How would you feel if you were told that your 20-year-old daughter needed no further education?
That she had “plateaued” and that it was unlikely she would learn more? Would you not feel that your child deserves a chance to develop their potential and not be written off at such a young age?
Would you think that such a thing wouldn’t happen in England? That after the Paralympics Britain is that place that embraces disability and that as David Cameron said “before the Paralympics people saw the chair and not my son. Now they would see my son and not the chair”.
Sadly the local authority sees Sita’s disabilities and not her potential. They do not see why she should have the opportunity to go on to further education.
Sita has Down’s Syndrome. She has spent three years at Stroud and South Gloucestershire College and done well to develop her skills. Now she needs to be stretched again to help her further grow and develop.
Most children choose which college they go to, whether they will stay close to home or move to another county.
Those choices are denied to Sita. Why? Because of her disabilities.
Thousands of young people in England who, like Sita, with disabilities or learning difficulties cannot simply choose the college which will best suit their needs.
Instead they must prove to their local authority that there is no other college able to provide the most appropriate education, care and support. They must fight for every penny of funding.
Sita is not able to tackle the bureaucracy. So it is up to her mother to be her voice and to fight for her.
Sita loves cooking and after looking at all the options felt that Foxes Academy in Minehead would be ideal for her. It is a residential course which will help her find work and be able to become independent.
Specialist colleges have some of the most outstanding rates of progress into employment. Foxes enables over 80% of its students to move into sustainable employment – compared with the national statistic of under 10% of people with learning difficulties in work. National Star College in Gloucestershire has developed an internship programme with energy giant EDF which last year led to 87% of leavers being offered work.
Sita has been offered a place at Foxes in September. But while her classmates are discussing what they are doing next Sita cannot because she does not know.
Our local authority has refused our request for funding. They say that Sita must stay in the county with her friends. But Sita’s four closest friends live in three different counties.
They say Sita already has work experience but this is 1.5 hours per week compared with full on-the-job training. They say she doesn’t need any more education but issued her with an Education, Health and Care Plan which indicates continuing education and training.
They say she should live in the county but has offered nothing suitable for her.
Let’s be honest. This isn’t about Sita’s best interests. This is about money. Specialist colleges are held up as “expensive” yet they are not compared like for like. The local authority should work out what it would cost to provide Sita with the extra needed therapies, specialist support and social care on top of her education. But that doesn’t happen because it comes from different budgets so no one sees the overall value.
There is statistical proof that long-term investment in young people with disabilities brings long-term gains. According to the Office of National Statistics a residential based education for a young person with disabilities can save the public purse £1 million in that person’s lifetime.
More importantly, further education improves their quality of life and everyone deserves that.
The decision for funding is being appealed and a solicitor employed. A further devastating blow is that the appeal is not scheduled until December which means Sita will not be able to start college in September and may lose her place. What is she supposed to do until then?
But we are not giving up.
Scores of families in similar circumstances are employing solicitors, considering remortgaging their homes and setting up charities in their desperate but determined fight to ensure their children get the education that is right for them.
These young people want to learn. They want to be independent. They want to work. The system “handicaps” them at every turn. Instead of seeing their potential, they are made to feel like a burden to society.
Most of all they want the same opportunities as their peers and to have the same freedom of choice. That is why Sita joined scores of young people in London for the A Right Not a Fight demonstration.
Don’t deny Sita her future.