Peers fight for disabled apprentices facing English and maths barrier


newslatestPeople with dyslexia and other learning difficulties are being prevented from qualifying as apprentices because they are not allowed to use assisted technology to help them pass vital English and maths tests, according to a disabled peer.

The Liberal Democrat peer Lord Addington, who has dyslexia himself, has been campaigning for government action on the issue for more than three years.

He told fellow peers debating the committee stage of the children and families bill that the problem lay with legislation on apprenticeships introduced by the last Labour government, which states that apprentices must pass both English and maths tests to secure accreditation.

He said the Alliance for Inclusive Education had raised similar concerns about problems faced by apprentices with learning difficulties, while the British Dyslexia Association had so far had 60 meetings with civil servants in a bid to resolve the issue.

Lord Addington said he had discovered that the use of assistive technology was not allowed because it was incompatible with the format of the tests.

His fellow Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Walmsley said: “I am very proud of this government’s record on apprenticeships but they must not exclude talented young people who are able to get through all the practical side of the apprenticeship, often with flying colours, and show tremendous commitment, hard work, conscientiousness and all those qualities that we are looking for, but simply need a little help with written material.”

Another disabled peer, the Countess of Mar, a crossbencher, said: “It seems ridiculous that we are putting these kids on the scrapheap.

“We criticise young people for not going out to work, and when they try to get qualifications, we fail them.”

The disabled Labour peer Baroness Wilkins added: “I am mildly dyslexic, and I assure noble Lords that in terms of daily frustration, it is a million times more frustrating than being in a wheelchair.

“There is a great deal of support for being in a wheelchair, but there is very little support for being dyslexic.”

She praised the government’s commitment to apprenticeships, but said it was “a tragedy that it should be undermined in this way”.

The Conservative peer Earl Attlee, for the government, said he had had mild dyslexia himself when he was younger.

He said that if the government introduced an additional duty on employers to solve the problem, it would “increase the regulatory burden on many hundreds of private businesses, which goes directly against the considerable efforts of the government to reduce red tape for businesses”.

But he promised that the government had “listened to what noble Lords have said in committee” and would “look very carefully and consider what steps we need to take to meet the concerns of noble Lords”.

Lord Addington withdrew his amendment, but he warned that although peers had “gone as far as we can today… we must have an end game soon”.

7 November 2013