HL Deb 08 May 2000 vol 612 cc1274-89

7.30 p.m.

Lord Laird

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will ensure that account is taken in education programmes and in the workplace of the particular abilities of those classed as dyslexic.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this evening I. am delighted to have the opportunity to debate a rather misunderstood topic about which I feel strongly: dyslexia. To commence this debate, it is worthwhile underlining exactly what dyslexia is. Dyslexia is a "processing difference" which can take a number of different forms. Unlike other disabilities, it is not obvious but nevertheless can cause individuals all kinds of problems. Most people do not realise just how widespread it is. Dyslexia comes from a Greek word which means "difficulty with words". This is now recognised as a misnomer. Although literary difficulties may be a feature of dyslexia, there is a whole range of associated problems. These include difficulty with memory, and visual or auditory problems which may affect the way in which the dyslexic person performs in the workplace. He may have trouble remembering appointments and understanding instructions. The writing of reports or any kind of written information that requires good literary skills and clear logical thinking may create stress.

For some individuals a large amount of reading may be an overload, often because of visual problems. Often these difficulties are in contrast to specific areas of excellence. Dyslexics can be skilled in verbal communication and have interpersonal skills or visual talents. They can make good designers, draftsmen and engineers, or have skills in dealing with people. While dyslexics are known for their originality of thought, they often feel frustrated by a lack of confidence in some areas. There is a high incidence of dyslexia which is a complex condition that affects a child's whole reading experience, not just the acquisition of literacy and numeracy skills. Increasingly, scientific research points to a neurological base and differences in the parts of the brain that process language. Initially, the condition affects the acquisition of basic reading, writing and spelling skills. Difficulties can be identified as soon as a child starts school because he or she begins to fall behind classmates.

The Government estimate that in the UK 350,000 children suffer from dyslexia. That figure is drawn from a debate in your Lordships' House on 15th December 1997. Dyslexia occurs across the ability spectrum, from the least to the most able. The challenge facing schools is to offer dyslexic children the opportunity to make the best use of their particular strengths. The neurological differences that cause the difficulties associated with dyslexia are also thought to facilitate different ways of thinking. While dyslexia affects up to 10 per cent of the population, within the creative professions the proportion appears to be much higher. Lateral thinking, problem solving, the ability to make creative leaps and to see things from every angle are all skills associated with dyslexia. Successful dyslexics often believe that even though they had a bad time at school the condition and their response to it has been responsible for their abilities in their chosen fields. Sometimes they speak of having the right information in their heads but an inability to express it clearly either in speech or in writing.

Coping with their own problems can be made worse by other people being unable or unwilling to understand their difficulties. Someone may suffer stress because he does not understand his specific difficulties, yet there are often simple solutions to problems. The mix of competence and inefficiency may make the dyslexic a difficult employee and his problems may act as a barrier to recognition of skill and further promotion. Often the dyslexic feels conscious of his or her problem and is in a dilemma whether to tell colleagues about the condition. The fear of failure and exposure is particularly unsettling.

Modern information and communication technology greatly facilitates dyslexic people. Voice-activated word-processors, computers that can read back and search facilities on the Internet enable the dyslexic to access new information and express himself or herself on paper with greater ease and confidence.

My experiences as a dyslexic at school many, many years ago had a major impact in shaping my life, personality and career. Being small for my age at junior school and considering myself stupid and inarticulate, that period was easily the most dreadful, humiliating, hurtful and loathsome of my life to date. Incidents at the hands of fellow pupils and teachers are burnt into my mind and flood back during unguarded moments to make me still, today, sick with fear and worry. But I have no bitterness towards the school or anyone else. In the 1950s few had heard of the word "dyslexia". I know very well the strategies and tactics that are used to cover these failings and to move on. Many of the ploys are themselves creative, but I believe that for many the lack of self-confidence and self-belief still lingers. I recall the relief 15 or so years ago at the realisation that there was a reasonable explanation for what I considered to be an abnormal and poor school career. In recent years it has been a relief, and also refreshing, to be able to declare oneself to be dyslexic and to offer support to those in a similar position.

Like myself, most of today's dyslexic adults were not diagnosed while at school. Labelled as stupid, thick or lazy, they still have to come to terms with learning but now as adults. Many feel that they have under-achieved in their working lives as a result of an undiagnosed problem. We in this country cannot boost the skills base of our adult population without acknowledging dyslexia and the creative strengths and benefits that adults with this condition can bring to society.

The strides made in understanding dyslexia over the past few decades have been significant, but, in common with many others, I believe that much more must be done. The issue has been addressed at school level with some important results. Clearly, the first step is a process of education for all. We must identify the difficulty and put in place methods to deal with it. However, I look further. At all levels—in schools and beyond—the general public must be educated to understand the existence of the difficulty and, importantly, to value the role of dyslexics.

Some major work has been undertaken in the field of education. One example of that is the well-documented work in Swansea. There the city and county local authorities have tackled the situation with vision by ensuring high levels of understanding. Nearer my home, schools like the Royal Belfast Academical Institution have done excellent work in developing an approach that is designed to remove dyslexia-driven disadvantages. As a governor of this school your Lordships will understand that I can speak with total objectivity.

To be totally fair, the solutions must be made more applicable to the post-school section of the population. To their credit, the Government have done much but now we must all do more. There is a consensus among organisations to seek easy access to free assessment of adults. Basic skill tutors with specialist qualifications to teach such identified adults must be put in place. Adult learning programmes which offer a full understanding of the condition and its difficulties can then be initiated.

Much important and successful work by the Adult Dyslexia Organisation has been undertaken among employers to ensure best practice at work. A campaign is urgently needed to raise awareness among employers to show that dyslexics can be a vital plus to any creative process and must be valued. A wider programme to achieve understanding among the general public is also important. More than anything, that will help to remove the stigma and, consequently, build self-confidence among sufferers.

Lastly, there is a vital need to devote more resources to research into the causes and remedies of the condition. Here I ask the Minister to consider the significant findings of a research psychologist at the Queen's University of Belfast. Based on work which was started in the United States, Martin McPhillips, in a recent report in the Lancet, examined the effects of replicating primary reflex movements on specific reading difficulties in children. The concept is that certain reading difficulties are related to persistent primary reflexes in the earliest months of life. Research shows that a programme based on releasing these reflexes will help overcome some aspects of dyslexia. I understand that it is a totally new approach which has had significant results. I recommend this research to the Government as worthy of study and consideration.

In today's inclusive society, when collectively we require every talent of all of our people to succeed as well as to liberate more human satisfaction, we overlook dyslexics at our cost. Many famous high achievers from the past were dyslexics. They, we, all have a part to play, and I look with much expectation to the Government for further support and encouragement.

7.40 p.m.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Laird, for giving us the opportunity for this debate. Dyslexia and its first cousin dyspraxia are pretty common conditions. They were widely undiagnosed in the past but we now have the chance to know how to recognise them. Where people have their eyes open, the conditions are seen to be fairly common. It is in our education system that we have to tackle the issue because that is where the condition can be dealt with. It is no good trying to teach coping strategies to those children when they become adults.

The principal problem in education has been identification. Teachers do not know what to look for. I do not believe that such recognition is yet part of our curriculum in teacher training colleges. A friend's son, aged 17 and in the middle of A-levels, was found to have a reading age of 12. He was a bright child who had developed coping strategies, but a profound dyslexic. It had not been recognised because he had found a way of charming his way through to some desired result. I hasten to say that he was not in the state system.

None the less the problem has been widespread in the state system. Indeed, in some areas there is a bias against identification because of the financial implications for local authorities. As the noble Lord, Lord Laird, said, it has been estimated that there are 350,000 dyslexics in our school population; and one can add a number of dyspraxics to that. Using conventional methods to deal with the condition, the additional cost of providing those children with the educational support they should have would be several hundreds of millions of pounds a year.

Therefore identification should be the first aim; and for the child that is essential. The worst situation is for the child not to know what he is doing wrong. He does not understand why. He feels all right in his head but is being corrected for things which he is incapable of getting right. My son is dyspraxic and therefore finds reading a blackboard immensely difficult because of the way his eyes move. Unless that had been spotted, as it was, when he was about eight years-old, it would have caused him immense difficulty. He was being labelled as one of the "dumbos" of the class because he could not read what was on the blackboard. His eyes did not track that way at that distance.

It is important for the children that the condition is identified. Once the child knows the problem he has, it is rather like knowing that he has a wooden leg—he can deal with it. It is identifiable. He knows why he is what he is. The parents can find sources of information. There are many support groups for dyslexia and dyspraxia. The situation becomes understandable and the child is able to value himself. He knows that he has the disability but is none the less able to cope with life rather than accumulating an immense weight of negative self image. That is what occurs when one does not understand what is happening.

After identification comes assessment. That is an obligation on local authorities. I believe that it is widely recognised as an obligation that they try to dodge. We have to find a better way for local authorities to finance it. For local authorities to have to hide the moment a child is in need of special educational support in an expanding area like dyslexia must be wrong. It is not the way in which we deal with matters in the National Health Service. We must not expose local authorities—they are the budgetary unit—to this stress. Where there is a diagnosed need, we must ensure that the finances will be provided and that the rest of the educational system does not suffer.

We need to ensure that teachers are well equipped to deal with dyslexics and dyspraxics: that they know the problems that occur with those children; that, for example, inattention is not a matter of opt ion but the way in which the nervous systems of those children are built. Teachers need to know how to deal with the situation so that such inattention does not become a disruption in class or hold up the child's education.

There is a great deal that we know already which we can do better. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, will know that there was a television programme on dyslexia in Scottish prisons. It was discovered that over half the juvenile offenders were dyslexics. They had got nowhere at school although when their IQs were tested they were quite bright. That is a common position throughout the UK and accords with my general experience.

I wish to pick up what the noble Lord, Lord Laird, said about treatment. Reading the dyslexia websites, it seems as though there is a conspiracy to suggest that there is no treatment for this condition; that one can apply palliatives to it, and that there are methods of teaching which will make matters slightly better, but no cure. That is not the case. I have seen children cured of dyslexia. That is not to say that every ca se of dyslexia can be cured. It is a complex disease. There may be many types, degrees or causes of it. But I have seen children cured using the method described by the noble Lord, Lord Laird. It is well established in a number of forms in this country although quite hard to find. I can find no reference to it on any of the main dyslexia websites. It is a great disappointment that the dyslexia industry (as it were) should have decided to turn its back on treatments rather than drawing them to parents' attention and putting pressure on the Government to have those methods evaluated. It costs a great deal of money to evaluate a dyslexia treatment. One has to follow children for a long time, with heavy assessment of them before, during and after the course of the treatment. One needs a fair number of children to achieve a statistically significant result.

Watching the results of the practice described by the noble Lord, Lord Laird, is extraordinary. One can see the fetal and childish reflexes in the way the child reacts to stimuli. A year later they are not there. A child who could not catch a ball thrown gently from six feet away can now play cricket. It is astonishing to see what can be done.

There are other methods too. There are methods— I do not know them closely—associated with colour, attacking and re-educating the nervous system. We should not think of our nervous systern as being programmed from birth in a specific way. It is an extremely flexible and adaptive instrument. We should be looking for ways to take advantage of it. Faced with the expenditure they are likely to have in relation to dyslexia and dyspraxia, the Government should devote the odd million pounds or so from the several hundreds of millions they are likely to spend on this condition on research for cures. A cure will be a great deal cheaper than the cost of treatment during a child's whole school career.

7.50 p.m.

Lord Addington

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Laird, for raising the issue before the House. I liked the manner in which be brought it forward and the way in which he described the general perception of dyslexia. However, my views are in conflict with those of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in stating that dyslexia is a disease and that there is a cure. I know he must have expected that reaction. All the research shows that it is a disability with which one can learn to live.

Learning sports encourages one's reflexes to catch a ball and that will deal with certain aspects of dyslexia. Other practices will help, but terms of cure are not appropriate. Research shows that the condition is related to the structure and construction of the brain and nervous system. We may be able to change certain patterns and deal with the process, but, according to most scientific information I have seen, dyslexia is not a condition that can be cured. One can learn to deal with it.

Dyslexia is also surrounded by myths. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, referred to coloured lenses. I tried them and they had a minor effect probably, as someone explained to me, because I also have a secondary condition that is common among dyslexics. It is a common genetic condition which is carried through the generations. Colour sensitivity may be an issue that is explained in those terms. Although we are not debating that, I felt that I had to say that straightaway.

There is a fundamental difference between the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and myself and probably most of the people involved. To say that someone can be cured of dyslexia denies that it is a disability. In fact, everyone involved in the movement has approached it as a disability. It is something that one is born with and which never leaves. If one is moderately dyslexic, one might receive the right tuition and emotional support at an early age and be able to deal with the problem, especially if one is of high intellectual ability. It may be only a minor irritant or may be totally unknown. However, dyslexia is definitely a disability. To ignore that and to suggest that it can be cured opens the door to many other approaches.

Having dealt with that issue, I must declare my interest. I am dyslexic; I am the vice president of the British Dyslexia Association; and I am a patron of the Adult Dyslexia Organisation. I am also president of my local dyslexia association, which my mother started with the inspiration of myself and my younger brother. The main approach to dealing with dyslexics must be the early detection of the condition, which means recognition within the school system. In that, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. That is the first step.

Can the Minister remind the House how much time is given in basic teacher training to recognising dyslexia and other special needs? I cannot remember the exact statistics, but I remember that the figure was alarmingly low. The condition must be discovered early and the child told that he has a disability. I did not fall down the pit; I only stared into it, because my condition was spotted in time. However, it was at a time when it was only talked about and recognised within the state system. Not enough was known to do anything about it. However, I survived the labelling process.

Early recognition is undoubtedly helpful, but we must try to adopt a more rounded approach. As the noble Lord, Lord Laird, initially said, the problem lies not only with reading and writing. I do not know how many times I have explained that I am dyslexic and people have asked, "Does that mean that you get your Bs and Ds wrong?". People are beginning to recognise the word "dyslexia" and the problems with basic spelling and the construction of words or letters on a page, but the condition is more than that. It affects sequencing, remembering numbers correctly and the organisation of time. Those things do not come easily to dyslexics—as my Whips office will undoubtedly testify!

We must try to work those aspects into our whole approach. In schools and in further education more help is now being given to the structuring of work and managing the disability than to telling someone to go away and take another phonetics course. It is a total waste of time to give a young adult, especially one under pressure of examinations, an extra dollop of work. The same applies to an adult running a business who wants to undertake further training. I have received briefing showing that the Armed Forces are beginning to give help in structuring and managing the problem. That is infinitely more useful.

How many working adults have the time or energy to throw into the training? I suggest very few. Lessons in structuring and managing the problem and an explanation of it will give the person an advantage. Schools can learn greatly from that, and the example of Swansea has been mentioned. However, unless that approach spreads further into the schools and further education system we shall have more problems. We must tackle the problem in a holistic manner.

It is my turn now to have a swipe at bureaucracy. I was told by everyone that, in order to go to university, I had to have an English language qualification. So I dictated my paper in my 0-level examination. If ever there was a useless piece of paper, that was it. You can dictate an English language written examination paper. I hope that the Minister will assure the House that the Government will encourage higher education institutions in the belief that such a practice is childish and can be destructive to development. It is a little like saying to someone in a wheelchair, "Go and do a cross-country run". Nothing is achieved. You can, as I did, get someone to carry you around the course, but it means nothing. I hope that the Minister will assure the House that such information and guidance will be issued.

The "growth industry" of the discovery of dyslexia in prisons surprises no one who gives the matter a second thought. If you happen to be an educational failure and crime is an option to you or your peer group, you will probably take it if you are denied the usual prospects of employment. I discovered that when I worked for a prison charity, the Apex Trust, many years ago. I reached that spontaneous conclusion, only to discover that many people had done so before me. There is good practice in prisons, but it has been described to me as being like a dessert which has one or two oases within it. Examples of good practice are occurring across the Prison Service, but I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that the service as a whole is undertaking to provide coherent guidance across the board in order to ensure that people have access to help and support. That has a huge potential for ensuring that people escape the offending cycle by making themselves employable. That must be taken on board and I hope that the noble Lord will be able to do so.

We are dealing with a disability whose ramifications affect about 10 per cent of the population. Four per cent of people are regarded as having severe educational problems. The ramifications spread throughout life, not just within the schools system. I hope that tonight we shall hear further commitment to following the problem not only through the schools system but into the place of work and to all those who are given further training.

8 p.m.

Baroness Blotch

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Laird, for initiating this debate on the important subject of dyslexia. At this point, I must say also how much I believe many noble Lords will miss Lord Renwick, who is an excluded hereditary Peer. As noble Lords know, he took a special interest in, and spoke in this House on, this subject. I am delighted to say that he continues to be involved with the British Dyslexia Association.

As has already been said, dyslexia is a complex condition. It is estimated by the British Dyslexia Association that it affects approximately 10 per cent of the population, and it would appear to be more common in males than in females. The condition affects in varying degrees co-ordination, reading, spelling, writing, memory, concentration and the processing of information. There is some evidence that dyslexia is an hereditary condition. However, we know—here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Addington—that it continues throughout life. As the noble Lord, Lord Laird, said, many people with the condition can and often do display creative, artistic and other practical skills.

The challenges are to identify the condition as early as possible and to develop strategies to help overcome those areas of difficulty. As already stated, the Government's own estimate of the number of children who are dyslexic is 350,000; that is, approximately 20 per cent of all children with special educational needs. I understand that the British Dyslexia Association agrees with that figure.

However, that number probably accounts for only those who are formally statemented Of real concern are the children whose condition falls short of the criteria for a formal statement. If one takes the population as a whole, it is estimated that 4 per cent are severely affected and up to 10 per cent have milder forms of the condition, which can still present problems. If the individual has not developed practical ways and strategies to overcome difficulties, those problems become exacerbated as time progresses.

Again, as has already been said, the key is early identification and appropriate intervention. Ofsted carried out a survey of provision in mainstream schools for pupils with special educational needs, including dyslexia. In its report published last year, Ofsted confirmed that, where their learning difficulties were identified and addressed early, pupils made better progress than those who received additional help at a later stage, often just before they transferred to a secondary school.

In many local education authorities, it was common, for example, for pupils with dyslexia to be identified at stages 1 to 3 of the special educational needs register in the primary school and for a statement to be produced only during the final year in preparation for secondary school. One reason for that given by Ofsted was that there was perhaps a reluctance on the part of teachers to admit that the school could not meet pupils' needs from within its provision for special educational needs.

The report also found that all too often provision was made only as a result of pressure from parents who were left to convince schools and/or local education authorities of their children's difficulties. Parents also complained about the time taken to carry out assessments and to issue appropriate statements. Among many parents interviewed by Ofsted was a strong feeling that all that resulted in the loss of valuable time during which the behavioural problems of the children increased, learning deteriorated and there was a significant lowering of the child's self-esteem and confidence.

Regular assessment and testing that came with the introduction of the national curriculum provides the early warnings necessary for teachers to identify learning difficulties. However, as my noble friend Lord Lucas said, there are many other innate signs for the teacher to spot before those formal assessments are made. Other tell-tale symptoms often include a disruptive pattern of behaviour or signs of withdrawal from the normal activities with other children within the classroom.

Although the national literacy strategy is of considerable benefit to children with specific learning difficulties, some pupils' educational needs call for supplementary additional approaches. However, for too long it was unfashionable to admit to the condition of dyslexia—it was often referred to as the "middle-class disease"—in part due to the more discerning parents who would complain persistently and regularly about the problems experienced by their children.

However, there is now widespread agreement that dyslexia exists. Interestingly, more and more celebrities and well-known national figures have talked openly of their own difficulties of growing up with the problem and the various ways in which they were, or, indeed, were not, helped while at school. All that has helped to raise the profile of dyslexia and to emphasise the importance of early identification and intervention.

Having said that, there are still examples—we have heard about them tonight from the noble Lord, Lord Laird—of children being bullied and accused of being "stupid", "thick" or "brainless" by other children. Apart from the requirement of schools to have a robust policy to deal with bullying for whatever reason, dealing with the root cause of learning difficulties will do more to resolve the problem and to restore self-esteem and self-confidence.

My understanding is that awareness and early assessment of dyslexia were addressed by the Teacher Training Agency when it was set up. It would be extremely cost-effective to provide not only special needs teachers but all teachers in their initial and subsequent training with the skills to deal with pupils who have problems of co-ordination and learning to read. That is so, first, because the incidence of children who are dyslexic exists in most schools and, the British Dyslexia Association would argue, also in most classrooms, particularly at primary school level. Secondly, disruption levels in the classroom are reduced by resolving learning difficulties early, and that makes the life of a teacher less fraught. Thirdly, successful intervention at an early stage will reduce the number of statements which are required by pupils. That, in turn, will release more resources for schools. It would prove a virtuous circle, and it may be possible for the Minister to bring us up to date on the content of teacher training courses.

Again, as has already been mentioned, the District Auditor and the British Dyslexia Association have singled out Swansea local education authority for the way in which it allocates monies to special education, both within its budget and through the application of GEST funding. As I understand it, Wales does not yet have a standards fund. Swansea LEA had a high number of children with statements and a high level of dissatisfaction from parents with regard to its policy and attitude towards dyslexia.

Based on the outcome of a forum of parents, teachers, special educational needs advisers and education psychologists to discuss provision for pupils with dyslexia, Swansea produced a guide to dyslexia-friendly education. It has made funding available to schools for the special educational needs of children, both statemented and non-statemented. Children are systematically assessed. In the first instance, the assessment concentrates on reading and writing skills. Following diagnosis, the intensity of support needed is determined. That leads to focused, timely and appropriate provision.

Every member of staff is expected to understand dyslexia. By 2001, it is intended that every school will have a specialist dyslexia teacher. Again, that will benefit all children; not only those with dyslexia. Three years on, Swansea has reduced quite significantly the number of children with dyslexia who require statements for special education, and I understand that parental satisfaction has been restored.

Getting things right in school for today's children will remove many of the problems that people with dyslexia experience in later life. However, there are still too many adults who were not diagnosed at an early stage and who continue to experience problems. Under-achievement is a common feature. From my time as a Home Office Minister, I know that a disproportionate number of people in our prisons and on probation programmes have dyslexia-related problems.

Again, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that impressive work is undertaken by professionals and by the voluntary sector; for example, by SOVA (the Society of Voluntary Associates) and by the Adult Literacy Basic Skills Unit, which I believe has recently changed its name. An enormous amount of research and development work has also been undertaken using technology. I remember in particular an effective experimental project for teaching children with dyslexia by the Harris City Technology College, in conjunction with Canterbury University. There was an extremely innovative use of technology in that instance. It would help to know from the Minister whether the number of tutors with specialist qualifications to teach dyslexic adults is increasing. What arrangements are in place for adults with dyslexia to gain access to appropriate courses? What evaluation has there been of innovative research in the field of dyslexia?

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 provided some legal protection for adults, although dyslexia is not specifically listed as a disability. However, the DfEE's code of practice issued in 1996 envisaged circumstances in which dyslexia would count as a disability for the purposes of that legislation. Does the Minister have any information as to how the Act is working in that respect?

The importance of addressing the issue of assessment, education and training for people of all ages with dyslexia cannot be overstated because 10 per cent of the population with the condition represents a considerable waste of skill and talent to the country as a whole. For that reason, I want to thank most warmly the noble Lord, Lord Laird, for the opportunity he has created for this debate.

8.10 p.m.

Lord Bach

My Lords, the whole House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Laird, for tabling this Question and giving the House an opportunity to discuss dyslexia today. It affects 4 per cent of the population, with a further 6 per cent displaying some dyslexic traits. The House will remember for a long time the noble Lord's moving account of his childhood. He made it clear that he was not just talking about his childhood but also that of many others who face the same problems. The House is very grateful to him.

I begin by assuring the noble Lord and the House of the Government's awareness of dyslexia and specific learning difficulties. I am grateful to him for giving the Government some credit for what they have achieved so far. That is in no small part due to the positive and constructive working relationship we have with those organisations which support children and adults with dyslexia, such as the organisations we have heard about today; namely, the Dyslexia Institute, the British Dyslexia Association and the Adult Dyslexia Organisation.

First, I would like to deal with our education programmes in attempting to answer the terms of the noble Lord's Question. All children have a right to an education that enables them to develop their full potential. The Government have clearly demonstrated their commitment to raising standards in education for all children, including those with special educational needs and/or disabilities.

We are committed to early identification and assessment of special educational needs of any kind, and I shall mention some of the practical steps we are taking.

As has been said in the debate, it is of course particularly important that teachers are aware of the needs of children who have, or may be at risk of developing, special educational needs of any kind. Newly qualified teachers since September 1998 have to show that they can identify pupils who have special educational needs, including dyslexia. After qualification, teachers are required to complete an induction year, which gives them an opportunity to hone the skills they have developed during their initial teacher training. In-service teacher training in relation to dyslexia is specifically mentioned in the eligibility criteria for the department's standards fund grants for SEN teacher training. All local education authorities receive those grants which are calculated on a formula basis and each LEA receives an approved expenditure allocation against which the department pays 50 per cent grant. In-service teacher training is supported through the department's standards fund. This year, we are supporting £26 million of local education authority expenditure on the professional development of all those working with children with special needs, thereby ensuring that that is seen as a priority.

We are working with the voluntary organisations to raise awareness; for example, the joint development of a poster providing hints for primary school teachers to help them identify those pupils with dyslexia. I have a copy of that in my hand. That clearly sets out the possible areas of weakness which could indicate dyslexia, while recognising that the child has areas of ability as well as weakness.

The department has also provided a grant to help the British Dyslexia Association produce a schools resource pack entitled Achieving dyslexia friendly schools which refers to the efforts made in Swansea which have been referred to by a number of noble Lords in this debate. Over 20,000 copies have been distributed to schools and local education authorities. That pack promotes a "whole school" approach to supporting pupils with dyslexia, and provides examples of best practice.

In July 1999 a seminar was held to bring together representatives from the main government departments and agencies, schools, LEAs, researchers, academics and the main dyslexia organisations to exchange views on the key educational issues in the areas of dyslexia. There was much common ground and a strong sense of shared purpose. Ways in which individual expertise and resources can be pooled were identified, and a consensus reached over a shared agenda for tackling issues in the areas of early identification, teacher training, and the use of information communications technology. The seminar has provided an excellent springboard for further action and an informal working group has been set up to take matters forward.

The DfEE, the National Lottery Charities Board and WH Smith are funding a two-year "Spell It" study programme to evaluate literacy learning through an individualised tuition research project run by the Dyslexia Institute to evaluate the effects of structured programmes of intervention. The project is targeted at seven year-old pupils who are experiencing specific difficulties in learning to read, write and spell. Two key aspects of the project are to develop activities that parents can do at home and to share more widely the knowledge and skills of specialist teachers.

It is also important that gifted children who have dyslexia are not overlooked. The Excellence in Cities initiative includes a gifted and talented children strand which will improve the education of up to 40,000 pupils, some of whom will have learning difficulties, including dyslexia. Pupils in 470 maintained secondary schools across 24 local education authorities in England will benefit. That programme is designed to support academically able pupils and those with talents in sport and the arts, including those who may be underachieving. We would expect schools to design teaching and learning programmes for such pupils which take account of their needs.

My remarks so far have focused on the schools sector. I would now like to say a few words about further and higher education. Within further education, the Further Education Funding Council (FEFC) must have regard to the needs of people with learning difficulties, including dyslexia, in carrying out its key functions to secure further education. At local college level, this translates into individual FE colleges being able to obtain additional funding to provide any additional support required. For a dyslexic this may take the form of a note taker.

Last year's report on adult literacy and numeracy from the working group chaired by Sir Claus Moser highlighted the needs of adults with learning difficulties or disabilities, and made a specific reference to those who suffer from dyslexia. The report called for a special study into the issue, aimed at assessing how far the working group's recommendations for basic literacy and numeracy were relevant to this other group of learners and what supplementary provision they might require. We set up a working group for that purpose last September. Membership comprises representatives of the key national organisations in relation to adults with learning difficulties or disabilities.

In this context it may be appropriate to mention the Prison Service. The DfEE has discussed with the Prison Service and the Home Office a number of issues involving the implications of the Moser Report. I shall certainly ensure that the request of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, is brought to the attention of colleagues in the Home Office as to the important part that he believes that that can play in this area.

We await the report from the working group, which should be with us fairly shortly. It will include a section relating to the needs of adults with dyslexia.

The Learning and Skills Bill, which, as many noble Lords will remember, recently completed its passage through this House, will draw together responsibilities for further educational and adult and community education under one body; namely, the learning and skills council. We believe that that approach will better serve the needs of people with learning difficulties, including dyslexia, and will enable a broader range of provision to be considered when looking at how the needs of an individual with learning difficulties may he met.

Of course, it is widely accepted that dyslexia need not be a bar to achievement in higher education. All higher education institutions in the UK admit dyslexic students and evidence suggests that the number of students with dyslexia has increased over recent years.

The noble Lord, Lord Laird, called for more research into the causes of and remedies for dyslexia. He knows that there are always many competing demands for research funds. The SEN research component of the department's extensive research programme was developed through consultation with key stakeholders, including major SEN voluntary organisations, university education departments and those responsible for policy development in that area.

The current research programme reflects the priorities that I have identified in the course of that consultation process—consultation with others such as the Department of Health, teacher training agencies and Ofsted. It is important that in a complex area such as dyslexia, policy development is informed by the latest thinking in terms of research findings. Therefore, we are particularly grateful to the noble Lord for drawing our attention to the recent report by Martin McPhillips, published in the Lancet.

On employment issues, as noble Lords know, the employment provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 were brought into force in December 1996. A person with dyslexia can be covered by the Act's provisions. Under the Act, a code of practice was published in 1996 which provides practical guidance to employers. The code includes examples of adjustments that employers may make for people with dyslexia, and explains other ways in which the Act's provisions may affect them.

However, we are aware that discrimination against disabled people in the workplace persists, and that that includes discrimination against people with dyslexia. We are tackling the problem in a number of ways, including by setting up the Disability Rights Commission, which opened for business at the end of last month and marks a major step towards fulfilling our manifesto commitment to comprehensive and enforceable civil rights for disabled people.

Last year we launched the "See the Person" campaign. Promoting awareness and good practice amongst employers is essential. Legislation must go hand in hand with changes in attitudes to disability if discrimination is to be eradicated and opportunities improved. A recent employment tribunal case shows the sort of attitudes that need changing. A factory worker was bullied by his colleagues because of his dyslexia, which his managers did nothing to stop. The tribunal decided that he was discriminated against because of his disability and he was awarded £28,000.

The "See the Person" campaign includes TV, press and radio advertisements, press articles, and publicity organised through employers' associations. It advertises the DRC's helpline, which provides good practice advice on employment issues and can refer callers to specialist organisations, such as the Dyslexia Institute, for specialist advice.

Help may also be available for employees with dyslexia through the Employment Service Access to Work programme. That could take the form of IT equipment, speech software and voice recognition systems. I am also aware that the Adult Dyslexia Organisation has produced an in depth Guide on Employment, providing full details on ways of accommodating dyslexia in the workplace, contributors to which included the Employment Service, the TUC and the Employers Forum on Disability.

In a fairly short time I have attempted to cover what the Government are doing in the education and the employment fields. If I have failed to answer any specific questions, I promise to write to noble Lords, and particularly to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, with the answers to their questions. I shall place copies in the Library.

I conclude by thanking the noble Lord for raising this debate and for the contributions made by all noble Lords. We have had a wide-ranging debate and we have covered many issues. Of course, it is always right to celebrate the abilities of those with dyslexia. I hope that the Government's commitment and practical approach to education and employment issues will continue to improve the quality of life for everyone who has special needs or a disability and build on their strengths.

Lord Burlison

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.30 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.26 p.m. to 8 30 p.m.]