HC Deb 08 March 1978 vol 945 cc712-4W
Mr. Gordon Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland (1) what special resources have been made available in each of the past few years to local authority education departments for the treatment of dyslexia;

(2) if he will tabulate the grants made available in the past five years to each local authority education department from the Centre Fund for the Special Education of Handicapped Children and indicate what grants have covered children suffering from acute or severe dyslexia;

(3) what research into dyslexia and its solution has been financed by the Scottish Office in the past five years; what recommendations have been made; and what progress has been made in their implementation;

(4) what is his estimate of pupils in primary and secondary schools suffering from dyslexia; and what proportions of the school population they represent;

(5) if he is satisfied with the availability of courses at colleges of education to assist teachers to recognise and treat dyslexia; and, in relation to remedial teacher training, whether special training should be given on the needs of children with specific reading or writing disabilities;

(6) whether he will seek to have children with specific learning disabilities added as a category in the remit of child guidance services;

(7) whether he will add "acute or severe dyslexia" to the statutory list of handicaps and send a circular to local authority education departments defining the appropriate degree of dyslexia warranting intensive treatment;

(8) what guidance has been given to local authority education departments as to whether dyslexic children should be referred to remedial centres or clinics or given remedial tuition at school;

(9) whether the treatment of dyslexia and recommendations made by his Department are dealt with in the implementation of the Education (Scotland) Acts 1962, 1969 and 1974 provisions for special education, or under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970; and if he is satisfied with the scope of existing legislation.

Mr. McElhone

Dyslexia is not an exact term. It is used generally to indi- cate severe reading difficulties not accounted for by level of intelligence. These difficulties are sometimes associated with characteristic writing and spelling difficulties, but professional opinion is divided as to whether or not there is, in fact, an indentifiable condition distinct from backwardness in reading. In the absence of agreement about definition or even about whether there is a definable condition, it is impracticable to estimate the number of children who might be described as dyslexic.

No research into dyslexia has been financed by my right hon. Friend's Departments within the last five years, but they did commission a research project from Strathclyde University in 1966. The report, entitled "Reading Difficulties in Schools", was published in 1970 and suggested that the majority of children with reading difficulties can best be helped by skilled remedial teaching in ordinary schools, and by the treatment of specific difficulties in child guidance clinics. The functions of the child guidance service as set out in Section 3A of the Education (Scotland) Act 1962, as amended, are extensive enough for this purpose.

Remedial education for children with reading difficulties is available in all areas, and I do not think that any specific advice or action is needed in relation to this provision. Even if the uncertainty of definition did not make it undesirable to include dyslexia in the statutory list of handicaps at present set out in the Special Education Treatment (Scotland) Regulations 1954, no purpose would be served by doing so since the children concerned can get the help they need in ordinary schools and not in special schools. It would be contrary to current policy to place children in special schools if it is practicable to keep them in ordinary schools.

I am satisfied that training is available in the colleges of education to enable teachers to recognise the needs of children with the kind of problem in question and to know how to arrange for such children to get the appropriate help.

The treatment of severe reading difficulties by education authorities implements the provisions of both the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 and the Education (Scotland) Acts. I am satisfied that adequate powers are available.