Issues, Policies and Values in Post-16 Education and Training
Choose an institutional policy or statement. Summarise its key features, identify the values which underpin the statement and consider how this policy is implemented in practice in that particular institution.
Nescot Disability Equality Scheme 2006
The Disability Discrimination Act 2005 placed a duty on public bodies to promote disability equality; this of course included educational establishments, requiring them to remove any barriers for disabled people instead of just reacting to feedback from them!
Disability is defined under the act as a “physical or mental impairment, which has a substantial, adverse and long term, effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”. This also includes people with ‘hidden’ disabilities e.g. epilepsy or mental health conditions and also illnesses such as cancer, HIV and heart conditions. Appendix 1 taken from the college’s scheme gives a full description of people covered by the act.
The main ‘equality disability duties’ outlined in the act are to;
* Promote equality of opportunity
* Eliminate discrimination and harassment of disabled persons
* Promote positive attitude towards disabled persons
* Encourage participation by disabled persons in public life
As a provider of education, Nescot has a number of specific duties under the scheme (fig. 1) and has outlined these in a comprehensive booklet which is available to all staff, students and stakeholders of the establishment. Many of the duties are underway but to fully comply with the act, Nescot still has many changes to make.
The key features and implementation of the scheme are outlined as follows;
i. College policy
The college policy outlines Nescot’s commitment to ensuring equality for all learners and staff and discusses the ‘growing diversity’ of the college and the need to respect this diversity. It also explains that the college has a vision to build on progress already made and intends to actively involve disabled people in the planning of practices and procedures and recognises the responsibility of every member of the institution in creating and maintaining equality for disabled people. Johnstone (1995) discusses how institutions are all too often guilty of viewing students with disabilities as “cases to be treated rather than individuals with rights”. For this reason it is necessary to educate all individuals exposed to learners with disabilities in order for these learners to feel included and indeed valued members of the institution.
One key feature of the scheme is data resulting from national, local and Institutional research on numbers of people with disabilities in each area. In using this information, Nescot have been able to tailor the provision of courses for those with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, providing courses at both pre-entry and entry level with opportunity to progress to higher level courses. The data also gives an insight into the increasing numbers of learners disclosing a disability or learning difficulty and this in addition to regular disability equality monitoring through student records, ensure that actions can be made for change.
Another feature of the scheme is the current actions that Nescot has taken to ensure disability equality. Having read the scheme many times, it sounds incredibly impressive!
A lot of time and effort has clearly been made to ensure that the learner feels able to disclose any form of disability or learning difficulty at numerous points during their journey, e.g. pre-entry, at entry or on course, and that once disclosed the learners is fully aware of and directed to an array of support available to him/her for the duration of their course.
Physical access has been enhanced at Nescot with various improvements made to doors, lifts, ramps, alarms and other specialised additions to the campus to accommodate a diverse range of disabilities.
Other outlined features included in the scheme are the recruitment, support and development of staff and learning support provision for those with disabilities or learning difficulties.
The scheme culminates with a detailed three year action plan for further compliance.
Values that Underpin the Scheme
The underpinning values of the scheme can be clearly identified as they are outlined in the scheme. Nescot is particularly focused on putting the learner first, valuing them as individuals. Reference is made to achievement, working in partnership, openness and the provision of a socially inclusive environment. However there is no mention here of people other than the learners!
The college ethos is ‘to inspire and enable all our learners to achieve their goals and provide the skills needed in the economy’ again, referring only to learners and not obvious about inclusion of special needs or disabilities. However, it does confirm clear underpinning values of the institution.
In fairness, the statement does include the words ‘disabled people’ in many parts so I am assuming that the policy is not only focussing on disability discrimination of learners but staff too and there is mention that disabled people are under represented in the workforce of which needs to be addressed.
It is clear from the detailed scheme and its values that Nescot is genuinely committed to equality and widening participation, how well this is implemented and received will only be identified after impact assessment and further consultations.
The Impact of the Disability Equality Scheme on the Institution and my Subject Specialism
Although I am visibly aware of many of the physical changes that the college had made in order to comply with the regulations I have not noticed an increase in the numbers of disabled learners within the college itself. It is fair to say that the institution does have in existence good provision for those with learning difficulties and special needs but having looked into how the college markets this provision and the advertising materials within the institution itself, I am not surprised that these learners are not in greater numbers. I feel that the institution has indeed complied where feasible with the DDA but that no extra effort has been made to make the general public or potential learners aware of this. Could this be to do with available resources, funding or specialist teaching staff? As Petty (2004) puts it ‘Many other factors can impact negatively on learning. This is not due to the learner’s disability, but due to the lack of the provision that would meet their needs.’
To date I have only ever had two learners with a special educational need. Both these learners had dyslexia which was disclosed at pre-entry level and so accommodated for very early on. The support and guidance they received from the institution was outstanding, however I personally felt under-equipped to give them full support in the classroom as my knowledge of dyslexia was limited and even though the disability equality scheme outlines the provision of staff development and support for teaching a learner with a special need, I was not aware of the existence of this training at the time.
I have been a part of many staff development sessions on what it means to not discriminate but only a few practical methods showing how to help those with a learning difficulty or disability has been illustrated. On reflection, I haven’t had any specialist training on managing a learner with any disability or learning difficulty so I believe this part of the scheme is weak. There is a genuine need for specialist training in order to comply with the scheme, but where is it? Staff development days only provide a basic understanding of the range of difficulties and disabilities that some learners may have and perhaps some teaching and learning strategies and guidance on resources but what I feel that we need is specialist training. All staff have had SENDA training but this was only a three hour session on what it meant!
Reflecting further on what it means to comply with the DDA I am concerned about the provision for learners with physical disabilities on the courses that I teach. I am confident that the institution would do as much as possible to ensure that there were no barriers to learning for any learner but what about the awarding body? How would a learner with a physical disability, e.g. in a wheelchair, be accommodated for a massage course. Is it possible? What about assessment? Would he/she be able to achieve the full qualification?
The awarding body has guidelines for on-course assessment and final practical examinations but I know from the criteria that there is no special provision for a learner in a wheelchair to take a practical massage exam and that the current criteria is only suitable for an able-bodied person. Is this discrimination? As far as the DDA is concerned it is. So, it is clear that in order to ensure disability equality in some areas there are many other aspects of accountability other that the institution and its staff, especially where the course leads to qualification in a practical subject which is externally examined.
Fortunately, the need for pre-entry level and entry level courses has been identified and provision has been made for those wishing to obtain a Beauty Therapy qualification which is good progress, but these courses are for those with learning difficulties, what if a student has no learning difficulty, just a disability? Would he/she have to join a pre-entry class just because no provision has been made for his/her disability? To me this is unacceptable and an issue that needs addressing.
It is clear to me that not just in my specialism but across the college as a whole, there has been a focus on learning difficulties more so than disability, except of course for the upgrading of physical access.
After much reflection of the issues concerning disability awareness and discrimination in both the institution as a whole and my specialism, there is one question that keeps popping up, and that is, for a college to have, on paper at least, such a comprehensive disability equality scheme and a keenness to widen participation, why is it that during the time that I have been at the institution there has never been a physically disabled learner applying for any therapy courses?
I believe that the institution has a responsibility to not just do the minimum required by the DDA but to embrace the opportunity to provide true diversity. It is important that we, as providers of education make it clear that we value all members of society and welcome them into the institution. As Minton (1997) describes when discussing learner support, ‘attitudes are all important, how you are is as important as what you do. Students look to people who accept that they have a problem but who do not designate them as a problem.’
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