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Health: Spectrum Conditions

Volume 793: debated on Tuesday 30 October 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the importance of identification of spectrum conditions, such as dyslexia, ADHD and dyspraxia, on (1) educational, and (2) other life outcomes.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and remind the House of my declared interest as president of the British Dyslexia Association.

My Lords, our data collections do not separate outcomes of dyslexia, ADHD and dyspraxia, so we are unable to make such an assessment. In terms of destinations, after completing key stage 4, for those with SEN, overall in 2016-17, 90% of pupils with a statement or education, health and care plan were in sustained education, employment or training compared to 88% of pupils with SEN without statements, and 95% of those without SEN.

I thank the Minister for that reply. I have made him and his office aware of the document brought forward in February this year by Warwickshire Educational Psychology Service, called Teaching Children & Young People with Literacy Difficulties Practice Guidance, which is very similar to a document that appears on the Staffordshire site. This states that dyslexia effectively is not something to worry about. It effectively undermines the whole basis of the support which the noble Lord has been talking about. Will he give an assurance that the Government will make sure that accurate diagnosis, which can be life-changing, is maintained for this group because it helps through education and throughout life?

My Lords, the document to which the noble Lord refers recognises that early identification and intervention is important to meet the needs of children and young people with literacy delays. On the necessity of a dyslexia diagnosis, I do not have expertise in such matters. However, the noble Lord and the British Dyslexia Association do, and I would encourage Warwickshire local authority to consider carefully its advice on this point, and on the document generally. I share the noble Lord’s frustration that it has not responded to the British Dyslexia Association’s letter written over two and a half months ago.

My Lords, I am astonished that the Government do not know the figures for the relative incidence of the spectrum disorders in schools. I declare an interest as a member of staff of Imperial College. Is the Minister aware of our programme where we have managed, hugely successfully, to encourage dyslexic students, in particular, to gain very high educational qualifications? But of course, if the condition cannot be identified, it is very difficult to do that.

My Lords, I acknowledge the great work the noble Lord, Lord Winston, is doing. I am clear that early diagnosis makes a huge difference; it helps the self-esteem of the child in question, and also enables earlier interventions to take place, helping to establish that child on a strong educational pathway.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that dyslexia is an impairment that can result in substantial and adverse long-term effects on an individual and their ability to carry out normal, day-to-day activities, and therefore this report is in complete contrast to the legislation that this House has passed?

My Lords, it is certainly not helpful that Warwickshire County Council is not engaging with the British Dyslexia Association. Under the Equality Act 2010, a person has a disability,

“if he or she has a physical or mental impairment and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”.

My Lords, this is not a party-political issue, and I acknowledge that the Minister made time last week, along with the noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord Storey, to discuss Warwickshire County Council’s guidance with me. That is why the Minister’s words today are disappointing, because I had understood that he accepted that this was an urgent and serious issue. Warwick County Council’s guidance to parents ignores the science and refuses to recognise that dyslexia is a medical condition. One wonders if, perhaps, it has also advised their residents that the earth is actually flat and that there is no such thing as global warming. With Cambridgeshire County Council and Staffordshire County Council considering aligning themselves with Warwickshire County Council’s position, I think it is important that the Government set out what action they will take to ensure that this misguided guidance is withdrawn as a matter of urgency.

My Lords, I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, and I have offered to write to Warwickshire County Council to understand why it has not responded to the British Dyslexia Association’s very detailed and well-written letter, sent two and a half months ago. As I said, we recognise the issue of dyslexia. Many children and young people who have SEN may have a disability under the Equality Act, and as I said, we strongly believe in early diagnosis and early intervention.

My Lords, my grandson—a splendid little boy—is on the spectrum. Only yesterday, we had a meeting with the Minister on the subject of early identification of this problem. There is no doubt about it: the earlier it can be identified the better for everybody, as it gives children a chance to participate in life in a normal way. What was lacking, as many of us here know, is child psychologists. Without many more child psychologists we do not have the ability to identify problems early, and I hope that the Minister, who I know has huge empathy for this subject, might hasten to add to that voice.

My Lords, I am not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Sterling, was referring to dyslexia or autism, but he will be aware that we have increased awareness among all schools, and encouraged teachers to increase their awareness. With the Autism Education Trust, for example, we have rolled out a lot of autism awareness training. We now have 190,000 people trained in autism awareness, which is up from 150,000 in June of last year.

My Lords, the Minister will recall that during Children and Families Act, the local offer required local authorities to give information about special needs provision, and that information has to be accurate. Does the Minister not agree that it is not helpful to parents when false information is given out by councils, particularly on this issue of dyslexia? Will the Government clarify whether they fully support the recognition of dyslexia as a disability as defined by the Equality Act 2010?

My Lords, the Equality Act 2010 provides protection for any person with a condition that meets the Act’s definition of disability—that is, a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. The Act does not, except in a few specific instances, mention by name the conditions that automatically fall within the definition of disability. This is because, in most cases, it is the impact on the person’s life that is the qualifying criterion, rather than the condition itself.