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Pupils denied access

Pupils with physical disabilities are often failing to meet their potential because mainstream schools are not geared up for their needs, writes Dorothy Lepkowska. They were unable to participate in a mainstream curriculum because only 10 per cent of schools were accessible.

At the same time special schools tended to lack the resources to offer as extensive a range of subjects at GCSE and A-level.

The interim report from the London School of Economics, and the Disability and Rehabilitation in Education (DARE) Foundation, analysed the experiences of young people attending the RITE project in Brighton. The project, originally called Realising Independence Through Education, was set up to ease the transition between secondary school and further education for young people with complex physical and communication needs. It found frustration among pupils who were academically able but denied the chance to thrive.

One said: "I feel there is a world I can tap into and it is just beyond my reach and I can't get at it." Another complained he was refused by a college to sit his GCSEs. He eventually became a university lecturer: "I was written off. There was no-one of influence who understood things I could be capable of."

In some mainstream schools, disabled pupils are segregated and taught separately, despite supposedly having inclusive policies. One student, Lisa, who was studying for A-levels, told researchers: "We were taught as a group with no mainstream students and the staff expected us to mix at break time. I overheard some students saying 'the disabled students shouldn't be here because they're lowering the rest of the school'. I thought, if you were in class with us you'd know we were the same as you."

Paul O'Connell, research officer at DARE and author of the study said:

"Gaining access to mainstream education and qualifications is a key way for disabled people to realise their potential, develop self-confidence, counter low expectations and prove their abilities to themselves and others, yet they are frequently denied this."

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