Christopher Banks Chair, Learning and Skills Council
Your articles last week, on provision for learners with learning difficulties and disabilities (LDD), highlighted an issue that has long been a priority for the Learning and Skills Council.
This year, the LSC made it a condition of funding for all providers that they should at least maintain, and ideally increase, the number of places for learners with LDD. Far too many disabled people are unnecessarily economically inactive, which is why we want to transform the curriculum available and increase the proportion that progress into employment. But the focus is not just on employability: we believe that provision should challenge learners, provide a sense of achievement, increase personal autonomy and deliver progression to new opportunities and experiences.
As your feature pointed out, there is a fine line between education and social care. In light of this, the LSC, the Department for Education and Skills and other government departments will agree on and publish a set of national protocols for shared funding responsibilities and partnership.
In future, the LSC will work more closely with social services to fund more appropriate packages for care. We currently fund and invest in provision for more than 641,000 such learners, spending nearly pound;1.5 billion annually. By 2015, we aim for England to set an international example in providing provision for this group.
After an extensive consultation following Peter Little's review, we produced our 2006 strategy Learning for Living and Work, which sets out our commitment to provide a holistic curriculum for disabled learners. By next year, we will have invested pound;35 million to support and develop new and improved provision for learners. In addition, funding allocated for learners accessing specialist colleges will be increased by 15 per cent to pound;181m by 2008-09. This year, we are setting up the first National Learners with Disabilities Panel as part of efforts to better listen to learners' requirements. We have also pledged to eradicate any poor provision for learners with LDD by 2008.
Southwark College, the example you quote, is moving learners from less suitable facilities at the Grange to new, improved and specially designed facilities at the Bermondsey centre. It is working with learners, parents and staff to ensure the teaching environment suits the needs of the learners, and is committed to delivering the best possible provision for this group. We support this decision and will continue to work closely at a local level with all colleges and other specialist providers to secure the best possible learning options and environments for this important group of learners.