Learning-disabled take 'inappropriate' courses

15th July 2011 at 01:00
Funding confusion denies them independence skills, survey finds

Adults with learning disabilities are being pushed into taking "inappropriate" formal qualifications because of widespread confusion about funding rules, campaigners have warned.

A survey revealed that an alarming proportion of learning providers such as FE colleges and voluntary groups wrongly believe all Foundation Learning courses - those covering basic skills - must end in nationally recognised qualifications.

As a result, disabled people who would derive more benefit from practical support helping them to lead an independent life are instead forced to undertake literacy and numeracy courses, even if teachers know it is not in their best interests.

That is the key finding of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (Niace), which surveyed learning providers after being contacted by concerned practitioners.

It found that many were not aware that funding rules allow an alternative protocol for measuring progress, Rarpa (recognising and recording progress and achievement).

Niace deputy chief executive Peter Lavender told The TES: "We found a lot of disabled adults are being put in for totally inappropriate qualifications and often the teachers know it doesn't meet their educational needs.

"The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) says quite clearly you don't have to do this, but for some reason senior managers are telling staff there has to be a qualification at the end or they can't draw down funding.

"This rang alarm bells for us because it's taking us back to when Ofsted were heavily critical about this sort of practice five or six years ago.

"We're talking mostly about entry-level or level 1 courses, and they are so important for helping disabled adults stand on their own two feet and become independent.

"But learning has to be personal for each individual. Sometimes the best thing is not literacy and ICT but learning how to catch a bus or shop effectively. The curriculum should be broad and absolutely relevant."

He said steering learning-disabled adults towards academic tests "not only deflects from their real learning priorities, it (also) subjects them to yet another experience of failure after perhaps 20 years of trying".

Niace wants the SFA to make its rules clearer but also blames senior managers for giving the wrong information to teachers. Mr Lavender said: "It's a continuing misconception and we want learning providers to know it's not true."

The other key survey finding was concern that changes to funding arrangements from September will hit learning-disabled adults hardest.

Most adult courses below level 2 - GCSE and equivalent - will no longer be automatically funded, and disabled learners over 25 will no longer have their fees paid if they receive "inactive" benefits such as income support and housing benefit.

Respondents to the Niace survey feared provision for entry-level courses would dry up and recruitment would plummet if learners have to pay course fees - usually pound;500 to pound;1,000.

Mr Lavender said: "We are very worried, and teachers are worried, that the most vulnerable learners will be disenfranchised.

"There is a strong link between disability and poverty and the danger is people who need these courses will not be able to afford the fees. They could be left isolated from society."

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