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Dyslexia: Apprenticeships

Volume 743: debated on Thursday 28 February 2013

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made in ensuring that all dyslexics have access to the assistance recommended by Ofqual when taking apprenticeship qualifications.

My Lords, a guide entitled Access Arrangements, Reasonable Adjustments and Special Consideration is published each year by the Joint Council for Qualifications. The guidance was updated this year to include improved examples of how arrangements can support the needs of dyslexic learners. Awarding organisations are responsible for defining suitable arrangements and assessment centres are responsible for their operation. Awarding organisations and centres have complaints procedures to address any specific problems as they arise.

I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Does she accept that these arrangements—or at least the principle behind them—have been in place ever since I first asked about this subject? Does she also accept that when dyslexics have failed a written test, a procedure that requires a written complaint may not be the best one available for someone who is dyslexic or comes from a dyslexic family? Will the Government undertake to make sure that there is a vigorous enforcement process here and that things such as online testing papers which are not compatible with voice recognition technology, and ways of taking exams which are not taught during the classroom process, are not acceptable in the future?

I pay tribute to my noble friend for his tireless championing of those who suffer from dyslexia. I stress that the process for any complaint is to exhaust the centre’s procedures first—and that would be a face-to-face meeting, not necessarily a written procedure—and then go to the awarding organisation. If that does not work, complaints can be raised with Ofqual. However, Ofqual has been proactive in this respect and is in active discussion with the British Dyslexia Association to try to get a sense of the scale of the problems. So far it has come up with the problem in software compatibility to which my noble friend referred, and it is working with awarding organisations to try to address that.

May I put it to the Minister that it is often the case that young men and women who have difficulty in passing written exams can go on with encouragement to become excellent journeymen and journeywomen? I hope that the Government’s apprenticeship scheme recognises the fact that not everyone can be academic and so clever in terms of reading and writing.

The noble Lord makes a very important point. It is absolutely right that people who are practically very skilled often find that making an assessment in a written paper poses much more of a problem for them. On apprenticeships, there has been a change to functional skills that focus on applying knowledge rather than having to pass written tests, and these are widely available as part of the apprenticeship programme. The noble Lord makes a very valid point about the value of people whose skills do not lie in writing.

My Lords, I think that it is accepted that it is essential to have the intervention of a trainer in cases where dyslexia is identified in the workplace to provide an individualised training and support plan that will give people real inclusion in the workforce. That important one-to-one interaction is the most efficient means of providing essential support and assessments. What assessment do the Government make of the number of qualified trainers available to support dyslexic apprentices in the workplace?

My noble friend is absolutely right that one to one is often the most effective way of enabling people to reach their potential in that area. We are working with different schemes. The recent diversity in apprenticeships pilots highlighted the importance of one-to-one interactions and extra support. The National Apprenticeship Service is beginning to implement actions as a result of those pilots.

My Lords, perhaps I could ask my noble friend whether any trainers are available for people in this House, either as Members or working for the House. The spectrum of dyslexia is more serious in some cases than others. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office employs trainers for the people who work there. I am sure that the Minister will not have a reply to this, but it would be very useful for us to know, because sometimes things happen in this House that are of great benefit to many people that are never communicated to them.

My noble friend makes a very important point. As she surmised, I do not have a direct answer. I feel that it would be for the House authorities and other people to look into that, but we heard what she said and will try to take forward some ideas.

My Lords, does this issue not raise a more general point about the direction of the Government, who in the exam system are moving away from an appraisal system throughout the period of learning to just a three-hour exam at the end of the process? Does the Minister agree that that will discriminate against people who have special educational needs in all sorts of forms, who would be much better assessed and appraised over a period of time than in one three-hour exam at the end of the process?

The noble Baroness takes us rather wide of the Question, which is on apprenticeships. All the issues surrounding final assessments and examinations in schools are under discussion at the moment. On apprenticeships, there has always been a stress on practical application and seeing what people can do rather than what they can write down. Ongoing assessment and testing are part of an apprenticeship scheme all the way through.