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Disabled student wins an extra year

Funding chiefs have granted Sarah Pendlebury the extra year at a specialist college which it is hoped will bring her the ability to communicate using computer software.

Sarah, 19, had been a residential student at Beaumont college, a centre in Lancashire specialising in cerebral palsy.

Medical complications meant her studies were interrupted and the college was unable to make sufficient progress in its work to enable her to use a computer interface.

This would have allowed her to communicate with people other than her parents and specialist helpers.

Her case was highlighted in an FE Focus investigation which showed that many of the country's most severely disabled adults are not having their needs met by the post-19 education system.

Sarah faced an uncertain future, with no guarantee that the money would be available to fund her place for a further year to make up for the time lost.

The family's hopes were fading as the weeks passed but, last week, they were called to a meeting with the Learning and Skills Council and local social services, with experts from the college.

A few hours later, the family was told the funding - believed to be around pound;90,000 - would be available, subject to the LSC's national office rubber-stamping the decision and the college having a place.

Sarah's mother, Margaret, said: "It's good news. They have agreed the funding in principle. We are expecting that to be confirmed after it has been agreed by the LSC's national office, but basically we are now 99.99 per cent sure that the money will be there.

"It feels like a huge weight has been lifted from our shoulders. All we wanted was for Sarah to be able to communicate, not just with us but with other people. I'm confident the extra year at college will give her that.

"After all, it is everybody's right to be able to communicate with other people."

The college's specialist staff will be working with Sarah to identify a part of her body over which she has sufficient control to operate a button.

If this is accomplished, she will be able to communicate using a switch connected to a small computer screen.

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