Disabled students are still being segregated within FE institutions

2 Feb 2022, 6:00

Funding to support SEND learners is being used to separate them from peers, writes Simone Aspis


You may or may not know, but this government has signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This is an international treaty setting out disabled people’s human rights. In particular, Article 24 sets out the requirement for states to develop a fully inclusive education system.

So what does this mean?

It means inclusive education is meant to be at the heart of our education legal framework. This covers the presumption of mainstream education under the 2014 Children and Families Act, to the reasonable adjustments duties in the 2010 Equality Act.

So further education institutions are under a duty to enable all disabled students (regardless of ability) to be educated alongside their non-disabled peers on mainstream courses.

However, in practice the overwhelming majority of disabled students (particularly those with learning difficulties) remain segregated within further education institutions.

For instance, disabled young people are often unable to follow their academic and vocational interests because of the funding arrangements of local authorities and colleges.

This funding is often attached to segregated courses such as preparation for independent living, employment courses and supported internship programmes. This serves to segregate, rather than include, disabled students.

At the Alliance for Inclusive Education, we have set six actions that local authorities and FE institutions can do to make inclusive education happen.

  1. Promote disabled students’ human rights in all aspects of learning and campus life, including mainstream courses, political and social education, and extra-curricular activities.
  2. Support must follow the disabled student instead of vice versa. More specifically, education, health and social care support must be tailored to meet the needs of individual students instead of groups of disabled students. And whatever support the student needs must be made available throughout their chosen vocational, academic or professional courses.
  3. Campuses and learning environments must be fully inclusive of disabled students. All parts of campuses must be physically accessible, such as toilets and changing facilities, lectures, labs, workshops, studio rooms and catering. Colleges also need to focus on the learning environments, including sensory and emotional experiences that disabled students may encounter. Room layout, lighting, colour schemes, acoustics, heat and various other environmental aspects of the spaces can create barriers which will need to be removed to promote inclusivity of disabled students with sensory impairments and those who are neurodiverse. The Department for Education capital grants could be used to make campuses and learning environments inclusive of disabled students. The grants must not be used to create dedicated and segregated areas for disabled students with learning difficulties.
  4. Courses must include curriculum differentiation and be accessible for all, including disabled students with different abilities and learning styles. Course tutors and support staff must know how to prepare and deliver inclusive courses. Curriculum materials need to be available in a variety of formats, including large print, braille and so on.
  5. Make reasonable accommodations as provided by examination boards and have assessment arrangements in place that allow disabled students to demonstrate their knowledge and competences in different ways.


The FE workforce must be trained in inclusive education principles, creating and maintaining an inclusive learning environment and campus underpinned by a social model of disability principles.


One of the biggest barriers towards full inclusion of disabled students in FE, particularly those with learning difficulties, is a lack of thinking creatively about how funding can be used to support inclusive practice.

One good example is for councils and FE institutions to transform segregated, supported internships into inclusive apprenticeships so that disabled and non-disabled young people are undergoing training within the same workplace.

That approach must be the same for disabled students for apprenticeships from a whole range of industry sectors.

FE colleges can and must become inclusive of disabled students with learning difficulties.

Local authorities and colleges need to stop funding segregated provision and use their resources to properly invest in inclusive education practice.



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One comment

  1. David Francis

    This article holds some truth, but also includes some ill thought through proposals. Supported Internships are not the same as apprenticeships, nor were they ever designed to be so. They are work based Study Programmes that enable students with SEND to gain valuable experience of working in a real environment. Apprenticeships may well be one option to progress onto once a student has completed an SI.
    Secondly, many students with SEND are working at pre-Entry levels and the amount of differentiation required for them in a vocational area could potentially put other students at a disadvantage. The Equality Act was never intended that all people would get the same treatment, but rather that their treatment is predicated and differentiated against their needs. I agree that so called ‘mainstream’ courses should be open to students with SEND, but there is also a crucial place for discrete provision as well that undertakes the preparatory work for that transition, where it is appropriate.