Lobbying for equal rights in education

The photo shows students and staff from a number of specialist colleges, including RNC, protesting in Westminster. Many are waving signs and banners.

Imagine being told that you are entitled to an ‘adequate’ education. Nothing good, nothing aspirational, nothing that will ensure you can achieve your goals if you work hard enough. Just ‘adequate.’ The minimum your council can get away with. And why? Because you have limited or no sight. You live in a world where nine out of ten employers say people who are visually impaired are the hardest to employ, and where two thirds of visually impaired adults are out of work. And to start you on your journey in to adulthood, to give you the best possible tools to overcome these odds and succeed, you are going to get an ‘adequate’ education.

 

What does that mean in practice? It means you have no meaningful choice. It means you will not have access to the technology that would allow you to work independently, because your college will not have it or understand how to use it. Instead someone will sit beside you and do things for you. It means you will not be prepared for the reality of the workplace, or for higher education. All that matters is that you undertake your education locally, no matter what it costs you for the rest of your life.

 

RNC is a specialist college. We do not segregate and we do not isolate. We support our students to make adult choices, to learn how to live independently and to prepare for the rest of their life. For a short period of time they do not stand out from the crowd because they are visually impaired. Instead they fit in for that very reason. They can focus on other things – like growing up and deciding what to do with the rest of their life.

 

It’s not for everyone. We don’t claim that it is. Some people with a visual impairment find everything they need at their local college. But what we know, and what our students shout from the rooftops, is that for those who need us we should always be an option. Not something they have to fight for, but something they can choose.

 

A year ago we protested outside the Houses of Parliament to say that a decent education that meets the needs of the individual should be a right, not a fight. Nine months after the Children and Families Act became law we will be back with the same message. Because nothing has changed. Because young people with a visual impairment are denied a voice in their own education. Because councils believe keeping someone local matters more than opening the door to their future. Because panels meet behind closed doors to discuss documents students have never seen, written by people they have never met, and decide their fate.

 

We are positive about visual impairment. Our I Can campaign shows what our students can and do achieve. But sometimes we have to take a step back and acknowledge that for most of our students it is not a positive thing. They succeed despite it, not because of it. They need help to get started on their adult lives. They need to be able to choose an education that levels the playing field and gives them the best chance to succeed. It may be their local college, it may be us, it may be something else altogether. But as a decision that will determine the rest of their lives, it should be their choice.

 

The Children and Families Act promises all this and more. It is not being implemented. Local councils are making decisions on behalf of young people who have not delegated their choice. Families are being ignored. It may well sort itself out – this is new legislation and it takes time to bed in – but what of those who fall through the cracks in the meantime?

 

So we will be back in London on 18 June. We will be led by our students, who hope that those who come after them will not have to fight for their education. And if necessary we will be there next year too. But we hope we will not have to be. We hope that this time someone will be listening, and will take a moment to think not of rhetoric or localism or bureaucracy, but of the individuals whose futures depend on what happens next. As one of our students, Kyle, says:

 

‘The children of today will one day run the country and we need to get it right for them. They’re happy to invest in the future of a fully sighted young person but not in my future. I didn’t choose to be visually impaired – none of us did. Is it really my fault?’

 

View the Facebook gallery from the student visit to Westminster

 

Article written by Lucy Proctor, Communications Director at RNC