Epileptic students learn skills for life

3rd September 2004 at 01:00
A new type of college has been created to give young people with epilepsy the training they need to escape life in an institution.

The unique model helps students' transition from childhood to adulthood by practising an independent lifestyle.

The college has attracted attention from the Learning and Skills Council and may be considered as a specialist FE college national blueprint for students with learning difficulties and disabilities. Prompted by parents, it was developed by former headteacher Kevin McMullen. He is chief executive of St Elizabeth's, the centre that runs the college, and the father to a girl with special needs.

He told FE Focus: "Parents felt lost when their children left our school.

They wanted us to do something for them. We rejected the traditional residential specialist college model. It would have taken too long and we questioned its appropriateness. The unique thing about our college is that it's a springboard to an off-site independent lifestyle."

The centre, aimed at students aged 19 to 25 with epilepsy or significant medical needs, is based on partnerships. Their rent will be paid through housing benefits and they will live in accommodation built in partnership with two housing associations.

The learning and training is paid for by the student's local LSC. At the heart of the curriculum is Mencap's Essential Skills programme, which aims to help individuals develop skills for the highest possible levels of independence.

As well as literacy, numeracy and information and communications technology skills, learners are taught practical skills in modules. Independence Skills includes home and money management, Careers Education helps students in the world of work.

In addition, there is a network of social enterprises - real businesses that offer sheltered employment and training. These include Splinters, a furniture refurbishment workshop; The Art House, a studio making artefacts for sale; and Ash Vale Produce, a horticultural venture growing and selling organic crops. Students will be offered industry placements in these areas.

Philippa Morrison, who will attend the college, has been at the St Elizabeth's centre for 10 years. She told FE Focus: "I'll learn about how to buy my own things and how to do computer work. I would like to live in my own house near my Mum and Dad."

St Elizabeth's centre is one of two national epilepsy centres offering a unique lifelong service of education, care and medical support to those suffering from the most severe and complex forms of epilepsy and associated disabilities.

The new college, opening next month, will take 13 students but this is expected to increase to 50 in the next three years.

More information can be found at www.stelizabeths.org.uk

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