Models for brave new world

October 4, 1996

The Disability Discrimination Act aims to encourage institutions to provide a better service for students with disabilities. By the end of the next academic year, every department at the College of North East London will have a course or module designed for students with disabilities or learning difficulties, by order of the college management.

Determination to improve provision and ensure the records are there to prove it, has already upped the college inspection score from four to two on the Further Education Funding Council's five-point scale.

The college started by tightening up on induction so that students coming into the college are thoroughly assessed and any special needs identified.

All special courses receive accreditation and clear progression routes have been developed from these on to mainstream courses.

Staff have received training in dealing with students with special needs and finding alternative ways of teaching, for example, using methods not dependent on writing.

Waveney Harries, who heads the team for students with learning difficulties and disabilities at the college said: "We believe in providing a spectrum of provision. Some students need the supportive network of a very small group of people with other learning difficulties. Other students don't want to be identified with the discrete section at all."

She believes the college's attitude towards students with disabilities is crucial. "If top management give this area of work a high profile in their institution then it doesn't get lost," she said.

This view is shared by Cornwall College in Redruth, which has been awarded a rare grade one for its disabilities provision. In the past five years, the number of students at its foundation studies centre for people aged over 16 with any kind of learning difficulty has soared from 63 to 350. Many students are on mainstream programmes at the college and look to the centre simply for backup. Others prefer the supportive groups within the centre itself.

Trish Allsop, head of the centre, believes collaboration with outside bodies, such as health authorities and social services, is key to cutting costs and improving provision for special needs students.

She said: "We must also use the knowledge that we already have, while not being afraid to challenge situations that have always been."

The Tomlinson committee, set up by the Further Education Funding Council three years ago to address exactly these issues, reported last month.

It made more than 50 recommendations on ways to improve the quality of learning for the estimated 130,000 students with disabilities or learning difficulties already studying in colleges and on ways of encouraging more.

The committee felt colleges should concentrate on responding to the needs of individuals and wanted a stronger inspection programme.

It also plans a three-year national staff development programme, costing about Pounds 5 million.

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