A degree course that provides pathways to careers in the performing arts for people with severe learning difficulties will be launched next year with National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts funding.
The course, which won £181,574 of Nesta funding, is being developed by Mike Ormerod and Irene Kappes of the Razor Edge Theatre Initiative. Both are theatre and education practitioners with more than 20 years' experience of working with people with learning difficulties.
The Razor Edge developers will recruit a team of lecturers with learning difficulties to act as mentors and role models for the students.
The team will spend the next year developing the course at Rose Bruford College in London.
Ms Kappes said: "We wanted an environment that was firmly embedded in higher education, not a separate entity - somewhere that would give our students the same social experiences and opportunities as others."
The first 15 students on the three-year course in theatre performance and workshop practice will enrol in September 2004. The course will equip students with the skills, understanding and confidence to work in theatre and related professions through the creation of a new model of supported learning, using a multidisciplinary, multisensory approach.
"There will be a wide range of learning difficulties, so students will not be required to read and write. Instead, we will use practical projects to assess progress. We hope that this can be an inclusive learning model for other atypical learners," Ms Kappes said.
She said that she hoped that the course would enable students to progress beyond usual expectations and make valuable contributions in a profession where people with learning difficulties are under-represented.
Gareth Binns, Nesta education director, said: "Nesta is dedicated to supporting pioneering education projects such as Razor Edge's initiative.
This could provide a valuable template for others to follow and develop."