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Education and training

The education sector has opened up in recent years and many more disabled children are being educated in mainstream schools. For those children who require more support than can be offered in mainstream education, special schools are available. All children, disabled or not, have a legal right to receive education up to the age of 19.

It is not always possible for a child to be placed in the school of their or their parents’ choice, but it is worth pressing the local education authority (LEA) if you feel your child is going to be placed in an inappropriate school. LEAs have the right to stop a disabled child attending a mainstream school if it considers the child’s needs or behaviour would cause undue disruption to the majority of the other children; working with the head teacher of the preferred school may help to demonstrate how your child can integrate with little or no disruption to the school’s normal routine.

Education is not, currently, covered by the Disability Discrimination Act (apart from a requirement that schools, colleges and universities provide information about the accessibility of their facilities), but many schools do recognise the value of inclusive education for all wherever possible and appropriate. 

Special Educational Needs

Definition - A child is deemed to have special educational needs (SEN) if he or she has a learning difficulty which requires special educational provision to be made for them. Having a learning difficulty means that:

  • The child has a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of children of the same age; or

  • The child has a disability which prevents him or her from making use of educational facilities of a kind generally provided by schools; or

  • The child is under five and may fall into category (a) or (b) when over five.

Assessments
For some disabled children the LEA will make an assessment of SEN, based on specialist advice, and draw up a statement of their special educational needs. The statement sets out all the child’s requirements and all the special help that he or she will receive in mainstream or special schools. The first assessment can be made when the child is two years old, with regular assessments taking place while the child is at school.

For children and young people aged between 2 - 19
If it seems likely that your child may have special educational needs you may ask the LEA to carry out an assessment. Alternatively, the LEA might decide of its own accord to carry out an assessment - but it must inform you of this. The assessment will usually take the form of a series of appointments with different professionals who will submit their comments to the LEA. You have the right to be present at any examinations which might take place during course of the assessment.

If your child is already at school, the class teacher and head teacher will be asked to give their comments. Medical information is also required so your child’s GP and/or specialist doctor might be asked to give a report. For young children, a health visitor might also be involved. If you receive help from a social worker, physiotherapist, speech therapist or occupational therapist they may also be asked to contribute to the assessment. The LEA may also seek information from other people, and if you think there is someone else, whom the LEA has not consulted but who could comment helpfully, you can suggest that the LEA contacts them. If, for any reason, the LEA is unwilling to do so, you could consult them yourself and ask for a written report which you can submit along with your own contribution. You have the right to see all the reports which are made on your child.

As a parent, you will also be invited to make a contribution to the assessment and your views are as important as those of the professionals. When everyone has prepared their reports the LEA will probably call a meeting to discuss how best to meet the needs of your child. You should be invited to the meeting and, again, will have the opportunity to give your views. You are entitled, if you wish, to take someone along to the meeting with you.

For children under two
LEAs may carry out an assessment on children under two years old, in recognition of the importance of those early years in the child’s development, and they must do so if requested by the parents. The assessment can be undertaken in any way which is appropriate for the child, but might not result in a formal statement of special educational needs at that stage.

Statements of Special Educational Needs
If, after the assessment process has been completed, the LEA decides that your child has special educational needs, it will then make an official statement of those needs and the provision it intends to make to meet them. (This does not apply to children under two).

A statement comprises five parts, plus a number of appendices:

  • Introduction (basic information: name and age of the child, etc);

  • Special educational needs (the LEA’s opinion of the child’s needs);

  • Special educational provision (the provision the LEA intends to make to meet the child’s needs);

  • Appropriate school or other arrangements (details of a particular school or other form of education which the LEA considers appropriate for the child); 

  • Additional non-educational provision (other points to be taken into account);

  • Appendices (these contain all the advice and information provided by the people involved in the assessment).

You will be sent a draft copy of the statement and given the first opportunity to comment on it. Your comments will usually then be circulated with the draft statement to the other professionals involved. If you agree with the statement as it stands, it will be confirmed. If, however, you are unhappy with any aspect of it you have the right to a meeting with the LEA to try to reach an agreement, following which the LEA will either confirm the statement unaltered, or modify it in accordance with your discussions.

When the statement has been confirmed you will be sent a final copy, together with information about your right to appeal against the provisions it contains, and the name and address of a person who can help you with information and advice about your child’s special needs.

Appealing against a Statement
The procedure for making a statement allows you many opportunities to make your views known, and it is hoped that by the time the statement is confirmed you will be satisfied with its contents. However, if you wish to appeal against the statement there are two routes to follow. First, to a local appeal committee which has the power to either approve the statement as it stands or to require the LEA to reconsider. Although the appeal committee may make recommendations, these are not binding upon the LEA.

If you remain dissatisfied after the appeal committee has made its decision, you may appeal to the Secretary of State for Education. You should submit your appeal in writing and, if you wish, you can also request a meeting with officials of the Department for Education and Employment. The Secretary of State will consult with the LEA and then make a decision either to approve the statement or to amend it. The Secretary of State’s decision is binding.

Reviews
LEAs are required to make an annual review of each child with a statement to ensure that their needs continue to be met in the most appropriate way.

At the first annual review after the child’s 14th birthday a transition plan for progress after the age of 16 should be included. At this review, the LEA must liaise with the local authority social services department to arrange for any assistance that may be required when the child leaves school. The LEA will ensure that the social services department is aware of the expected leaving date of a disabled pupil. The transition plan should build upon the conclusions reached and targets set at previous annual reviews and take fully into account the child’s own aspirations.

Further and Higher Education

Responsibility for further education rests with the Further Education Funding Council (FEFC). When students with statements transfer to a further education college, the LEA must ensure that a copy of their statement, the most recent annual review and the transition plan is passed to the social services department and the college to which they will be moving. If a decision needs to be taken by the FEFC about a placement in a specialist college outside the local area, a copy should also be sent to them. Mainstream FE colleges are expected to make provision for disabled students, but can claim additional financial support from the FEFC if a student has particularly high needs.

There is a small number of residential specialist colleges of FE which may be appropriate for students whose needs cannot be met by local provision. Young people with profound or complex disabilities, or severe learning difficulties, may be assessed as needing FE up to the age of 25. The residential colleges offer similar provision to local colleges, but usually have more experience of disabled students with a high level of need. A residential environment may also be of help to some students in learning to live independently.

All young people are eligible for vocational training opportunities at 16 or 17 through the Youth Credit Scheme funded by local Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs) in England and Wales or Local Enterprise Companies (LECs) in Scotland. Credits can be spent on a choice of courses provided they lead to a recognised qualification. All young people who want to take this opportunity should be guaranteed a place. If a disabled student, for reasons associated with their disability, cannot take up their place at 16 or 17 they will still be eligible for one later on, usually up to the age of 25.

Many disabled students go on to higher education and take full advantage of the wide range of courses offered by universities, colleges and institutes. Some may need additional physical or practical support to do so, and specialist careers advisers will be able to help and advise in this respect. Disabled students attending higher education courses may be eligible to receive up to three Disabled Students’ Allowances from the LEA as part of their mandatory award. These allowances are the Non-Medical Helper Personal Allowance, the Equipment Allowance and the General Allowance.

Home study/distance learning is undertaken by individuals at their own pace, in their own time and usually in their own homes. Good open-learning courses include tutor support not only for marking of assignments, but also to help with any learning difficulties. The National Extension College, the Open University and the Open College of the Arts are worth considering, and the Open and Distance Learning Quality Council has a booklet listing accredited colleges and courses offered.

Further Information

RADAR has produced a practical guide on the educational implications of disability called "Children First" which teachers should find useful, together with a booklet on parents’ rights entitled "Special Educational Needs - a guide for parents". The Department for Education and Employment also has a number of useful publications. SKILL: the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities is a useful organisation to contact about further and higher education. It produces a number of publications, including "Higher Education and Disability" and "Financial Assistance for Students with Disabilities in Further Education and Training".

The Association of National Specialist Colleges can give advice on specialist colleges specifically for disabled students. Colleges offer a mix of educational, vocational, social and personal development skills training as required.

Parents’ groups such as Network 81 and organisations such as the Advisory Centre for Education and the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education are worth contacting for advice, alongside organisations representing specific disabilities.

Carers association

We are indebted to RADAR for providing the information for this section.