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Failing special students

Special needs students have accused FE and sixth-form colleges of failing to provide the basic support they need to succeed on their courses and find work.

They insist they get a better deal from residential and community colleges where cash is targeted more accurately and courses are tailored to their needs.

Course prospectuses in general FE colleges are seen as poor. Induction programmes are largely inadequate, ranging from a one-hour lecture to a two-week course. Advice and guidance is unsatisfactory, according to a report on student views published this week.

"Some people had not received any advice or guidance, others felt it was of poor quality, while others felt it took little account of their aspirations and needs," says the report called Student Voices, by Skill - the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities - and the Further Education Funding Council.

Professor John Tomlinson, chairman of a two-year FEFC inquiry into students with learning difficulties and disabilities, said: "It is clear that the voice of the student has not been particularly well attended to."

The 1992 Further and Higher Education Act left people confused about where responsibility lies, he said.

Legal advice to be published with the report of his committee this summer would spell out the duties and suggest further legislation to ensure that responsibilities of different agencies in health, education and social welfare were met.

He also pledged to take up the issues raised by 266 students with special needs involved in workshops for the SkillFEFC report.

Students who were positive about colleges said they had either attend a taster course or had discussed FE with friends or other students at college. But when at college, tutors were too often ill-prepared or failed to understand their needs.

Assessment was carried out too late, which led to delays in providing essential support. In some cases students said they were under pressure to pick from inappropriate courses.

One sixth-form college student with a physical disability said: "I felt choked that I had been bullied into dropping maths."

Poor access to buildings often dictated choice. Residential centres gave better support than mainstream colleges which too often had inflexible transport arrangements, poorly designed facilities (particularly canteens and libraries) and inadequate equipment.

Residential colleges and centres with segregated units pitched the level and pace of work more appropriately, supporting more individuals, monitoring progress more effectively and giving more positive feedback.

But residential centres and segregation came at a price as students felt isolated and unable to mix with non-disabled students. The fault was with the lack of understanding in the general colleges. Students preferred integration but only if the necessary help and understanding was given.

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