The government’s reform of post-16 education and training institutions will "destroy" the provision of further education to disabled learners, a senior University and College Union (UCU) member has claimed.
Speaking at the union's annual congress in Liverpool, Hackney Community College teacher Elane Heffernan, a member of the UCU’s disabled members’ standing committee, said that FE was "one of the most integrated places where you can be" as a learner with a disability – but area reviews threatened the structures of provision in colleges, and forced learners to travel long distances.
"In terms of FE, 16 per cent of the students in further education are disabled, have an impairment or permanent health condition [which has a] serious impact on their work," Ms Heffernan said. ‘[FE] is one of the most…integrated places where you can be as a person with impairments. And I think that is seriously threatened in a merger."
She added: "Of course, schools do massive work in terms of integration [too], [and] have really good policies around bullying, but it’s in FE that people begin often to develop because of the atmosphere, and the traditional way in which we work in FE to try and support people…and [foster] their sense of possibility. It is absolutely, critically important to disabled people to have FE, and it’s really seriously threatened."
The qualifications gap
Ms Heffernan also said mergers would bring difficulties for many disabled learners who would have to travel further in "overcrowded" transport for their education as a result.
"FE is crucial to the changing of the gap in education," Ms Heffernan said. "Some 6.5 per cent of the total population of working age have no qualifications at all. It’s 19.2 per cent of disabled [people], and it’s FE that challenges that gap. The structures of education within FE are going to be destroyed in a merger. Travel is an issue. It’s really difficult if your course moves three or four miles away - not [just] because of accessibility of transport, but severe overcrowding in transport that actually makes it so difficult for many disabled people to leave."
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