People with learning disabilities may be squeezed out of Scottish further education, a support group for people with disabilities and their families has warned.
Enable Scotland voiced its concerns after new figures were published by the government-funded Scottish Consortium for Learning Disability, showing a 20.6 per cent rise between 2009 and 2011 in the number of adults with learning disabilities who were not in further education.
In 2009, 9,541 adults were recorded as "not involved in further education", but the number rose to 11,503 last year.
Local authorities' recording procedures improved significantly over that period, with the total number of adults captured in the survey increasing by 10 per cent.
While better recording revealed higher levels of non-participation, it also showed there had been a slight increase in the number of adults enrolled - 10.4 per cent in 2011, 1.6 per cent up on 2010.
The FE status was known for 14,299 adults with learning disabilities last year; of those, 81 per cent were not in FE; 11 per cent attended 2.5 days per week or less; 6 per cent for three days per week or more; and 2 per cent for an unspecified amount of time.
The proportion of those attending college for three days or more - i.e. on more intensive courses - was largest among students aged 16-17 and 18-20. Numbers decreased among older adults with learning disabilities.
Recent cuts to FE budgets are believed to have had a disproportionate impact on students with learning disabilities, who often attend part-time courses and, especially once they are over 25, are not part of the Scottish government's priority group.
"Further education colleges offer people who have a learning disability the opportunity to gain valuable qualifications to help them gain employment. College courses also help people become more confident," said Enable chief executive Peter Scott.
College gave these students an opportunity to engage with their community and spend time with peers, he added.
Enable warned that cutting college places for people who have a learning disability would lead to increased demand for day services from local authorities, and increased pressure on family carers.
John Henderson, chief executive of Scotland's Colleges, said that provision for these learners was an important part of what colleges offered.
"Scotland's Colleges is working with our members to help them more effectively share the expertise and resources that support this group. We also hope to continue our constructive discussions with the Scottish government on future budgets and reforms to ensure these can be assessed against their impact on these and other disadvantaged groups," he said.
Statistics for FE participation of adults with learning disabilities
- 11,503 - the number not in further education
- 901 - the number who attended FE three days per week or more
- 51.9% - the percentage of 16- and 17-year-olds who were in FE three days per week or more
- 1.6 % - the percentage of 35- to 49-year-olds who were in FE three days or more per week.
- 17.3% - the increase in participation in courses for three days per week or more, 2009-11
- 20.6% - the increase in those not currently in FE, 2009-11
Scottish Consortium for Learning Disability 2011 statistics.