleges to test different models of post-16 work experience, and 13 of the colleges involved in the trial will be testing models for young people with learning difficulties.

We are consulting on a more flexible approach to study programmes for all 16 to 19 year-olds, which we think will lead to that whole age group getting more valuable skills and qualifications. We are also providing funding to encourage greater partnership working between clusters of independent specialist colleges, FE colleges and schools so that they work together to improve local provision for young people with learning difficulties and disabilities and share expertise and delivery arrangements. We are going to increase the number of clusters further this year.

Furthermore, the Learning and Skills Improvement Service and the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education have launched specialist qualifications for college teachers working with disabled young people. We think that that will improve the expertise in the FE workforce.

I am pleased to say that more young people with learning difficulties are completing apprenticeships. In 2010-11 more than 17,000 people with a learning difficulty or disability successfully completed an apprenticeship, and that figure has increased in each of the past five years. The number of apprentices declaring that they are dyslexic more than doubled between 2005 and 2010. My noble friend Lord Addington will not be surprised to hear that the success rates for apprentices with dyslexia are similar to those of their peers. Almost 70% of apprentices declaring dyslexia succeed at their apprenticeship compared with 75% of those who do not report a learning difficulty.

The Government will issue an action plan later this summer with a number of measures to increase the accessibility of apprenticeships for young people with learning difficulties and disabilities. That will be aimed at colleges and training providers. I know that my noble friend Lord Addington has been discussing that with colleagues of mine. He has offered to help, I think, with the production of that guidance. We are grateful for that offer and I am sure that will be extremely helpful.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, raised the question about exam adjustments. There is a system of exam adjustments in place; schools and colleges can put arrangements in place to provide things like extra time, supervised rest breaks or assisted technologies.

The Youth Contract, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lady Walmsley, should support more than 55,000 16 and 17 year-olds over the next three years. It will certainly benefit those with learning difficulties and disabilities because they are disproportionately represented in this group of young people who are not in education, employment or learning.

The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, raised the important point about accountability. The new exclusions process, to be introduced in September, will provide additional safeguards for pupils with SEN. In particular, there will need to be an SEN expert to provide advice to the independent review panel. On the point about exclusions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, and my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones, I agree that the statistics clearly show that the groups we are discussing are disproportionately affected by exclusions. The Government’s trials, based on an approach pioneered in Cambridgeshire to try to give schools a far greater incentive to tackle the problem at source rather than excluding pupils and leaving it to other people to sort out, are going forward. They had great results in Cambridgeshire. Trials are taking place now in 11 local authorities and 300 volunteer schools, and I hope that that will be part of the solution to tackling exclusion.

The issue of careers was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch; I know that that is a concern of hers. We have been clear in the guidance that, for the kinds of group that we have been discussing, those with learning difficulties and other disadvantaged groups the expectation is that schools and colleges should provide face-to-face guidance.

That has been a slight canter across the terrain, and I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I have not picked up on everything. If there are some specific points, I will follow them up. However, I hope that what I have said conveys the range of activity that is under way and the extent of the Government’s aspirations. As my noble friend Lord Storey and others reminded us, it is easy to forget sometimes just how far we have come. Many people have made that possible over a long period of time, and there is good work to build on.

The fundamental reforms to the system proposed by my honourable friend Sarah Teather is ambitious, but rightly so. I am glad that there is broad support across the House for those reforms, and I hope that they will provide the platform for the further exposition of some of these issues to which the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, referred. I hope also that noble Lords will accept that, in the important area of helping those with hidden disabilities, this Government have been making progress, and I hope that I have shown that we are certainly committed to making more.

My Lords, in the few moments remaining to me in this debate, I would like to thank all those who have spoken. I could speak again at considerable length, but I do not think that would be wise. The only thing I would say is something that we used to hear from the previous Government when we were in opposition. They used to state, “We have done more”—I think it was in the field of disability—“than any other Government before us”. My response was, “Yes, you have, and so you damn well should have”. That is also true of this Government now, in this field. If we can leave it, having said that we have made things a little better than they were before, and hopefully a lot better, we will have succeeded. However, we are standing on the shoulders of what has gone before, much of which was good, despite the mistakes, and I hope that we can carry on in that vein. This discussion has demonstrated a degree of consensus that is actually very helpful.

Motion agreed.