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Volume 747: debated on Wednesday 10 July 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to make apprenticeships accessible to dyslexic people.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and draw attention to my declaration of interest.

My Lords, final data for 2010-11 show that 18,940 learners participating on an apprenticeship programme self-declared that they had dyslexia. They had a success rate of 72.6% compared to 76.4% overall. All apprenticeships are stretching and prepare individuals for sustained employment. Dyslexia should not present an insuperable barrier to those candidates who demonstrate competence and commitment in their chosen field. Access to Work and additional learning support are two possible sources of funding to help provide equipment or other assistance for apprentices with dyslexia.

I thank my noble friend for that Answer. The fact remains that dyslexia is a problem that affects people in reading and writing, that a written assessment is made at the end of an apprenticeship, and assistive technology, which is made available to those in the university sector, is not allowed to be used. Bearing that in mind, will my noble friend give me an assurance that this situation will be changed and reviewed in the immediate future?

As my noble friend knows very well, new assistive technology is advancing at a very rapid rate, with apps and packages such as Prismo, Livescribe, Dragon and others. Dyslexia affects different people in different ways. Some solutions will suit some people, while other solutions will suit others. If it would be helpful, I will ask officials to set up a meeting with stakeholders, which would include the British Dyslexia Association and the Adult Dyslexia Organisation, to help to ensure that compatibility with assistive technology is considered when tests and other assessments are developed.

My Lords, how much of the assistance to which the noble Baroness referred, which I am sure is very welcome, has been made available to Gypsies and Travellers?

I am afraid that I do not have those figures to hand. If I can find details for the noble Baroness I will write to her.

Does the Minister accept that whereas developmental dyslexia is the commonest and best known of the specific learning difficulties, there are a number of other less common specific learning difficulties such as developmental dyspraxia—serious clumsiness—and developmental dyscalculia, which means difficulty in calculating and the use of numbers? Is it not the case that people with these difficulties also have special education and training needs and require just as much attention as those with dyslexia?

Yes, indeed, my Lords. There is a range of disabilities which can provide hurdles to young people embarking on apprenticeships. The National Apprenticeship Service looks at different ways of supporting diversity within apprenticeships and we recently commissioned a study from Peter Little to look at accessibility. We are implementing an action plan as a result of his report and he himself will help us to implement that.

My Lords, many schools throughout the United Kingdom encourage young boys and girls to take up apprenticeships while they are still at school. In other words, they are given day release and special training, which would help people with special needs. Will Her Majesty’s Government consider expanding this facility to as many schools as possible?

We already encourage schools to promote apprenticeships as a career path for people while they are at school, so that they will consider setting themselves up with the right sort of programmes of learning before they leave. Businesses increasingly go into schools to talk about possibilities, so there are ongoing programmes all the way through, which should help with what the noble Lord seeks to achieve.

My Lords, apprenticeships are one thing, but I am sure the Minister will agree that quite a number of young people at university are dyslexic and have other problems. Can the courses not be designed in such a way that these young people will end up with a degree rather than be frustrated and probably leave university not long after entering it?

There are a great number of students at university who are dyslexic. The universities have their own methods of dealing with them. By and large, they have well established programmes of support and assistance to ensure that dyslexic undergraduates become dyslexic graduates.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, has been asking about apprenticeships and dyslexia for a very long time. Is it not time that real action was taken and something was done?

Yes, indeed. The point that the noble Lord made was about assistive technology. In my answer I said that it was developing very fast and offered to get the interested parties together to see whether we can find a way forward with that. On the subject of dyslexic apprentices, I point out that the apprentice of the year is a dyslexic woman called Emma Rogers, who gives credit to her college at Weston for having helped her through. She is a tremendous role model.

With the increasingly high profile of dyslexia and other forms of disability, it is becoming part of the teacher training programme, and teachers are very much more aware of trying to recognise the signs at an early point, when more help can be given to children, rather than, as so often happened in the past and can still happen, leaving it undiagnosed until pupils are quite advanced in the educational process. Schools have different ways of dealing with it, and by and large we get very good reports of good practice.

My Lords, I speak as the father of two dyslexic boys. My observation of dyslexia is that it often takes young people longer to find their feet in life, especially if the dyslexia is not properly diagnosed. Will the Minister confirm that there are no age restrictions on admission to apprenticeships, because it is often a bit later in life that kids who are dyslexic are ready to take up apprenticeships and the like?

The right reverend Prelate makes a very valid point. The apprenticeships we have been focusing on particularly are the ones for the younger age group. However, apprenticeships are certainly available for adults, and are being taken up in rather larger numbers by adults than they are by younger people. The possibilities are increasing for people with dyslexia to come into a very useful work-based programme of learning.

My Lords, I certainly welcome the Government’s approach to apprentices with dyslexia. However, I would like to know what the Government are doing when the apprentices become craftsmen, because apprentices will become craftsmen but will still have dyslexia. How will the Government cope with that?

In a great many practical craft areas, dyslexia is no handicap. You can see absolutely wonderful examples of craftsmanship in this country achieved by people with a whole range of disabilities. We want to promote craftsmanship in the country as much as we can.