More cash is in the offing

1st June 2007 at 01:00

BILL RAMMELL, the further and higher education minister, is set to announce a deal to increase funding for the education of over-16s with disabilities.

The announcement, which comes after talks with the Department of Health and the Department of Work and Pensions, is intended to end years of disputes within government about the funding of the education of disabled people.

Among the criticisms of the Little review in 2005, was that too much money was spent by the Learning and Skills Council on subsidising social care rather than providing a high-quality education. A spokesman from the Department for Education and Skills declined to give any figures before the response to the review, due on June 18, but said all three departments would be contributing more money for disabled people in the future.

Mr Rammell said: "We have been looking at ways to deploy the large amount of funding we devote to those with learning difficulties to ensure better outcomes for all, whatever their circumstances.

"The LSC will work more closely with social services to fund more appropriate packages. The Departments for Work and Pensions, Health and Education must each share their burden more equitably."

In 2005, Mr Little found that the LSC was paying pound;126 million for specialist college places, while other agencies contributed just pound;3.2m. Two years' later, the LSC's bill has risen by pound;32m while the others paid just pound;1m more.

The principle of including disabled people in mainstream education, training and ultimately employment, wherever possible, remained an important part of government policy, Mr Rammell said.

"We must challenge early labelling of learners. There may be options that offer stretch or work and ways they can stay more in the community for their own good and society's," he said.

"A truly inclusive system embraces these learners. They are entitled to the challenge and support that everyone receives. If education is a right, it must be for all, whatever their disabilities.

"By readjusting the system, we can deliver more positive outcomes. That is what our strategy is about and why it is significant that it is the three departments who have signed up to this."

More money dedicated to social care might mean students with severe learning disabilities, such as Aisha Booth, featured on page 2, could receive more day care, even as colleges focus their efforts on helping disabled people obtain qualifications and employment.

An FE Focus report last year also found specialist colleges were suffering as a result of insufficient funding and disputes between government departments over which of them should pay.

Two thirds of them said that the assessment of how much it cost to educate disabled students fell short of the cost of the most severely disabled. The funding gaps are often plugged by charities, or colleges live in debt.

Some colleges said they turned away up to 73 disabled students last year.

"Demand exceeds supply," a DfES spokesman said, explaining the need for more money.

At Beaumont College, a specialist college in Lancaster run by the charity Scope, three students are turned away for every one admitted, according to Richard Parnell, the charity's head of research.

He said: "The people who get turned away, we don't know what happens to them. We don't know what the need is out there.

"But the dispute over who pays has been about for a long time, and it's about time they sorted it out."

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