ETF wants to tell the stories of disabled learners ‘living their best lives’

The Education and Training Foundation is on the lookout for stories of learners with learning difficulties or disabilities (LLDD) who are “doing something wonderful”.

The foundation, which leads on professional development for the sector, wants to feature about 50 learners “living their best lives” by being politically active or doing something with work, in their community or as part of their studies.

Learners with LDD are “often overlooked because their successes may not be measured in the conventional way”, says Simon Welch, the principal of National Star, a specialist college for young people with disabilities and learning difficulties.

Welch told FE Week he would welcome anything that celebrated the success and positive outcomes of young people with more complex disabilities or medical issues, as “not everyone is able to do a full-time job, but that does not mean they cannot be active citizens and have active lives”.

The ETF has put out a tender for a supplier to find these stories and create a publication, which will be downloadable from the foundation’s website and possibly available in a physical format.

According to the tender, which is worth £20,000, the foundation “wants to shift the emphasis, so we see bright young people first and disability second.

“The publication will show how by embracing inclusion we enable our young people to be, and lead, the change they want to see in the world.”

It will also celebrate the work of the FE sector to support learners with LDD. “While the focus of each learner profile is the young person, we feel it is also important to acknowledge the organisation where they studied or trained.”

The ETF says it is looking to hear “how the sector has been the springboard that enabled our young people to flourish”.

Teresa Carroll, the foundation’s head of wellbeing and social inclusion, said it wanted “to challenge outdated ideas of what young people with learning difficulties and disabilities can do and achieve”.

Di Roberts, the principal of Brockenhurst College in Hampshire and chair of the Association of Colleges’ disabled learners’ group, welcomed the plan. “FE colleges carry out valuable work with a range of students with learning difficulties and disabilities, which greatly enhances their ability to participate in their communities.

“We look forward to seeing all the successes colleges and their students have achieved.”

Inspired by the Shaw Trust’s Disability Power 100 – an annual list of the UK’s most influential disabled people – the stories will be published in the summer.

The tender is open until next month and can be found on the government’s Contracts Finder website.

The National Union of Students has said that while it is important to recognise learners’ achievements, too often “the barriers disabled students face are as a consequence of decisions by their institutions”.

“Many of the most engaged student activists are working to make change in their own colleges, to remove barriers to education that are the responsibility of their institution.

“When colleges celebrate the work of their students, in particular disabled students, they must recognise the responsibility they bear to examine the conditions they create and meaningfully engage with the challenges that their students are highlighting.”

The foundation has also tried to push forward the interests of learners with LDD through its centres of excellence for special educational needs and disability (SEND).

In June, City College Norwich, Derby College and Weston College shared £1.2 million to each host a SEND strategic leadership hub and develop “effective practice” for colleges by creating pathways to employment, curriculum co-creation and promoting staff and learner wellbeing.