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Cash to be tied to disability reforms

Specialist colleges for disabled people will be denied cash if they do not set up complaints procedures, under radical plans published this week.

Funding chiefs will also work to make courses for people with profound disabilities eligible for grants, as they move to implement the recommendations of the 1996 Tomlinson Committee on special needs teaching.

There have been funding problems in the past because of the requirement that courses must be a route to further study or work to be eligible for public money.

An appeals and complaints procedure for dissatisfied students and parents was demanded by the Tomlinson Committee last year. Funding chiefs will insist that colleges meet students' needs before accepting them. And a list of approved specialist colleges deemed to "make high-quality provision and give best value for money" will be drawn up, the Further Education Funding Council said.

A group of top-ranked colleges will also lead a #163;1 million training drive to improve education for people with special needs. Nine colleges will be selected to run regional training groups.

Principals will also have to take greater account of people's special needs when they draw up strategic plans.

But key recommendations have been delayed by the need for more work. These include proposals to grade colleges on their success in recruiting special needs students and reports on specialist colleges.

The council has also put a layman's guide to course funding on hold, saying it needs further work.

Janice Shiner, FEFC director of education programmes, said: "The recommendations in Inclusive Learning, the report of the Tomlinson Committee, are a major priority within the council. A large number have already been adopted and staff are now working hard on the outstanding recommendations. These all need further work before the council can make decisions."

But she warned that training schemes for colleges required partnership. "This project is not for colleges interested in market competition in the area of learning difficulties and or disabilities. It is for colleges committed to collaborate in raising standards across the sector."

Proposals being developed will be implemented over the next two or three years.

Judith Norrington, curriculum director for the Association of Colleges, said the work stemming from the report should not be seen as relevant only to students with learning difficulties and disabilities.

"It is about improving colleges for all students. Much of what is in Inclusive Learning underpins requirements of a far wider range of students." But she warned that "there are considerable cost implications. A lot of additional things need to be done, and some will require additional resources."

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