College audit reveals Dungannon learning disabled excluded -Morrow

Maurice Morrow   TT1910-161JS
Maurice Morrow TT1910-161JS

DUNGANNON Councillor Lord Morrow has described the findings of an audit report which found that the Dungannon campus of South West College did not offer one course for people with disabilities as ‘a disgrace’.

Lord Morrow asked the DEL Minister to issue him with the figures from the audit and discovered that the Dungannon campus of South West College has offered no courses at all for people with learning disabilities, despite 49 being run in the Omagh campus.

He has described the revised decision to offer one solitary course for the 2013/14 academic year as “a last-minute token gesture”.

Lord Morrow said: “In June I brought the issue of special needs provision in Dungannon to the floor of the Assembly when I asked the Minister for Employment & Learning to reveal the results of an audit into the South West College of Further Education, on the availability of courses and training for students with special needs and/or learning disabilities

After several requests and a delay of some two months, the DEL Minister finally shared partial contents of his audit. The results are disproportionately unbalanced and make very poor reading.

“Whilst the South West College (SWC) network as a whole has good provision, Dungannon was woefully neglected. The Minister has confirmed in the 2012/13 academic year 61 courses were available across the SWC campuses, which sounded quite impressive. However when the figures were broken down the reality was stark. Omagh campus hosted 49 courses, and there were six each in Cookstown and Enniskillen. But Dungannon had not one single course. That is a total disgrace and further proves the Dungannon area is grossly in default in provision for young adults with learning disabilities.

“As if to excuse this appalling state of affairs the Minister states the college took the decision to increase provision from part-time in both Cookstown and Dungannon campuses, to a full-time facility in Cookstown only. This was determined by the College as the most suitable location due to being mid-way between Dungannon and Magherafelt, and equally accessible via public transport.

“I want to know what discussions were held with staff, parents and young people leaving Sperrinview Special School. Was their valuable input was sought and if so, considered? Where consultations carried out and if so, what were the responses?

Dungannon has become a forgotten area in relation to special needs provisions, particularly for the all-important Post 19 group. Taking the decision to remove the minimal provision that did exist was ill-considered and drastically flawed.

“The College decided transport was a factor, but I have been spoken to by numerous parents, carers, teachers, therapists and most importantly, persons with learning disabilities and all have highlighted the difficulties faced by travelling on public transport, either accompanied or unaccompanied. Some students can travel on public transport and frequently do, but many cannot. That is just one aspect of this matter which was ignored.

“Countless young adults have been abandoned and excluded due to this extremely poor example of decision making.

“However the Minister has stated SWC have revised their provision for the 2013/14 academic year and will be offering an Entry Level Certificate course entitled, “On Board PLP” (Personal Learning Programme) at the Dungannon Campus. Whilst this is a welcome development consisting of six units, it is one course in Dungannon, against 49 in Omagh, and six in Cookstown.

“Nevertheless this minimal provision does at least clarify one major point – courses should never have been removed from the Dungannon campus.

“This course is a last-minute token gesture which the college has been shamed into providing. It is well short of required provision and I will continue to press for increased courses and training. If there is so much on offer in Omagh, - and rightly so - why not for Dungannon?

“All citizens have the right to access services in health, education, training and inclusion. When it comes to our citizens with special needs and/or learning disabilities society should be prioritising to ensure they are afforded equal provision, taking account of the challenges they already face on a day-to-day basis.

“I will be raising this matter further with the Minister and do not intend to be appeased by the announcement of one solitary course in Dungannon. Citizens’ rights are being violated and their welfare neglected.”