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Assistive Technology: Support for Special Educational Needs

Volume 830: debated on Thursday 25 May 2023

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the use of assistive technology to support those with special educational needs.

There is an old joke that when you get applause at the start of a speech, you should sit down and take it.

My Lords, I want first to thank everybody who has taken the time to get here this late on a Thursday when we have a recess coming up. I should also make a declaration of interests, the most important of which is that I am chairman of Microlink PC. It is one of the bigger companies in this country, if not the biggest, dealing with this issue. There are many fields and many pies here; we have fingers in many of them.

My other interest is that I am president of the British Dyslexia Association and dyslexic. My last interest, which I probably do not have to declare but which is relevant to everything else, is that my life was transformed about 25 years ago when I got working assistive technology. I am a severe dyslexic; the way I communicated a written message was to dictate it. Suddenly, when I got assistive technology, I could do it myself, so if I sound a little messianic on this it is because I am talking from my own experience.

That was happening to somebody who had managed to get through the system due largely to the influence—shall we say?—of a tiger parent. It got me through the system, into the university structure and out the other side, because once you get over the first hurdle, people are generally quite willing towards you. Once you have proved you have some capacity, they are there to invest in you.

Unfortunately, most people do not have that support and help, or it is not given effectively, or they are simply missed. The most common experience for somebody with SENs, particularly with a neurodiverse background, is that you are told to try harder and work harder. We need the capacity to spot those with problems and then go to that wonderful and expanding box of tricks, which can help you get through. It is dependent on you having a working platform for it—normally, it is a computer; a tablet or something might work, but you need something to use it on. Once you have that, many things become possible.

So far, I have been talking about things which are to do with the communication of information. There are those Members—I am looking across the Room at two of them—who will have experience of bits of supportive technology that help with movement and other forms of support. I look forward to hearing about them.

I could mention all the areas where assistive technology is used, but we have only an hour. I could also mention the products if we had a couple of weeks—I reckon that there are about 40,000 of them. It is about making sure that people know what is out there and getting the right thing in front of them. The real point of this Question is what the Government are doing to make sure that happens. What the benefit is to the state is a reasonable question to ask on every occasion.

If you have assistive technology, and you need it, you stand a chance of becoming an independent and, one hopes, positive economic influence in your society. It may not be impossible otherwise, but it is much more difficult. Occasionally, you hear people talk about “the exceptional people who get through”. Any system that is dependent on you being either brilliant or lucky has fundamentally failed, so I hope that we will get a better understanding of what the Government are going to do about utilising this box of tools to allow people to go forward. That is really what I am aiming at today.

Look at our current system. I appreciate that the Government are now starting to look at and take some steps on it. The system we devised has a graduated approach up to the education, health and care plan, which replaced the old statement. I know the Government are working on making this an easier process but, let us face it, if it works it will be a little like the cavalry coming over the hill. It has become a legal process and it has probably done more to benefit specialist legal firms dealing with the education sector than anyone else. The Minister was not on that Bill, but I was, so maybe I should take some of the blame: we did not see it coming.

One of the other things that has happened is that the graduated approach that was supposed to come in behind it has become virtually irrelevant for many. The experience of many people I have spoken to is that you need the support of the plan to access help. Assistive technology is potentially much cheaper, if you have identified it correctly and got through. The problem is identifying who will benefit from it, even including those in the neurodiverse spectrum. I am going to talk about the needs closest to me, simply because I understand them slightly better.

For somebody who is dyslexic, identifying their level of need and the problem early enough means you stand a chance of bringing them assistance. The same is true of dyspraxia, dyscalculia and ADHD. There are a lot of devices here that will help all of them. Indeed, the same devices are often used differently. Trying to get them at the right time is about the identification process.

A lot of people are talking about screening programmes. How are we getting these screening programmes to identify people? With the best will in the world, people will be needed to administer them and, at the moment, the consensus is that people in the education sector are not well trained enough. I am sceptical about whether the new level 3 SENCO is the answer. The Minister will undoubtedly tell me otherwise, but are they going to identify and get people in the right way? Do the teachers know how to administer the screening process to identify that group?

Let us face it: no system is perfect, certainly not in its first phase. What will we do afterwards? The noble Baroness was instrumental in making me have a discussion with those providing alternative provision—AP. The one question that I asked them, which I was worried about, was what they were doing about screening when people get into AP. They said, “We are relying on the rest of the education system”. The noble Baroness said, and everybody agreed—when everybody agrees in politics you know something will go wrong—that most people in AP have a special educational need, almost by definition. Relying on the rest of the education system to spot it cannot be right; you will need another degree of assessment, because presumably somebody has already been missed.

If you can get assistive technology to somebody, they will have something that they can take with them to deal with things in a certain way, or at least to stand a chance. The identification of need tells them another thing: you can succeed; you can take part and join in. That is why I am trying to find out what the Government’s policy is. It is about that degree of training, support and structure: “Here’s a tool; get in there”.

It is also an opportunity to break the cycle of depending on a tiger parent. This is why, for instance, dyslexia was thought of as the middle-class disease—“exam-passing disease” would probably be a better term. Parents who have aspiration and have got through themselves ask, “Why is my child not the same?”

All the conditions that I have spoken about today have similar stories attached to them. There is a very black-humour joke: if you want to be a successful disabled child, choose your parents correctly. That has been true until this point and it is another condemnation of the system we have at the moment; you have had to fight to get through it.

Are we going to train teachers well enough to use this and give it to a person so that they can act on it for themselves for the rest of their lives? We should remember that most of these children are going to grow up. I have concentrated on education here but, hopefully, the workplace is waiting. What are we going to do? Can we make sure that people are prepared to take on this role?

I hope the Minister has some good news for me about the process and access to it, and can tell me that schools understand it and will bring it in. It should give independence, be cheaper and allow that person to have a model of process that is relevant outside the classroom. Traditional types of help, such as 25% extra time, are not going to be a great deal of help for you if you have to fill out a form at work under pressure, or if you have to complete a task on time. We need skills that are transferable. Assistive technology has the capacity to take on at least some of that role.

I hope the Minister and indeed all others here will put pressure on the Government to ensure that we take advantage of this, because if we do not we are missing a trick that can make people’s lives better, save money in the long term and improve the strength of our workforce. This is one occasion when the ha’porth of tar should be put on the boat.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in this debate and I congratulate my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, on securing it. I declare my interests in technology as set out in the register and, like the noble Lord and other noble Lords in this debate, as a user of assistive technology. I am looking forward to all the contributions today, not least from my noble friend Lord Shinkwin, who has such expertise and experience to bring to bear in this area.

I have assistive technology in my pocket, on my desk, at home and at work. I could not have done my A-levels, gone to university or got a job, and indeed could not do my work here, without it—it is that significant. If you will, assistive technology is all around me. I ask the Minister: how are the Government ensuring that, for everyone who needs it, assistive technology is around all of us?

I did a report last year on the disabled students’ allowance. I was not asked to or commissioned to. Why did I do it? Because the allowance was not working. I came across many findings around assistive technology from all those who kindly gave of their time—students past and present, those who have experienced DSA and assistive technology and those in positions of responsibility in higher and further education. Do the Government agree with all 20 of the recommendations that I made? Specifically, on assistive technology, is asking for a contribution of £200 towards a laptop from students entitled to assistive technology not a misreading of equalities legislation?

I spoke to an extraordinary student studying architecture. They were told they could not have the laptop required to run the architecture software; they had to have just a more standard laptop. How is that assistive technology? A laptop that could not host the software essential to the course meant that the student had to get a second laptop to do their course on. That may have been technology but it was not assistive. Does my noble friend agree that that is a waste of a precious resource?

As for the time it was taking students to get assistive technology, it was a case of months rather than weeks. I give a shoutout to my old university—I declare an interest in that I was at Cambridge University—which took this service in-house and turned a three-month wait into a three-day delivery. If Cambridge can do it, can it not be done across the system? The services have been tendered since then, so can my noble friend the Minister update the Committee on how that tender is running? What are the early signs from the new processes in place? Similarly, what is happening with the DEAs? What training is in place there? What is happening with the AT teach and learn service? How is that going?

Ultimately, this is about enabling and emancipating talent—be that at school, university, further education or employment. Does my noble friend not agree that it would make sense to have an assistive technology passport which started from the first moment an individual who had a requirement stepped into school and ran throughout their time in education, higher education, further education or employment? Whatever journey or pathway an individual wanted to pursue, the passport would already be in place so that there would not have to be forms, explanations and, worse, justifications at every stage. We found that students who had done incredibly well in education using a particular type of kit were then told for the next step of the journey that it could not be recommended. How can that be right? This surely should be personalised, with the learner and then the worker at the centre, wrapping the services and assistive technology around the individual. That is the approach we take in other areas of policy. Would my noble friend not agree that that is completely the approach that we should and must take in this area?

What are we up against here? Can my noble friend confirm to the Committee what the current disability employment gap and disability pay gap are? I repeat those two questions for those who are blind and visually impaired. What is the Government’s plan to close all those gaps so that we get to something which at least starts to look, feel and be like equality?

Finally, can my noble friend update the Committee on what is happening with the centre for assistive and accessible technology? It is a great initiative. What progress is being made on that?

Ultimately, AT is the right brand—it is a great brand. But may I push my noble friend further on this? Why do she and the department not consider this enabling and emancipating technology, which enables and emancipates talent? Does my noble friend not agree that, for all those people who would benefit from emancipating technology, it is long overdue that ET came home?

My Lords, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for securing this debate. My noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond is a very hard act to attempt to follow, but I will endeavour to do so. His speech was based on such powerful and authoritative personal experience.

I declare an interest as chair of the Institute of Directors’ commission, “The Future of Business: Harnessing Diverse Talent for Success”, and as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology, with Lilian Greenwood in the other place as my co-chair. It was in the latter capacity that I was delighted to co-author the foreword to the excellent APPG report by Geena Vabulas, Talent and Technology: Building Bridges to Employment for Disabled People—because, as my noble friend quite rightly said, this is ultimately about talent.

I appreciate that my noble friend the Minister will have myriad reports to wade through at any one time, and I do not envy her that task. I am not assuming that she will have had a chance to read the APPG’s Talent & Technology report, but I commend it to her. While much of it focuses, as the title would suggest, on employment, four of its 10 findings look at the education end of the bridge to employment. While I am not disputing that education has its own intrinsic worth, I think we would all agree that, without it, the prospect of an individual being able to realise their potential, especially in employment, is inevitably limited. So it is an essential part of a much bigger life chances equation.

The report’s first finding was that current systems of assistive technology, or AT provision, leave disabled people in digital black holes at key transition points that affect their ability to find and secure employment. The APPG would encourage the Government to raise their sights and aim higher to ensure equitable access to digital for disabled people in their efforts to close the disability employment gap—mentioned by my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond—which remains obstinately at around 30%, as the Minister knows. A practical way of doing this would be for the Government to appoint and empower a national assistive technology champion to develop and deliver, in collaboration with disabled people, a framework on disabled people’s life transitions, including between different educational settings and at different stages.

The report’s second finding was particularly worrying: disabled students are still leaving education without knowledge of work-based AT provision, without the skills to use it in the workplace, and without the confidence to navigate these issues when starting a new job—for example, as my noble friend mentioned, when having to justify the use of specific equipment, which could so easily be addressed by having a passport that enabled them to get on with the job from day one.

That is why the APPG also recommends that education providers should ensure that careers education, information, advice and guidance—or CEIAG, which is yet another acronym—and disability support and guidance are joined-up, so that education leavers know how to access AT and support to enable their transition into employment. It also informs the APPG’s recommendation that the DfE should produce and promote guidance and resources for education providers on AT and workplaces and preparing for employment. This should include information about Access to Work and other routes to securing timely access to AT.

I mention that it should be timely because the final recommendation relating to the DfE, as well as to DWP, concerns Access to Work. At the moment, the scheme does not put in place AT fast enough for disabled students on short-term work placements, and education professionals can be unaware of this DWP-sponsored support. This makes collaboration between the two departments essential to ensure that disabled people on work placements, traineeships or apprenticeships are able to use AT from day one of their placements. I do not think this need involve a lot of work and money. The support could be developed as an enhanced Access to Work offer, jointly sponsored by DfE and DWP, or as a fund available to education providers, or a combination of both elements.

I would be really grateful if my noble friend the Minister could address the report’s recommendations in writing and detail not only what the Government have done but what they plan to do in response and, crucially, when.

Statistics make it clear that AT is not a niche subject. Indeed, only last year a survey found that nearly a third of higher education students reported using captions or transcriptions. I could go on, but what is equally clear is that the onus should not be— as, unfortunately, it too often can be—on the individual student to self-advocate. The Government need to accept their responsibility as the facilitator of appropriate, effective and timely provision.

My Lords, I am very pleased to support my noble friend Lord Addington in this debate. It is a topic where he has great expertise and enthusiasm. I can share the enthusiasm but, sadly, not the expertise.

Close to home, one of my grandsons has terrible handwriting. He has had more lessons than I can say, since he was very little, poor little thing—well, not “little”, because he is enormous now—but his enthusiasm for writing is outweighed only by the perplexity of anyone trying to read it. He was given permission to do both GCSEs and A-levels with a computer, gained excellent grades and is about to graduate in singing from Southampton University. Obviously, his inability to write legibly should have been a special educational need, although it was never classified as such. The family knew that he was very bright, but we were all extremely grateful that technology stepped in and saved the day, because there is no way that the examiners would have trawled through his scrawly scripts.

We are grateful to RNIB and Guide Dogs for their briefings. Very many years ago, when I was at college, there was a blind student in my class. I well remember a lecture where we took out pencils and paper to take notes. This was long before the days of technology, and this student had a tape recorder to be able to revise later. The lecturer was furious and told him he was not to be recorded. He was not a great lecturer, so perhaps that is why he did not want to be recorded, but his subject was one we needed to know, so we were all sitting there poised. We were left wondering how we could help our blind colleague if he was to be denied the only mechanism that he had for revising the lecture, given that taking notes was not possible for him.

More recently, I was on a committee with the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond. I greatly admired the way he used an impressive bit of kit. He seemed to absorb all the pages of script which the rest of us could skim-read but he, presumably, could not. My other memory of that committee is of my feet every now and again feeling very warm, and realising that his beautiful dog had decided to go to sleep on them—a friendly Peer and a friendly dog. The noble Lord asked some highly relevant questions, which I trust the Minister will answer.

We have two other blind Peers, of course: the noble Lords, Lord Blunkett and Lord Low, who are great contributors to debate. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, has an impressive record, both in government and out. He, like others, has a great memory for voices and greets people when he recognises a voice. From our Benches, I can see the noble Lord, Lord Low, typing away at his machine. I much regret that we have not seen him since he had a really bad fall down the stairs here some weeks ago. I am sure we all send our very best wishes for his speedy recovery and hope that he will soon be back in his place on the Cross Benches, with the valuable contribution he has been making for very many years. All three noble Lords are evidence that sight loss does not mean loss of value to the community, and their dexterity with assistive technology is extremely inspirational.

When I worked for City & Guilds on vocational qualifications, we always had advice from the deaf community on letters, words or phrases which would be misunderstood or muddled with others. It can be difficult for those of us who do not suffer from disabilities to appreciate where danger may lie. Confusing “b” and “p” was one elephant trap, and there were certain abstract phrases which caused confusion that they always asked to be rewritten. We would rewrite questions and tests to ensure that no one hard of hearing was disadvantaged. The technology for deaf people has improved hugely in recent years too.

My noble friend, as he said, is much involved with dyslexia. As expected, the British Dyslexia Association sent a very useful brief. As others have indicated, it is truly important that children should be diagnosed early, as with any special educational need, so that remedies can be applied as soon as possible. It is not acceptable for children to miss out on schooling because no one has spotted or diagnosed why they are failing.

These days, we have the wherewithal to diagnose early. Years ago, when I was at school, there was a girl branded stupid who was actually very intelligent, and she went on to be a highly successful entrepreneur and fundraiser. She was diagnosed very late as dyslexic, a syndrome we had not heard of in my young day. She would have had a much happier school life if her “stupidity” had been recognised for what it was and measures put in place to help her, instead of constantly seating her at the back of the class and assuming that she would not be able to answer any questions. We call for all teacher training to include the common disabilities teachers are likely to find among children they teach and for teachers to learn tolerance if children are having difficulties—as well as patience, which of course all teachers need in spades.

It is, as ever, a pleasure to hear the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, who is a powerful advocate and evidence of courage and determination overcoming physical disability. His contributions to debates are always thoughtful and well worthy of being taken forward.

Can the Minister say what provision is made in teacher training to ensure that special educational needs are identified and treated appropriately? There is so much these days to ensure that anyone suffering a physical or learning disability can flourish. Alongside that, I hope that all children are taught kindness and compassion. How can government ensure that accessibility is part of the conversation in all areas of policy, regulation and service delivery?

This debate has thrown up some fascinating issues. Once again, I thank my noble friend for introducing it.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for putting forward a debate on such an important issue and for his personal insight into the current and potential use of assistive technology to support those with special educational needs. It was of particular interest to hear how assistive technology has transformed his life and could transform the lives of others. It is clear that a considerable range of products is available to do this.

Those points were echoed in the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, who made clear how reliant he is on assistive technology and how all those who need it should have assistive technology, as he put it, all around them. I understood his clear frustration at the findings underlying his report, that students were not able to access appropriate assistive technology, and the damage this could do to their ability to undertake their courses effectively.

Like others speaking in this debate, I have family members with dyslexia, dyspraxia and autism, and understand to a small extent how hard it can be for the 1.5 million children with SEND in the UK, and for their parents and carers. It is important to focus on the scale of the issues during a debate of this nature. We know, for example, that the number of children on an education, health and care plan has gone up by 50% since 2016. We know that this is an equalities issue. Those eligible for free school meals, black pupils and children in care are disproportionately likely to be assessed as having special educational needs. We also know, as has been pointed out, that children in alternative provision are far more likely to have a special educational need. This makes it all the more important that provision of appropriate assistive technology is not left to parental income or chance but becomes part of the provision by default.

We know that the current support for many children with SEND is insufficient. As the Children’s Commissioner has said, current provision is leaving them in a “vicious cycle” of poor outcomes. Families often have to battle their way through the system for a diagnosis, for support following that diagnosis, and for every stage of their child’s education. As the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, said, early diagnosis is vital, but even when diagnosed, and despite huge family efforts, only one in three children receive the correct level of support.

We know that that lack of support, and the battle that parents and carers face, has real consequences. Seven out of 10 parents told the Disabled Children’s Partnership in a recent survey that their disabled child’s health had deteriorated because of a lack of the correct types and levels of support. Despite that, much of the Government’s SEND and alternative provision plan does not come into effect until 2025-26.

It is really important that we do not assume that assistive technology will solve all problems but, used correctly and with the right support, it can make a life-changing and life-chance-changing difference. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, highlighted that it should be the right tool at the right time.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for forwarding me information from the National Deaf Children’s Society that makes it clear that a significant minority of children have reasonable requests for hearing or listening devices fail, and that 15% of families told the Deaf Children Today survey that they had been turned down for a hearing or listening device. The society has also found that assistive listening devices are not always used properly in schools, which can lead to children stopping using them. That really is not acceptable.

Because of the breadth of the category that SEND covers—the range of conditions and issues that fall within the remit of that categorisation—the provision in relation to assistive technology has to be condition-specific but also child-specific. I support the suggestion made by the National Deaf Children’s Society that, when the department develops new national standards, it should create deaf-specific national standards, and that it should do so for specific standards appropriate to a range of disabilities and needs.

The noble Baroness, Lady Garden, highlighted the need for appropriate teaching within the teacher-training programme so that teachers can identify signs that a child might require assistance, and how to deal with that. Can the Minister confirm whether that will be the case in relation to the new national standards?

There is no doubt that assistive technology in schools can be useful in improving the welfare of students and their achievements by boosting confidence, increasing independence and helping them to build skills that are key to continuing education and entering the workforce. The noble Lord, Lord Holmes, focused on the potential use of a passport so that people do not have to argue their case at every stage, a point echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin.

In 2020, as we have heard, a DfE literature review found that

“AT is an under-utilised intervention”.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, in his description of the potential digital black hole that people can find themselves in, and on the need for education and assistive technology to provide a bridge to employment. The DfE assistive technology stakeholder reports also make that clear.

Knowing what we do, and knowing that people with disabilities are less likely to achieve further education or higher education qualifications and less likely to be in work, there is simply no excuse for the slow pace of the rollout of resources in schools. It is therefore bizarre, frankly, that, after an initial assistive-technology training trial resulted in good outcomes last year, the Government are rolling it out to just 150 further schools in the first instance. For those children who can now access these valuable tools, that is a good thing—I am not saying otherwise—but it pushes back any potential national rollout at a time when SEND pupils desperately need help now. It is vital that the Government make every effort to increase investment and training, and focus on providing pupils with the support that they need. No child can afford to lose the opportunities they should have within the school system, but children with SEND will be failed if this issue is not addressed.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for his tireless work in this area and for tabling this important debate. People talk about your Lordships’ House and the expertise that resides within it, and this debate was an example of very deep experience and insight.

As we heard, many of your Lordships have personally benefited from assistive technology or know people who have. Such technology can help reduce barriers to learning for students with special educational needs and disabilities. The noble Baroness, Lady Garden, reminded us of how things were—not in a good way—with the episode of her fellow student and the tape recorder. We all hope that such episodes are behind children and students in classrooms today.

As your Lordships noted, we published a rapid literature review of assistive technology in 2020. That found that assistive technology is underused in education, and it identified strong and exceedingly clear evidence of the benefits of specific types of assistive technology, such as alternative and augmented communication devices.

My noble friend Lord Holmes challenged me to assure the Committee that all students who need access to devices will get it. As he knows better than anyone, the question is more complicated than that. It is about getting not just the devices but the support to make sure they are used effectively. I hope my noble friend will join me in recognising that the Government made a huge investment for all children during the pandemic, of over £0.5 billion—£520 million—to provide just under 2 million devices for learning and training, including on the effective use of assistive technology. The technology sector has also invested heavily in developing built-in accessibility features. That means that schools and colleges, now more than ever, have greater access to mainstream assistive technology.

The specialist assistive technology market is also growing at pace, with products such as alternative and augmentative communication devices becoming cheaper, smaller and easier to maintain. However, we want to develop a more robust understanding of the potential benefits of using built-in assistive technology features to seamlessly support SEND learners, as well as their peers—including, for example, those for whom English is an additional language.

We also know that, for a long time, teachers have found assistive technology difficult to use. In our 2021 edtech landscape survey, 57% of teachers said that software was only sometimes or rarely supporting their SEND pupils. That is why, last year, we went ahead and piloted training to increase school staff confidence and capability in using assistive technology. We initially trained staff at 79 mainstream schools in England and conducted an independent evaluation, which gave us promising results, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Twycross. Some 75% of participants said the training had contributed or would contribute to improvements in the support for pupils with SEND to a great or moderate extent. Three-quarters of participants also thought it would remove barriers to learning for children with SEND.

Following those promising results, we are running a second training programme over a longer period, with about 150 schools. The noble Baroness, Lady Twycross, challenged why this was a smaller increment. There will also be a more in-depth evaluation. The difference in the second study is in exploring the longer-term impact of assistive technology training on schools, staff and learners, so that we have the fullest possible picture of how we can support wider SEND CPD before potentially rolling it out further. There is clearly an option, once we have all the evidence and understand what the evaluation is telling us. One option is to build this kind of training into SEND CPD or wider staff training, and we will also consider how to apply it within FE colleges and special schools.

We learned a great deal about the use of technology in education during the pandemic. We learned that education requires more than a device and an app. We are clear that the use of technology in a classroom should be pedagogically driven and informed by best practice. We are working with leaders, researchers and industry to build the strongest possible evidence base for the effective use of technology and to make sure, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, that we give students the right tools, at the right time.

We also need and appreciate the work that the edtech industry does with us to make sure that the evidence base is as robust as possible. That includes thinking hard about what data we collect and at what level of granularity.

Of course, effective assistive technology use also requires strong SEND provision at every level. That is why our SEND and alternative provision improvement plan sets out the work we will do to ensure that all children receive the support they need early in their educational journey and, crucially, that the support stays with them for as long as they need it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Twycross, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, emphasised the importance of early identification, and we agree with them absolutely. We believe and hope that our national standards will create a system which allows for earlier, more accurate and more consistent identification of need so that support can be targeted most effectively.

As for the issues around employment, my noble friend Lord Shinkwin raised some powerful examples in his speech. I would be delighted to write to him in response to his question about the APPG’s report. I also very much welcome his emphasis on careers and on the co-creation of materials with people who have special educational needs and disabilities.

A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Holmes, raised the issue of an adjustment passport. I think noble Lords will be aware that we have been working with the Department for Work and Pensions to pilot such a passport to smooth the transition into employment and to support people when they are changing jobs, including people with special educational needs and disabilities. That passport will capture an individual’s in-work support needs, including their assistive technology requirements, and empower them to have more confident discussions with employers.

I know that the Department for Work and Pensions has also been working in partnership with colleagues at Microsoft to train work coaches on accessibility features such as Immersive Reader and Magnifier, using technology to create accessible experiences for jobseekers with special educational needs and disabilities.

The noble Baroness, Lady Garden, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, talked about the importance of staff training and referred to the new SENCO NPQ. We believe that this will play an important role in achieving the goals we and the Committee have to improve outcomes for children and young people with SEND by ensuring that SENCOs receive consistent, high-quality, evidence-based and practical training. We are working with the Education Endowment Foundation, and we have a SEND expert in the role of lead drafter in the drafting and preparation of the qualification.

My noble friend Lord Holmes asked about work in relation to DSA; I thank him again for his report. As my noble friend knows, students have told the Student Loans Company that the current process is extremely long and complicated. We heard examples of that in the Committee this afternoon. Students have had to contact multiple companies to get the equipment they need. We really believe that the new service will be much more streamlined, and that the experience for students will be very much improved, including in relation to the delivery of assistive technology, familiarisation and training in its use, and ongoing support afterwards.

In relation to my noble friend’s question about the disability pay gap, the data I have about the median pay of disabled and non-disabled employees is that the gap in 2019 was 14.1%. It fell slightly to 13.8% in 2021.

My noble friend Lord Holmes also asked about the centre for assistive technology. We have a commitment in the National Disability Strategy, but it is currently paused due to the High Court ruling because of the consultation not complying with the rules. I am happy to write to him with more detail on that.

I close by thanking all noble Lords for sharing their experiences and for their questions. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, talked about pressure needing to be applied to His Majesty’s Government to focus on this issue. I stress that no pressure is needed: this is very much in our sights, and we share the aspiration of the noble Lord and of my noble friends Lord Holmes and Lord Shinkwin that this is a way we can unleash the talent of people with special educational needs and disabilities and free them to achieve their potential. We will work tirelessly to do that.

Committee adjourned at 4.51 pm.