Further education's 'hidden scandal' for disabled teens

Students in college Image copyright Thinkstock

Disabled teenagers face "unacceptable" hurdles to accessing further education in Wales, a solicitor representing families has claimed.

Many are only offered places at local mainstream day colleges, despite more suitable specialist residential places being empty.

Solicitor Michael Imperato said the situation was a "hidden scandal".

The Welsh Government said it was committed to giving everyone access to education.

Under the current application process, managed by Careers Wales on behalf of the Welsh Government, a student has to apply to their local FE college first.

A specialist college is then only considered if their needs cannot be met by the mainstream college and there is currently no right of appeal.

Some families are taking legal advice to challenge the system to get their children places at colleges they say are more suitable for their needs.

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Media captionDisabled teenagers are facing "unacceptable" hurdles to accessing further education in Wales, a solicitor representing families has claimed.

Mr Imperato, who has represented families, said disabled learners in Wales were a "forgotten group".

He told the BBC Wales Today programme disabled students were being pushed towards colleges that might not be suitable for them.

"There's no objectivity in the system in assessing their needs; there are no rights of appeal. In my view it's a hidden scandal in Welsh education."

Catrin James, 20, from Cardiff, has learning disabilities. Her parents wrote to First Minister Carwyn Jones after trying to get her into a residential college.

They felt their local college would not meet her needs and a residential place at Bridgend College would increase her independence.

Catrin found out just before term started she had a place at Weston House, a specialist residential centre in the college grounds.

Image caption Catrin James found out she had a place at Weston House just before term started

She said: "I felt very nervous before I came here because I didn't know if I could go to Bridgend or not.

"But then when I heard I could come here I felt really happy and settled in really quickly, and my nerves went completely."

Catrin's mother Rhian said many people are told by officials they "have no hope."

There are five FE colleges in Wales which offer specialist residential provision, including Weston House in Bridgend.

'Tremendous stress'

Weston House said it currently has 13 spare places out of a maximum of 35.

Ruth Thomas, chairwoman of Natspec, the membership organisation of specialist further education colleges, said some young people were having to wait too long to get funding decisions from the Welsh Government.

"For a young person with additional needs such delays cause a tremendous stress on the entire family," she said.

The Welsh Government said ministers considered applications and made every effort to respond in a timely fashion.

A new Additional Learning Needs Bill will be presented to the Assembly in December to make it more clear what the Welsh Government will fund.

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