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Jane Griffiths (Reading, East): I am honoured to have secured this Adjournment debate on such an important subject. There is an element of circularity in that what is probably my last speech in this Parliament is on education, because my first action in the Chamber after being elected was to ask a question of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, and my maiden speech was in the debate on the Bill to end the assisted places scheme and reduce class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds; so it seems right that my last contribution in this Parliament should be on education for people with dyslexia.
The Prime Minister promised that the first three priorities for this Government would be education, education, education. A child goes through education only once. Anything not done right in that time will stay with that child for the rest of his or her life. That is why it is so important that we get education right first time. It is even more important that we get it right for people with special needs such as dyslexia.
So what is dyslexia? I am grateful to the British Dyslexia Association, and particularly its policy director Carol Orton, for a briefing for this debate. The British Dyslexia Association is based in my constituency and further information about it, dyslexia and the support available can be found at www.bda-dyslexia.org. The word "dyslexia" comes from Greek and means difficulty with words. It involves a difference in the part of the brain that deals with language--it affects the underlying skills that are needed for learning to read, write and spell. More and more evidence has been gathered from brain-imaging techniques showing that dyslexic people process information differently from other people. That is particularly important and there is much more to be learned about what is and is not dyslexia, together with how it happens.
Around 4 per cent. of the population are severely dyslexic. A further 6 per cent. have mild to moderate problems. The recent Moser report found that 7 million adults had poor basic skills, many as a result of dyslexia, although many of them might not know it, having never been diagnosed. Dyslexia occurs in people from all backgrounds and of all abilities, from people who cannot read or write to those with university degrees. Dyslexic people of all ages can learn effectively but often need a different approach to learning.
Dyslexia is a puzzling mix of both difficulties and strengths. It varies in degree and from person to person. Dyslexic people often have distinctive talents as well as typical clusters of difficulties. Examples of difficulties include reading hesitantly; misreading, which makes understanding difficult; problems with sequences, such as getting dates in order; poor organisation or time management; difficulty in organising thoughts clearly; and erratic spelling. Examples of the possible strengths include innovative thinking; excellent troubleshooting; intuitive problem solving; being creative in many different ways; and lateral thinking.
My experience as a Member of Parliament, as well as as a councillor before that, confirms that there are indeed parents who will claim dyslexia in such circumstances, but I would contend that a child's comparative achievements should be dealt with honestly, and I think that the growth of testing has helped enormously with that. The problem should not lead to a denial of the existence of dyslexia.
Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate on a very important issue. Only yesterday, I spoke to Mr. Jordan, an optometrist in my constituency, who has been undertaking research involving 5,000 people in the United Kingdom over a period of 10 years. He believes that there is a way of measuring visual dyslexia. He and his colleagues have developed programmes that will be useful for teachers, including tests for visual reversals and a CD-ROM for teachers. If I forwarded that information to her and indeed to Ministers would they take it on board and examine it carefully?
Jane Griffiths: I warmly welcome what is clearly innovative research being done in the hon. Lady's constituency. I would be very glad to be furnished with information to help to make progress in research and development on this important subject.
It is important to identify dyslexia early. If it is identified early, support can be put in place so that a dyslexic child learns to its full capacity, just like any other child. If dyslexia is left unidentified, the child will have difficulties learning and will not develop to its full potential. In more extreme cases, which may be more numerous than we know, the inability to learn will result in the child switching off from education and from society, leading to disruption in school, to truancy and possibly to involvement in crime.
Angela Devlin, a prison visitor and researcher, found high levels of dyslexia in the prison population, which she considered both a symptom and a major cause of the prisoners' condition. That shows graphically why it is so important to get it right first time. Baseline assessment exists to assess how children perform when they enter school, but it will not normally identify children at risk of developing literacy difficulties because of dyslexia. Some schools use dyslexia screening tests so that they can pick up potential problems as soon as possible.
An audit was carried out for the BDA last summer by Members of Parliament during their school visits. It was admittedly not a scientific survey, but it covered 473 schools so it is worthy of note. It showed that only 11 per cent. of respondents had any formal procedures in place to identify dyslexia. A worrying 26 per cent. felt that they could not give specific help until the local authority educational psychologist had formally identified the child as dyslexic. Many pointed out how few visits they received from the educational psychologist and said that they had to prioritise what happened in those visits.
How many dyslexic children are still not being diagnosed, are being misdiagnosed or are being offered unsuitable provision? Are there any plans to standardise and distribute an assessment for dyslexia?
The literacy hours have been a great success and there has clearly been a significant improvement in literacy among children, but dyslexic children have fundamental difficulties with remembering and understanding sounds, and because the literacy hour moves fairly fast they can easily be left behind. How can we ensure that any falling behind is investigated long before it seriously affects self-esteem and causes frustration?
Too often, dyslexia is still seen as simply a reading problem, which means that children are being punished for dyslexic characteristics such as untidy handwriting or not listening, when in fact they have not been able to process language at speed and have been humiliated by the teacher's insisting that they read aloud in class, or even, in some cases, that they read out their work phonetically. We do not want such practices to continue.
The Department for Education and Employment has funded the printing of 35,000 dyslexia-friendly schools resource packs. That is a very positive and inclusive move, but it requires a proactive approach, which is too often missing. What steps will the Government take to ensure that similar policies are taken on board? I have heard about too many schools that are reluctant to admit children with dyslexia.
I am pleased to have had the chance to raise this important issue. I would like to summarise the points. They are: identifying dyslexia early; the impact on dyslexic people of the literacy hour; understanding dyslexia; and dyslexia-friendly schools.
A child goes through education only once. That is why it is important that we get it right and that intervention happens early. I have ambition for all our children. I have ambition that the potential of all our children is fulfilled though the education system. I do not want anyone to be held back--that is why ambition is so important: deliver help for children with dyslexia, deliver ambition to all our children.