Writtle College Covid policy setting up dyslexic student to fail claim

A teenager living with dyslexia says her dreams of studying marine biology at university have been dashed by being kept out of the classroom.

India Garrard, who has been studying animal management level three at Writtle College for a year, says she can’t keep up with the level of work – which so far this term has been given out as Powerpoint presentations that she has to interpret herself – because she has no direct contact with teachers.

The college says it is following public health guidance.

India has now decided to quit rather than struggle with the stress the course is causing her.

Her mother, Angie, a former Essex Police officer, is cfritical at the way the college has treated its 1,250 further education students who are not being wholly taught on campus, describing the policy as “setting her up to fail”.

She adds that it is “interesting” given what Boris Johnson said on Tuesday (September 29) about offering college places to people not in work for them to retrain, that Writtle is finding it difficult to open for those aged 16 to 18, who by law have to be in some sort of education or apprenticeship.

She understands the 750 higher education students are being taught on campus, but not the further education students.

She said it is even more galling given that India’s former classmates from when she studied at Boswells in Chelmsford are now studying for A-levels in school, full time.

India said: “It’s only been three weeks and if it comes to the point where I’m saying I can’t do it anymore it shows how bad it’s got.

“We need the lessons in a classroom, with the teacher up front.

“Even lessons online would be great but we get one of those a week and that is not brilliant.

“Now they send me Powerpoint presentations which haven’t been edited – about 40 pages – so it’s quite difficult to understand.”

India, a second-year student, was diagnosed with dyslexia in 2011.

The main issues with her dyslexia are her reading and writing skills, she also has comprehension issues and a poor short-term memory.

Prior to her GCSEs at Boswells she was re-tested to see if she would require any extra help during her exams.

As a result she was provided with a reader and 25 per cent extra time. Her predicted grades were flight paths 3 – which would not have been enough to get her on her chosen course at Writtle.

But she threw herself into her studies and ultimately finished with marks above and beyond her predicted grades in every subject. Importantly she achieved the grades she required to do the course at Writtle that would enable her to achieve going to university if she wanted to later on.

India passed her first year with a merit and was excited to return to college this year.

But according to India further education students only get one day a week in the college, which so far has consisted of 10.5 hours in total, less lunch breaks.

They do some practical work in the morning followed by two hours assessment sessions, where they complete assignments under controlled conditions, and a group tutorial in the afternoon.

India said: “There are days when I am in tears. I don’t know what I’m doing. My mum is trying but she can’t help me, she doesn’t know what it is.

“At the end of the day she’s not my teacher. She’s my mum. I’m going to change course because I can’t do it anymore.

“It got to the point where I’ve said to myself this is not going to happen.

“If I don’t do this course anymore , which I’m not going to, then I’m not going to have the opportunity to go to university.

“This course is the only one which offers availability and enough UCAS points to go to uni.

“I’m stressed, sad. I’m crying all the time. I’m normally such a happy person.

“This has destroyed my confidence. I feel like I have failed.”

She added: “They have tried to convince me to stay in the course, I’ve said no, I can’t do it.

“If they offered me normal teaching I would say yes.

“If they gave us normal teaching – what they were supposed to give us – I would consider going back to that course.

“It’s what I want. I want to be in a normal teaching environment and understand everything that I am supposed to.”

Angie explained things started to go wrong within the first days of term.

She said: “For people like my daughter and for others who have learning disabilities they are not only not getting the education they need, they are also being denied the help they need.

“She can’t just go in and ask something of someone, which she desperately needs.

“She really wants to do well, but she has been set up to fail by the college.

“Not because she is not doing the work or not trying. She mentally cannot get to grips with it because no-one is explaining it to her.

“The long and short of it is they have set up my daughter to fail.”

Angie said India was told because the college has university status it has to protect the older and more vulnerable.

She added: “I hold the college fully responsible for the mess they refer to as education, they are not educating the students.

“I as a parent am rightly responsible for ensuring my daughter attends college and is brought up as a respectful young lady.  The college is responsible for providing an education suitable to the needs of all students and they have failed miserably in this task.”

A statement from Writtle College said : “We are unable to comment on individual cases due to student confidentiality. However, any issues reported to us will be addressed on an individual basis.

“Writtle University College is closely following public health guidance and supporting further education (college) and higher education (university) students in line with government regulations.

“The university college is proud to offer a wide range of specialist courses, including many subjects that cannot be studied at traditional sixth forms or colleges. Many of our programmes are vocational, practical and involve hands-on learning.

“We are following a typical delivery pattern for a land-based institution. Prior to the pandemic, our courses did not typically require further education students to study on our estate five days a week.

“Following the outbreak of Covid-19, we are continuing to teach one to two days per week on campus, supported by online activity. Course tutors are readily available to support all of our students.

“Both our further education and higher education students receive blended delivery, combining in-person practical sessions with virtual teaching. This dual approach allows us to manage the numbers on campus, helping us to increase student safety.

“Our active learning support department offers sessions that can be accessed both on-campus and virtually. The safeguarding and wellbeing team play a key role in supporting students as they progress with their studies.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter