Specialist colleges add to rather than subtract from inclusion

8th February 2008 at 00:00

Len Parkyn is being disingenuous when he compares the cuts in provision for people with learning difficulties andor learning disabilities post-19 with the "startling anomaly" of specialist college funding (Comment, January 25).

The pound;53,000 he quotes as the average day student fee for many colleges is actually the highest fee permissible under the Learning and Skills Council funding system.

Furthermore, he partly answers his own argument when he describes the increasing number of learners with profound, multiple and complex difficulties coming through the FE system. These young people are already here, and those with the most complex needs are being met through the independent specialist sector, often because there is evidence that local colleges cannot meet some of their needs. Some learners may even have tried mainstream provision and found it does not work for them.

While LSC funding for their placement may seem generous by mainstream college standards, the council has been through a rigorous and objective analysis of specialist college funding and discovered that these learners were strikingly underfunded and many voluntary sector colleges were using their own resources to maintain standards.

Effective work with young people with very challenging behaviour, or complex communication or health and care needs, requires high staff ratios and a multi-disciplinary approach. Perhaps not all of this should be the LSC's responsibility, but this does not take away the entitlement of these people to access post-16 education.

It is the presence of specialist colleges that ensures the FE sector is inclusive. With the LSC's encouragement, specialist colleges are increasingly involved in collaborative work with mainstream providers, sharing skills and offering support to plan for inclusion.

The provision at transition to adulthood and post-19 in many areas is limited and needs attention from central government, but suggesting resources could be switched from the small group of learners with the most complex needs is not the way to do it.

Graham Jowett, Director of education, Treloar Trust. On behalf of the Association of National Specialist Colleges.

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