DISABLED youngsters and students with special educational needs at a Coventry college have protested outside the Houses of Parliament against educational inequality.
A group of 19 students from Hereward College travelled down to London to take part in a national demonstration as part of the ‘Right not a Fight’ campaign.
The initiative – run by The Association of National Specialist Colleges (NATSPEC) – aims to give young people with disabilities a platform to voice their concerns about lack of information, guidance and advice over education, training and employment options.
Joey Mander, a 17-year-old student from Hereward College, said learners with additional needs wanted a ‘level playing field’ – allowing them to have the same educational chances as non-disabled youngsters.
He added: “We want choice and we know that comes at a cost, trying to get funding to attend the college of our choice is a constant reminder of that.
“But choice is surely a right that we shouldn’t always have to fight for?
“Before I came to Hereward I was in a mainstream school which wasn’t a good experience for me.
“I wasn’t accepted and I couldn’t get the support I needed.
“I was struggling to cope with the world because of my autism and didn’t know where to get the help I needed.”
Joey only found out about the educational services on offer at Hereward College by accident – a fact he says proves how little information is available about specialist colleges.
Fellow Hereward student, 18-year-old Dan Crossfield, added the lack of choice of college students often have is also a large problem.
“Colleges like Hereward are really important because they are safe places to be,” he explained.
“They’re places that we can learn at our own pace, where we get additional support and nobody says ‘Oh, you must be thick then’.
“Above all specialist colleges are ‘can do’ places, where people don’t put a ceiling on your aspirations, they say: ‘yes – go for it – give it a try’.”
The ‘Right Not a Fight’ campaign claims the specialists educational provisions available to young people with disabilities and their families at the mercy of a ‘postcode lottery’.
The movement is lobbying Parliament and local authorities to make people aware of specialist college provisions; ensure there’s a voice for young people about accessing the college and programme of their choice; and make sure future funding and legislation changes meet the needs of young people with complex disabilities.
Joey concluded: “Sometimes it’s like you can’t win; if you’re too disabled they say ‘why bother?’ and if you’re not disabled enough you can’t get a place.
“It’s so frustrating and unfair.”