Ministers' pact on disability

6th July 2007 at 01:00

New strategy aims to stop buck-passing by ensuring cash for learning is earmarked by different departments

DISABLED PEOPLE will enjoy a new "entitlement to learning" under plans approved this week by ministers of education, employment and health.

New measures aim to prevent government departments passing the buck over funding. A new strategy document, Progression through Partnership, gives a 20 point plan to improve funding schemes, assessment methods and access to further and higher education and work for students to at least the age of 25.

The move has been backed by further and higher education minister Bill Rammell, health minister Ivan Lewis and work and pensions minister Anne McGuire.

From age 15 to 25, all individuals will have an annual review of their needs to ensure they do not "fall off the edge" of the education system.

In the document, Mr Rammell said: "We are determined to tackle the barriers faced by individuals. We do not underestimate the challenge ahead, but nor do we shrink from it. For increasing social mobility is not simply a means to social and economic betterment for all it is the right thing to do."

The new strategy calls for cash to be earmarked by the different departments to meet all the needs of the individuals. The Learning and Skills Council which retains responsibility for this area despite recent departmental changes will be required to commission and support programmes of work and new research into how special needs students learn. The clampdown effectively a banging together of departmental heads comes after a series of examples of patchy provision for people with disabilities were highlighted by FE Focus.

Ministers have now agreed services can be improved with a rethink of funding priorities and new measures to share statistics and information more easily across departments. They have admitted that the skills programmes for the majority of students fail to meet the needs of those with learning difficulties.

These policies, they say, should be refocused to allow the LSC to fund a whole range of learning activities outside the current priorities of Skills for Life and level 2 (GCSE-equivalent) for these learners.

In one case, 78 students with cerebral palsy at Beaumont College in Lancaster were told the LSC could not provide an additional pound;30,000 per head to meet their educational needs.

One student faced an agonising wait to find out whether she would get further funding after her education was held up because of medical complications.

Leaders of prominent charities including Mencap, the mental health charity, and the Royal National Institute for the Blind revealed that 3,200 residential students over 19 were caught in similar funding traps. They were denied adequate education support because their problems were judged to be a matter for health and social services.

The threat of closure to a day centre for students with learning difficulties at Southwark in South London also reported in FE Focus led Mr Rammell to pledge action. He said he was set to announce a deal to increase funding for all such students over 16.

Ministers believe existing routes to success can be opened up through the Foundation Learning Tier the most basic learning and skills programmes and by recording more effectively non-accredited learning.

Comment, page 4

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