Blackburn College – Further Education and Inclusion

At a recent discussion day organised by ALLFIE, a talk by Ann Harwood centred on the educational provision at Blackburn College. This is a college which OfSTED describes as ‘outstanding’.

Ann is the ‘Additional Learning Support Manager’ at Blackburn College and during her presentation, she discussed, from her perspective, how the college worked towards creating an inclusive educational provision. Ann had previously completed a HND in Business Studies. Ann started at Blackburn College in the 1990s, as a part-time tutor teaching Dance and Drama at one of the college’s centres. This was at a time when the government were initiating their ‘Care in the Community’ programme. The Community Care Act 1990 was a legislative response to the crisis that had been occurring in short- and long-stay residential institutions (and hospitals). Pauline Morris highlighted the plight of a number of disabled people in a book entitled ‘Put Away’, written in 1969. Maggie Potts and Rebecca Fido in a book entitled ‘A Fit Person to be Removed’ written in 1991 also recounted the personal accounts of disabled people in institutions. The recent Oral History Project by ALLFIE supported by English Heritage has also  recorded some of these earlier experiences (howwasschool.org.uk).

Ann recalls that many of the disabled students were attending one of the college’s centres and enrolled on courses relating to care, cooking, and money management. At that time Ann started to raise questions about the condition (in terms of cleanliness, accessibility and location) of the centre and the appropriateness of the courses on offer.  After several meetings, questioning the segregated provision, Ann with a core team of colleagues began to think about the views and opinions of disabled students, and how better to seek the opportunities with individuals to pursue courses of their own choice.

Ann also began to speak to senior staff at the college to discuss how to dismantle their segregated and discrete provision. Ann recalls this was a difficult time. There was hostility from teaching staff, primarily defending their ‘expertise’ – Ann recalls that much of this ‘expertise’ was around teaching money management with plastic money, washing- up, cooking and eating, and peeling potatoes! There was also hostility from parents – parents were fearful that their son or daughter would experience bullying. Ann recalls that one parent expressed disapproval when their son (a thirty-something mature adult) had experienced going to a public house (pub)! Ann also recalls that some of the staff left the college in total disagreement of the way disabled students were starting to attend mainstream courses the college offered.

It is interesting that much of what was already happening at Blackburn College, was a starting point of the Tomlinson Report published in 1996, entitled ‘Inclusive Learning’, which began to focus on the ‘match’ between the learner and the learning environment. Colleges were discouraged from using medical labels to justify the type of discrete provision learners were expected to pursue. The adopted terminology to describe learners also changed to ‘students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities’. This was in contrast to what was happening in the primary and secondary sector of education where young people were described as having ‘Special Educational Needs’. Another development that is also important to recognise that was also related to the primary and secondary sector was the Salamanca Statement published in 1994. This advocated education for ALL and promoted inclusive education, and was signed by 92 countries, including England, who supported its principles. Yet another notable point is the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995, anti-discrimination legislation which enforced and protected the rights of disabled people, although it excluded education. Education was eventually covered in Part 4 of the DDA, the ‘Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001’ (SENDA), which incidentally retained the patronising misnomer of ‘special’ educational needs.

It would seem that the FE sector was beginning to disassociate itself from the learner’s previous schooling experience.

Ann and colleagues began to develop a different way of working, developing a college service which would support students on the courses they chose. There was also a commitment from the Principal of the college. Teaching staff began to experience the benefits of making adjustments to their own teaching, and in particular with benefiting non-disabled students. Improvements in quality standards were being noticed by senior management. Ann also began to witness the culture of Blackburn College changing.

Today, after 20 years of experience, Blackburn College does not have any segregated provision. Disabled students are actively supported to pursue courses of their choice. Support is essential and it is possible to witness disabled students working at different levels, and in some instances, with an Individual Student Programme. One of Ann’s reflective points was that that she recognised that prospective disabled students ‘wanted to learn a subject not about being disabled’!

Navin Kikabhai

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One Response to “Blackburn College – Further Education and Inclusion”

  1. Melanie says:

    I am a parent of a disabled child, who is 19 years old. Our daughter has been given the label of Autism and is visually impaired. We had hoped that her transition to our local college would have been a smooth experience. However, this has not been the case and at present despite the college term starting in September, our daughter has been excluded from attending.

    We had been told that our only option is a ‘specialist’ college, some 17 miles away! Our daughter attended a special school and has not had any real meaningful experiences; being institutionalized in this ‘special’ school – as parents we deeply regret this. Additionally, we can’t even say that by putting her in the ‘specialist’ school that she had even progressed in a way, in which we were led to believe, that she would do? So it makes me, as a parent question, ask: who really benefits from ‘specialist’ schools?

    At present our daughter is unable to access our local mainstream college, because our LA is not supportive or forthcoming with information. Moreover, the local college is now stating that they have ‘no experience in working with a young person like my daughter and therefore they cannot accommodate her’. This has had a large impact on our family; and of course on our daughter. I think this example of inclusion, at Blackburn College, is fantastic and we only wish that there were more colleges in the United Kingdom that offered such inclusive practise and experiences for disabled young people.

    From M (a mother who is fighting for her daughter’s equal rights).

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