Skip to main content

Disabled Students’ Allowance

Volume 797: debated on Wednesday 8 May 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government on what grounds possession of an Education, Health and Care plan by a dyslexic candidate is deemed to be insufficient to prevent them undertaking a second assessment for the Disabled Students’ Allowance.

I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and draw the House’s attention to my declared interests.

My Lords, EHC plans set out the educational support that children with special educational needs require. In some cases, a child’s EHC plan will have been informed by a diagnostic assessment undertaken by an appropriately qualified specialist. These assessments are acceptable as evidence of a dyslexic student’s condition when applying for DSA. Officials would be happy to look further at this issue and I invite the noble Lord to submit any additional evidence that he might have.

I thank the noble Viscount for that Answer and for the assistance that he has given me in trying to correct what I think is an oversight. It might have been a case of no good deed going unpunished by the Government when they removed the compulsory need for two diagnoses. However, will they take on board that it is quite clear that the school and university systems did not talk to each other or, if they did, nobody listened? We have got ourselves into a situation where people have to undertake another diagnostic assessment that costs £600.

The noble Lord makes a good point—the school system should talk to the higher education sector. The SEND code of practice makes it clear that children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities should be helped to prepare for adult life. Schools should therefore support the young person in planning their next phase of education, including higher education. The local authority has a legal duty to make young people aware, through their SEND local offer, of the support available to them in higher education.

Recognising disadvantage and with just two out of five disabled students aware that additional funding is available to help with their studies, it is little surprise that disabled students have a higher university drop-out rate. Will the Minister acknowledge that there is a problem here, and will he also agree to meet student representatives to discuss a joint Claim It! campaign to raise DSA take-up levels and help unlock the undoubted talents that disabled students possess?

The noble Lord is right that we want all children, no matter what challenges they face, to be able to achieve well in early years, at school and post-16 and to fulfil their potential in adult life. I should point out to him that the SEND reforms that we introduced in 2014 are the biggest in a generation. I will reflect on the question that he has asked and I will certainly get back to him, but I do not want to make any commitments right now.

My Lords, is the Minister concerned that some schools are now not spending anything at all on continuing professional development for their teachers because they have no money for it? Is not continuing professional development essential if teachers are to treat children with special educational needs with the sensitivity that they deserve?

The noble Earl makes a very good point. Schools are obliged to look at each pupil to see whether there is a need to assess them, and indeed, some money is set aside for each school for this very purpose. Some schools might need to do better and, if that is the case, Ofsted and the school inspection system need to come down hard on those that do not do enough in that respect.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the Government for saying that they will look again at the impact on performance tables of excluding children, and take action to keep the responsibility for those children with the school that is excluding them. Will the Minister encourage the Government to look at the effect that Progress 8, in particular, is having on the provision of courses suitable for children, often with education, health and care plans, for whom the examinations within Progress 8 are too high a hurdle? It seems that schools are being penalised for providing for these children and that provision for them is therefore becoming less common.

I will certainly take the points made by my noble friend back to the department. I hope there was general acceptance and approval of the announcement yesterday about the exclusion decisions and recommendations made by the Timpson review. As the House will know, we are looking to take those forward.

My Lords, following on from my noble friend’s Question, do the Government have any intention of issuing guidelines to universities on the acceptable evidence for dyslexia? It seems that, despite the acknowledgement that dyslexia does not go away, some HEIs are still requesting post-16 diagnostic assessments for students to be allowed reasonable adjustments for exams.

As the noble Baroness will know, the OfS has a statutory duty to have regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity across the whole student lifecycle for disadvantaged and traditionally underrepresented groups. As I was saying earlier, the link between the school system and higher education is extremely important so that universities can better understand the needs of their students and provide the necessary technology—both hardware and assistive software—to give them the best start at university.

My Lords, I speak as a parent who has benefited greatly from the British Dyslexia Association’s programme and its analysis of my child’s dyslexia, which we were able to use in discussions with the school. It was fine for us; we were fortunate that we could afford to pay the £500 or £600 for the programme. Are the Government doing anything to help the parents of children who cannot afford to pay this amount to organisations such as the British Dyslexia Association, which gave us a fantastic report and analysis? Are they supporting those parents and children who cannot afford to take advantage of something like this?

Yes indeed, there are several schools which help parents out if the parents cannot afford it. Local authorities can also step in to help. The noble Lord was referring to schools, but higher education institutions are also in a position to help, and many do. I have a list here somewhere of the institutions that offer help to ensure that the right diagnoses are made.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the dyslexic and autistic spectrum is very wide, with any two cases seldom the same? Does he also agree that, with the co-operation of parents, very great progress can be made in individual cases?

The noble Lord makes a good point that these cases all come under the heading of “specific learning difficulties”. As he will know, this includes not just dyslexia but dyspraxia, dyscalculia and all kinds of other issues that need to be taken into account. It is very important that the right assessments are made. Reverting to the EHC plans, these are quite complex. It may well be that the EHC plan includes a small element of dyslexia while the rest is made up of a mix of very complicated stuff, bearing in mind the child’s background.