All 1 Matt Hancock contributions to the Dyslexia Screening Bill 2021-22

Tue 7th Dec 2021

Dyslexia Screening Debate

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Dyslexia Screening

Matt Hancock Excerpts
1st reading
Tuesday 7th December 2021

(8 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock (West Suffolk) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require screening for dyslexia in primary schools; to make provision about the teaching and assessment of children found by that screening to have dyslexia; and for connected purposes.

I am proud to be dyslexic, but it was not always that way. As a teenager, I did not know I was dyslexic. I spent my school years focusing on maths and science subjects, always trying to avoid anything that needed more than a few sentences. I got into the University of Oxford through an interview, knowing that if I had to take the exam, I would fail. It was only there that my dyslexia was identified. My tutor—a brilliant man—took me to one side at the end of my first term and said, “The problem is, Matt, you can talk, but you can’t write.” I have always been quite good at the talking bit. He got me an assessment and I was diagnosed with dyslexia. My diagnosis was a lightbulb moment for me: years of frustration at school all made sense.

I was lucky because I was at one of the best universities in the world and they essentially taught me how to read and write again. I was taught how to deconstruct sentences and how to learn each word as a picture, because my mind works in pictures. Shortly afterwards, Microsoft invented spell check, for which I want to put on record my thanks. After a few false starts, I learned to love words—and here I am in a job that is dominated by them. But I was one of the lucky ones who was caught, and too many children are not caught early enough.

It is a quiet scandal that an estimated four in five dyslexic children—80% of them—leave school with their dyslexia unidentified. That means that young adults are going to university and into the workplace with the same wrong mindset that I had—that they just find reading and writing difficult—so their potential is unrealised and often their confidence is undermined. Without their dyslexia being spotted and supported, many children will not only fail to reach their potential but fail to leave school with the qualifications they deserve.

It does not have to be this way. Cheap and easy computer-based screening tools now exist to help to identify dyslexia. Primary schools need to have specialist skills to interpret results so that better teaching techniques can help dyslexic children to learn to read and write effectively. We need the combination of trained teachers and making the most of the technology. It is so important that children know, and their parents and teachers know, so that teachers can teach dyslexic children according to how their brains work. More than that, with the right screening, teaching and assessment, dyslexic children can make the most of their brilliant neurodiverse minds.

The thing is that dyslexic people think different. Yes, we have problems with the written word and word formation, but dyslexia is associated with positive skills, too: creativity, visualisation, imagination and lateral thinking. Those are the skills that dyslexics tend to have in abundance and that the future of work values more and more.

The process in which the creative skills and lateral thinking become more and more important has only been accelerated by the pandemic, with the digitisation and automation we are seeing. The changing of the world of work like never before means we must make the most of these very human skills. As the machines do more and more of the straight-line thinking, so the jobs of the future are more and more about creativity and communication. It was not a surprise to me to read that an estimated 40% of successful entrepreneurs are dyslexic.

This Bill will help more employers to hire the neurodiverse skills of the future. Let me give two examples. GCHQ’s apprentices are four times more likely to be dyslexic, because they are hired for their lateral thinking and pattern recognition skills. I pay tribute to other forward-thinking employers, such as Universal Music, which launched the first handbook for embracing diversity in the creative industries—an incredible resource that I was proud to launch as Health Secretary. This is about not quotas but sensible economics.

There is a flip side. All too often, we see what happens to many undiagnosed dyslexics who then struggle to read and write. Although 40% of successful entrepreneurs are dyslexic, it is estimated that so too are over half the prison population. There are correlations between dyslexia and unemployment, drug usage, school exclusions and homelessness. These are the knock-on effects of undiagnosed dyslexia. We have the tools to solve this injustice. I am asking the House to have the political will. While reoffending is such a cost to society—a whole White Paper has just been published on this subject—it makes economic and social justice sense to break the link from dyslexia to the prison door.

I welcome the Education Secretary’s determination to tackle illiteracy, and we have all been inspired by his personal story of arriving in London without a word of English, and making it to the top table. I am grateful for the work that the Minister for School Standards, the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), is doing to prepare a White Paper on illiteracy and innumeracy. I look forward to working across the House to tackle these injustices, and this proposed Bill is just one way to get started.

We need to use modern technology to ensure that every child gets screened for dyslexia at primary school, but screening and technology alone are not enough. We need primary schools to have trained dyslexia specialists to interpret results and begin an intervention using evidence-based practice. We need teacher training to cover the modern, evidence-based techniques for teaching dyslexic children, and those with other neurodiversities; all teachers are teachers of dyslexic children, yet there is inadequate teacher training for all neurodiversity. We also need assessment to be rigorous and to assess true capability.

In the criminal justice system, we need more support for those who cannot read, and support for the dedicated teachers and prisoner mentors who work hard to help prisoners while they are inside, such as the brilliant training staff whom I met last month under the inspirational leadership of Steve Phillips at Highpoint prison in my West Suffolk constituency. They work incredibly hard and will be supported by some of the measures that were announced today, but there is much more to do. In business, employers also have a vital role, because employing dyslexics is not an act of kindness, but good business.

I got the support that I needed; I was one of the lucky ones. We cannot let so many slip through the cracks. We must use the modern tools at our disposal. I am grateful for the support that I have received for this Bill from Members on both sides of the Chamber. I am grateful to the Chair of the Education Committee, and to those who have been in contact with me since I have started to talk about this matter and who have told me their stories, some of which are incredibly moving. I am grateful too to the Centre for Social Justice, which is helping me in this campaign and has today published an excellent paper on the evidence and what needs to happen. By working together across the political divide and beyond politics, we—as a House and as a society—can start to harness dyslexia as a strength, not a weakness, and give people like my teenage self the confidence and support to make the most of their talents.

The Minister knows how important this issue is. The Secretary of State is, every ounce of him, the embodiment of the best of modern Britain. This is an issue that the House and the country can unite behind. I believe deeply that everyone has something to give and a contribution to make, and that it is the role of us in politics and of the Government to help people make the very best of their lives and to help each child to reach the soaring heights of their potential. Let us make the UK a global leader in raising the standards of how we identify, teach and assess children whose minds work differently—who think different. I commend this Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Matt Hancock, Robert Halfon, Dr Rupa Huq, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Paul Bristow, Rosie Cooper, Tom Hunt, Henry Smith, Holly Mumby-Croft, Christian Wakeford, Brendan Clarke-Smith and Jim Shannon present the Bill.

Matt Hancock accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 18 March 2022, and to be printed (Bill 210).

Nationality and Borders Bill: Programme (No. 2)

Ordered,

That the Order of 20 July 2021 (Nationality and Borders Bill (Programme)) be varied as follows:

(1) Paragraphs (4) and (5) of the Order shall be omitted.

(2) Proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading shall be taken in two days in accordance with the following provisions of this order.

(3) Proceedings on Consideration—

(a) shall be taken on each of those days in the order shown in the first column of the following table, and

(b) shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the second column of the table.

Proceedings

Time for conclusion of proceedings

First day

New Clauses and new Schedules relating to Part 1 (nationality) and amendments in that Part.

Two and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this Order.

New Clauses and new Schedules relating to parts 2, 3, 4 and 6 (asylum, immigration control, age assessments and miscellaneous provisions) and amendments to those Parts

Five hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this Order.

Second day

New Clauses and new Schedules relating to Part 5 (modern slavery) and amendments to that Part; and remaining proceedings on Consideration.

Two hours after the commencement of proceedings on Consideration on the second day.



(4) Proceedings on Third Reading shall be taken on the second day and shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after the commencement of proceedings on Consideration on the second day.—(Tom Pursglove.)