Disabled students shut out by lack of money

24th March 2006 at 00:00
Two-thirds of colleges cannot afford to educate severely handicapped people. Steve Hook and Martin Whittaker report on an FEFocus survey.

Colleges across the country are turning away some of the most seriously disabled people because they do not get enough money to educate them, an FE Focus survey reveals this week.

Most principals at the 68 English colleges surveyed said that the funding system - based on a "matrix" of costs of up to pound;67,000 per student - does not provide enough to meet the needs of the most severely handicappped.

An unknown number of potential students have also been left out of full-time education altogether and are forced to rely on local social services day-care centres and home helps.

Government funding was reported as falling short at 63 per cent of colleges that responded to our survey. They reported turning away up to 73 disabled students each on the last intake.

At some colleges, lack of places means they reject more applicants than they accept each year.

The findings come as the Department for Education and Skills embarks on talks with the Department of Health about sharing the cost of residential specialist college places.

Graham Jowett, principal of Treloar college in Hampshire, said: "We have some students now who need at least 45 hours of one-to-one residential support in an average week. And that's way over what the Learning and Skills Council currently allows for. It's very labour intensive."

"The LSC fee doesn't cover the cost of our students," he said. "But over the years we have fudged that because the Treloar Trust does contribute to our expenses."

The funding gap at Treloar is plugged by the trust - a registered charity.

It owns the college and a nearby Treloar school and provides both with rent-free accommodation.

Andy Lusk, education director at Scope, the charity for people with cerebral palsy, said: "I don't think the Government knows how many people there are who want a place and don't get one. With university admissions, the figures are known but not with these students. There is no means of knowing how many people end up with nowhere to go."

Joanna Wall, 20, is a disabled student who missed out in the lottery for specialist college places. Her mother Pat applied for a place in 2002 to start in 2004 - but was turned down because colleges were full.

Joanna suffers from epilepsy and lost the ability to use one side of her body after a fit. Her mother, whose husband died a year ago, said: "If she could complain about her situation, she would.

"She likes music and is missing out on the night life they have at Beaumont college, Lancashire, where we applied. I just want her to be able to do the happy things that young people do."

Mrs Wall applied to colleges across the north of England without success.

St Elizabeth's, a specialist college in Hertfordshire, was set up with the costs of care, residence and tuition kept separate. Its tuition costs are covered by the LSC while care and accommodation are paid for by the students' local authorities.

Because students live in social housing, which is not part of the main college, they are classed as day students - thus the college will be hit by a recent decision to cut day-place funding by 25 per cent.

The LSC says it has paid for more places since it was created in 2001, and now caters for 3,300 students. It was looking into demand nationally for places for severely disabled students and some local offices had carried out detailed investigations.

A spokesman said: "Provision is also made for learners with high support needs by other FE providers. Many specialist providers, Connexions services and local authorities are reporting predicted increases in future numbers with learning difficulties andor disabilities who will require specialist provision."

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