In October 2021, the Government was challenged on its slogan, ‘Putting children first’. One part of their response said, ‘The draft Government Plan 2022-25 proposes an additional £678,000 in 2022, rising to £2.1 million in 2025, to tackle demographic pressures, including those relating to SEN&D (special educational needs and disabilities).’
This budget falls far short of addressing the structural work that needs to happen to make Jersey’s schools accessible for all pupils. There is no reason why a child who uses a wheelchair should be denied the choice of an education within mainstream schools, but despite the best efforts of teaching staff, the age and state of many buildings would make this impossible.
Jersey school campuses have significant barriers to accessing education for children with disabilities. All schools need millions of pounds of investment to improve access. Town schools are particularly poorly served with some lacking any form of green space for the students, a disproportionate number of whom will be Jersey Premium pupils.
Children with disabilities deserve choice when considering their education and children without disabilities deserve the opportunity to learn from children with disabilities by sharing classrooms with them.
When considering higher education, the campus at Highlands College also falls short of where it needs to be when it comes to accessibility for all students. The States of Jersey’s Proposed Government Plans 2020-2023 stated, ‘The learning environments are not fit for purpose and do not meet the reasonable expectations of students of all ages and abilities.’
16.1% of people with a disability leave school with no qualification, compared to 6% of people with no disability. 21.8% of people with a disability achieve a degree or equivalent, compared to 38% of people with no disability (Source: ONS, 2019).
We hear a lot about the gender pay gap, but we do not hear so much about the disability employment gap, which is bigger. There were an estimated 3.7 million people of working age with disabilities in employment in January-March 2018 in the UK, an employment rate of 50.7%. The employment rate for people without disabilities was 81.1%.
We agree that the campus does not meet student needs, with or without disabilities, which is a problem when the Island needs to train and retain its young people to fill the skilled vacancies appearing in all industries.
We would like to see manifestos address the issue of investment in Jersey’s property portfolio, especially education buildings, with plans for upgrading facilities not just for Islanders with disabilities but the population as a whole.