Special needs hit hardest by lack of post-19 funds

31st July 2009 at 01:00

Earlier in the year The TES reported that "Adult learners halved in two years" (FE Focus, February 20) and the article made some very powerful and relevant points.

Further education has always faced up to demands, challenges and an ever- changing labour and economic market, combined with resource implications.

Further education is experiencing many radical and, some may argue, insurmountable challenges: adult basic skills in decline; building programmes more or less reduced to the "lucky 13"; staff redundancies; strikes over pay and conditions of service; FE funding given to universities; big questions about the reskilling of the UK plc workforce; 14-year-olds to access college vocational pathways at one end and a serious lack of provision for mature and retired learners at the other.

However, there are many distinct groups within any learning community, and for students with special needs or learning difficulties andor disabilities, choices and options in FE are becoming more constricted, focused and limited especially in the post-19 sector.

The range, variety, breadth and diversity of FE provision has declined over the past 15 years. Entry criteria are becoming significantly more demanding, combined with application processes and protocols that can only demotivate and discourage adult learners and progression routes that are short-sighted and do not recognise the lifestyles and opportunities for these learners. Indeed, pre-entry application criteria for some courses are so prescriptive that they effectively discriminate against adult learners with special needs.

Over the past decade and a half there has been a net loss of some 35,000 places for this group of deserving learners.

Entry level programmes of study are at a premium and are of limited value because of achievement criteria. Many learners with special needs have had the benefit of high quality, relevant programmes of study delivered by well qualified, experienced and motivated staff while at school. On application to FE, they find a limited and impoverished service that does not live up to expectations or description.

When I read that "Disabled students hit by capital funding" (FE Focus, July 3) I despair for the future.

I am aware of FE providers who now cannot offer any post-19 educational opportunities because current buildings are not fit for purpose for this group of learners.

Given our current demanding and turbulent times, it is up to all professionals, colleges and the Learning and Skills Council in its death throes to urge central government not to provide a second-rate service to learners who are requesting quality and relevance into "next step" tertiary educational provision.

Increased investment is needed now in FE for a brighter and better future for individuals, the economy and the country.

Dr Len Parkyn, Senior teacher.

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