Spinal Cord Injury and Education: What's the Impact?
In the past five years, the number of children with special needs being home schooled has risen by 57% in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In August 2017, the UN criticised the UK government for failing to uphold disabled people’s rights across a range of areas - including education.
In the UK today, there is increasing pressure on schools. The inclusivity of children and young people with spinal cord injuries is a big part of the growing set of challenges. What will the impact of these strains be on those children, their education and future?
The annual incidence of spinal cord injury in children in the UK is unknown. Estimates have been made that there are 40 children per million living with spinal cord injuries, based on research from the United States. Using census data, that’s around 500 children in the UK living with SCI.
Parents have long reported a two-tier system in schools, where inclusivity is just a word - the reality is that special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) children are being turned away from mainstream education. Specialist, independent school admissions of SEND children are on the rise, undermining decades of progress along the way.
After something of a Renaissance period of inclusive education during the 1990s, the UN reports that the UK has “stalled”.
More parents than ever are taking education into their own hands and homeschooling their children. The impact on the education of disabled children, including those with SCI, is clear. A lack of inclusivity means a lack of integration, social isolation and reduced opportunity. But there’s a hidden impact on able-bodied children - a lack of inclusivity keeps them from learning how to deal with difference at a crucial stage of their development.
What Can Be Done?
A 2004 study by the Department of Education, carried out by the University of Newcastle, found that there was no link between performance and inclusivity. But the positive effects noted by pupils and teachers alike were the same found around the world: it makes a difference to everybody’s quality of life.
The lack of funding for local education authorities is seen as the prime driver for inclusivity being shelved, and the majority of teachers feel that SEND children are being held back from achieving their full potential.
Parents are able to apply for an EHCP (Education and Health Care Plan), which grants funding from local education authorities, allowing schools to assist children with SEND. But in recent times, some children are having their applications rejected, even with a clear need for assistance. This is believed to have prompted the unprecedented 57% rise in homeschooling across England.
Research has found that nearly 40% of pupils are considered to have special educational needs or a disability at some point during their school career - that’s a worrying number of children who are potentially being left behind at some point in their school life. Are the financial savings worth the long-term damage to society?
Money alone isn’t the answer. A shift in ideology has steadily widened societal gaps in an increasingly “us vs them” culture. Education is a vital driver of social change, and with more teachers speaking out about inclusivity, we hope that funding and attitudes get the positive changes they need.
Further Education and University
Incidence of SCI in young adults is the highest. Females aged 15 to 19 and males aged 20 to 29 are the group most at risk. That means that the majority of people with spinal cord injury in the UK are of university and college age. This can, in many cases, limit the opportunities available to young people with spinal cord injuries.
There are some financial allowances and benefits given to disabled students in parts of the UK. But some independence allowances are being reassessed and in some cases cut back, leaving many disabled students worrying about their future in education.
Not all disabilities are as visible as SCI. Not every disabled person uses a wheelchair. Assumptions about disabled students are wrongly made based on their ability to study, without taking into consideration any other factors - and this sets a dangerous precedent for how all disabled people are treated.
Another issue for further education is accessibility.
The list of accessible universities in the UK is, thankfully, long; legislation has had positive impacts on inclusivity almost across the board. The oldest buildings may still present challenges to wheelchair users, but the overall attitude of inclusivity at university makes the UK a beacon for disabled students from overseas.
Getting a Place at Uni
If your ambitions include going to university, having a spinal cord injury isn’t going to prevent the right student from getting a place. There are a couple of things you can do to help make yourself stand out (for all the right reasons) and get ahead in student life:
- Visit the university well in advance - it shows you’re keen and makes you known to key decision makers. It also gives you a good idea of accessibility and services
- Apply for a Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) for financial assistance during study
University is an incredible experience, open to everyone - seize your opportunity, and don’t let anything hold you back.
Talk to a Spinal Cord Injury Specialist
Aspire Law is a specialist law firm, working for people with SCI. For information and spinal cord injury legal advice, get in touch: give us a call on 0800 030 20 40.