The further education (FE) sector often complains about being overlooked with education in schools and universities getting far more attention. However, for deaf young people it matters. Around two thirds of them attend FE colleges in comparison with around one third of hearing young people aged 16. FE provides deaf young people with the opportunity to obtain vocational qualifications and personal maturity.
The sector is in trouble with many FE colleges complaining of a funding crisis following large government cuts to the adult education budget and funding changes for students aged 16-19. The Government has set up a number of area reviews in England to look at FE and 6th form college provision with the aim of ‘restructuring’ the further education sector. They are likely to lead to college mergers in order to bring about greater efficiency. Currently being reviewed are the following areas – Birmingham and Solihull, Sheffield City, Greater Manchester, Tees Valley, Solent Valley, Sussex Coast and West Yorkshire.
Are the reviews relevant to deaf students? They could be. Provision for students with disabilities should be considered under each review. We know that there is a great variation in the amount of specialist support available for deaf students between different colleges. If a college with good support for deaf students is taken over by another college then that support could be at risk. On the other hand, the reviews could be an opportunity to achieve more consistent provision within an area – fewer colleges could mean less variation in the support that is available.
NDCS would like the review steering groups to consider the role of regional provision. This is when a service is used by more than one college rather than each college having its own separate service for deaf students. This could be a more efficient system and ensure that specialist knowledge is available to more students.
NDCS will be sending information to each of the review steering groups. Let’s hope their members take notice and that the reviews can be an opportunity rather than a threat.