HL Deb 18 March 1993 vol 543 cc1548-50

3.22 p.m.

Lord Merlyn-Rees asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will provide six-monthly reports from each local authority in England and Wales for their primary and secondary schools (annotated separately), and also directly from grant-maintained schools, giving details by league tables of special facilities provided for pupils designated as dyslexic.

The Minister of State, Department for Education (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, I understand the concern underlying this Question but to provide six-monthly reports would serve no particular purpose. It would also be impracticable, costly and bureaucratic to do so. The Government are however taking action to improve the education of all children with special educational needs, including those with dyslexia, by means of the Education Bill currently before the House.

Lord Merlyn-Rees

My Lords, will the Minister consider the fact that we have league tables for the railways, the police, and secondary schools (the swans of the education system)? Can not we do the same for special schools? All those involved believe that the 1981 Act is not working; that there are not enough facilities and trained teachers; and that it is easy to backslide on this because public demand for results is not as great as it is in individual schools. If the reports cannot be six-monthly, can they be annual? If it is good enough for the police and the railways, it is good enough for the children in our system who have educational problems.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Lord addresses an important point. I look to him to support us on this side of the House, because we do have league tables for young children. We need to know every year what their reading and writing levels are and what is their competence in numeracy. The identification of those difficulties in young people, and the addressing of their weaknesses and building upon their strengths, form an important part of the reforms that we put on the statute book. The 1981 Act, which the noble Lord mentioned, is not just an important piece of legislation; we are building on that legislation in the coming Bill, and the noble Lord will have an opportunity to discuss the subject then.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in almost every town and city people give their services voluntarily to look after dyslexic children? They would welcome the implementation of the recommendation made by my noble friend Lord Merlyn-Rees. I should have though that the Government would acknowledge that those people—there are thousands of them—who do that work for nothing should receive some attention so that views about the problems of dyslexic children in one town or city could be compared with those in others. Surely those volunteers should have some support, even from this Government.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the last thing that we want is an increase in bureaucracy. What we do want is early identification of learning difficulties, including dyslexia. We want to address those needs properly and to ensure that children learn to overcome those difficulties or to live with them, as some dyslexic people have to do. All the measures we have introduced, not just in the 1981 Act, recognise and record progress for all children from whatever ability levels they start. All the things that both noble Lords want are in place. We now want to make them work.

Lord Judd

My Lords, but does the Minister agree that this is a good illustration of the limited value of league tables as at present presented? Is not far fuller social information required? Will the Minister tell us how many children were statemented as dyslexic in 1991, and what research has been carried out for the DFE on dyslexia to define it more clearly?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, first, I disagree with the noble Lord's first statement. Unless a child is assessed, it is not possible to identify weaknesses and strengths and then to influence programmes for them. We are actively involved, and have been for many years, in research work for dyslexic young people. We are at the moment working with the Harris CTC on an exciting dyslexia project which involves the expenditure of £250,000 over three years. We are also working with the Hereford and Worcester British Dyslexia Association, together with the University of Birmingham, to research early learning. We are doing what we can to improve early identification.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, is the Minister aware that one of the best incentives to develop good practice is to make available as widely as possible information on what is going on in the education system with particular reference to dyslexia? May I point out—

Noble Lords


Lord Monkswell

My Lords, is the Minister aware that over the past few years Manchester has developed a system of support service by specialist teachers for children in our mainstream schools suffering from dyslexia, which appears to be beneficial to the children involved? I am sure that we would welcome the national collation of statistics on the subject so that best practice can be identified and spread more widely.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. That is what we want to do. There has been an information revolution. We are finding out how our children are learning, and whether the system and the teaching are effective. But the noble Lord and his colleagues—in a party political sense—have opposed that information being made public. We want to see the information made public. We want to see young people with learning difficulties having their needs addressed by the schools, not by increasing bureaucracy but by good teaching and the early identification of young people with learning difficulties.

Lord Merlyn-Rees

My Lords, I merely say to the Minister that I am glad that research is taking place at the university; but has her department addressed its mind to last July's report of the Audit Commission and the inspectorate in which they said that a system of assessment and statementing was failing badly? They uncovered a lack of clarity about who should be given a statement. Assessments were generally uninformative. Statements were vaguely worded and took a long time to prepare. One does not need research at universities into that; one needs to get the local authorities and schools to do the job properly. It is up to the department to see that that is done. There should be a league table.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I think that we shall be in for a happy time when we introduce the Education Bill into your Lordships' House. I look to the noble Lord, because these matters are important. A substantial part of the Bill which will start its life in the House on Tuesday is devoted to the problems that the noble Lord has just enunciated. The hope is—I believe that there is support across the House—that we will put that Bill onto the statute book as soon as possible, because the system has many faults and we want to see it work well.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the report to which reference was made was taken into full account in the preparation of Part III of the Education Bill, which has received support and a measure of acclaim from associations concerned with dyslexia?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, my noble friend was right in saying that I was referring to Part III of the Bill, which deals entirely with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees. I thank my noble friend who has been instrumental in pressurising us during the months and years to ensure that that is brought about.

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