§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether they will explain the following terms used in special education and disability legislation—
- (a) people with learning difficulties;
- (b) people with severe learning difficulties;
- (c) people with learning disabilities; and
- (d) people with severe learning disabilities. [HL511]
§ The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone)
Under the Education Act 1996 children have a learning difficulty if they have a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of children of their age or they have a disability which prevents or hinders them from making use of educational facilities generally provided in schools within the area of their local education authority. Children who are under compulsory school age will have a learning difficulty if they are, or if no special educational provision were made for them would be, likely to have such a difficulty or disability when they reach compulsory school age.
There are other definitions of learning difficulties in legislation dealing with education but they are very similar. For example, the definition in the Learning and Skills Act 2000 defines people as having learning difficulties if they have a significantly greater difficulty learning than the majority of people their age or have a disability which prevents or hinders them from making use of the educational facilities generally provided by institutions providing post-16 education or training.89WA
There is no definition of "learning difficulties" in disability legislation. The 1978 report of the Warnock Committee suggested that "learning difficulties might be described as 'mild', 'moderate' or 'severe' ". "Severe learning difficulties" was the committee's preferred description of children who were then commonly referred to as being "mentally handicapped" and defined as "severely educationally sub-normal" but the term is not defined in education or disability legislation.
The Government's working definition of a person with a learning disability is a person who has: a significantly reduced ability to understand new or complex information, to learn new skills (impaired intelligence), and a reduced ability to cope independently (impaired social functioning), and which started before adulthood, with a lasting effect on development.
Learning disability is not defined for the purposes of education or disability legislation but it is used elsewhere. For example, it is defined for the purpose of travel concessions in the Greater London Authority Act 1999 and in the Transport Act 1985 (inserted by the Transport Act 2000) as "a state of arrested or incomplete development of mind which includes significant impairment of intelligence and social functioning".
Severe learning disability is not defined in education or disability legislation but is defined elsewhere. For example, it is defined in the Social Security (Incapacity for Work) (General) Regulations 1995 and the Social Security (Incapacity Benefit) (Transitional) Regulations 1995 as "a condition which results from the arrested or incomplete physical development to the brain, and which involves severe impairment of intelligence and social functioning".