HL Deb 21 November 1974 vol 354 cc1119-22

3.18 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper, and I should like to declare a personal interest in the matter.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what progress has been made in the provision of special educational treatment for children suffering from acute dyslexia since the passing of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970.


My Lords, over the past four years there has been an increasing awareness of the needs of children suffering from severe reading difficulties. In 1972, the Department published a Report by the Advisory Committee on Handicapped Children which was called Children with Specific Reading Difficulties. That Report took the view that dyslexia was not a very meaningful term for educational purposes. The Committee believed that there was in fact a continuum spanning the whole range of reading abilities and that to focus attention on the dyslexic might be to the disadvantage of children with equally severe difficulties. They recommended an approach based on skilled remedial teaching to the problems of children suffering from reading backwardness of all kinds. In the last few years there have been significant increases in many areas in the numbers of remedial education centres and of remedial teachers in ordinary schools.


My Lords, I thank the Minister for his encouraging reply. In view of his Answer to the Question, may I ask him whether he considers that Section 27 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act ought to be updated? May I also ask him what training is given to students in teacher-training colleges in diagnosing the problems of children who have considerable reading difficulties? Is the noble Lord aware of the very severe frustration and unhappiness sometimes caused to bright children when their parents and teachers think they are stupid?


My Lords, on the question of updating the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, it may be a little early to think of doing that in these terms. My Department believed that it was important to let some time elapse after the publication of the Report of the Tizzard Committee which I have just described. The Report in fact gave specific guidance to local authorities on how the problems are best tackled, and it is the responsibility of local education authorities to do what they consider necessary in the light of this guidance.

My right honourable friend in another place is now considering whether to ask local education authorities for details of the provision that they have made for children who suffer from severe reading disabilities. In this connection, one has to bear in mind that unnecessary burdens should not be placed on local authorities at this particular time. Also, we have to bear in mind that the Bullock Committee on Reading and the Use of English have something to say about this in its forthcoming Report, which is likely to be published in the New Year.

Referring to the other part of the noble Baroness's question of what is done in training colleges, the content of training is a matter for the colleges and the area training organisations to which they belong; but courses of initial training normally include the study of language and reading as part of the curriculum of method studies, and also an introduction to the teaching of children with reading difficulties and the role of expert diagnostic service and advice. More specialised training is offered in some forty in-service courses of substantial length in colleges and universities, and a number of shorter courses are provided by local education authorities and other bodies. I hope that may satisfy the noble Baroness that we are treating this as a matter of urgency and are doing what we can.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that children who suffer from this particular form of word blindness have been described as children who cannot see what other people say and who cannot see what other people write? Often they are very intelligent. But is the noble Lord aware that the key to the tackling of their problem and that of other children who suffer from severe reading disabilities is the earliest possible diagnosis, together with an increased number of highly specialised teachers?


Yes, my Lords.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that one of the fundamental problems here is not caused by the stupidity of children but arises from listening with mother to television and seeing multiple images for about 10,000 hours before going to school?—so that you get an image-building mind instead of a word-building mind. Ultimately, reading does come to these children.


My Lords, that is a most interesting observation and I have no doubt that the experts in this subject will take account of it.


My Lords, as I seem to see a new face every day on the Front Bench, would the noble Lord be kind enough to tell me who he is?


My Lords, arising out of the noble Lord's reply to the Question, is he aware that there appears to be no convention that the ATOs, which are the validating authorities for Certificates of Education, have an accepted standard or indeed any requirement that any teaching of reading of any sort, whether to children with difficulties or not, should be done? Is the noble Lord satisfied with this, and does he not consider that training should be required for all teachers not merely for teaching children who can read normally but also for diagnosing those who cannot and passing them on to those trained to deal with them?


My Lords, with respect, I think that is a slightly different question. However, I will take note of what the noble Lord has said and hope to be in correspondence with him later.


My Lords, may I just ask the noble Lord the Minister whether, as reading has been stressed to-day, he is aware that writing and arithmetic also may present problems?


Yes, my Lords, I am aware of that.


My Lords, would it not be better to tell the harassed parents of these children, who are in a really depressed condition to-day. that progress in education is very difficult, because there is inadequate knowledge of the condition, which is simply called dyslexia?


My Lords, I would not want to deal with professional and expert matters in this context; but the immediate problem is for local authorities to deal with, with all the experts at their disposal, to advise parents accordingly and to try to carry out whatever remedial methods and advice seem necessary.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that a special film on this problem will be shown at 11 o'clock to-day week at the Columbia Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue; and would he be interested in attending there?


My Lords, I was not aware of that, and the answer is, yes.


My Lords, could the Minister explain the objection of his Department to the use of the word "dyslexia"? Is his Department not aware that this word is strictly etymologically synonymous with severe reading disabilities, which is very much more common as a term?


My Lords, my Department has no objection at all to using the word "dyslexia". It was however, advised by an expert committee which included psychologists and neurologists that in educational terms this was not in fact a useful phrase.