Podcast Editor Sam Pennifold discusses the disappointing levels of support offered by King’s to students with special education needs.
Across the board many people have struggled to adjust to online education; teams meetings can be awkward, lecturers born in the stone age of computers can not share their screens, and WiFi can fail you. All these things though can be solved by a good GTA, a YouTube tutorial, or simply reloading the meeting. But what are you meant to do if your brain just isn’t wired “normally”?
That is the question I face right now, and the same one many students with special educational needs are facing as well.
I was diagnosed with dyslexia when I was in Year One of Primary School. Since then, every school I have enrolled in has tried their hardest to meet my needs as best they can. It is thanks to that support that I am now able to go to a university as highly regarded as King’s today. Now I am here, the lack of support is truly crushing.
The process to be officially recognised by King’s as having an educational disability is one that is both truly time-consuming and expensive. A full and recent Educational Psychologist Report is required to be able to have a valid King’s Inclusion Plan, or KIP. This is meant to enable you to be able to fully perform at the best of your ability at university. I also needed one to receive extra funding as part of the Disabled Student Allowance initiative run by the government. I am lucky enough to come from a privileged-enough background to be able to afford one of these reports, costing over £600 in total. I know friends from home who have been less fortunate.
This report explains in great detail every way your brain works abnormally. It is used to validate your place at university and the support you need – as if you would have faked having a “weak working memory” for over 16 years to be able to ask your lecturer to get lecture slides early, as in my case.
Once you have your KIP and your Educational Psychologist Report, you can apply for special “Personalised Assessment Arrangements” (PAAs). This process goes through a separate office to the Disability Support Student Services office – it is deemed more suitable for this to go through the standard exams office.
When I first applied last year to have extra time and use a computer during assessments, something, I stressed, I had already been permitted in my GCSE and A-Level examinations – I was rejected due to insufficient proof. I remember reading the email and the colour draining from my face. I had to call the person who had administered my Educational Psychologist Report, asking them to rewrite it to specifically say I needed these arrangments. He was shocked and confused to find this and was all too happy to help me. Eventually, once I had waded my through this bureaucracy, I was granted my PAAs.
King’s has never been a welcoming place for me as a disabled student.
This year, though, as King’s has shifted to an either totally or partially online model of education, disabled students are being further betrayed. I was recently elected as an academic rep for the War Studies department, running on a manifesto of demanding clearer communication on every level from King’s.
Module outlines lack uniformity and clarity, readings can be impossible to find online, and going to the library is more effort than it seems worth at the moment. KEATS can be hard to use and close to impossible to track your work through, our timetables were released mere days before the start of term, and on every other level, communication has been lacking. As a non-disabled student, these things can be frustrating and annoying; as a disabled student, they can feel like total exclusion from your education.
KIPs haven’t been updated to reflect the shift to online learning, something I am now myself having to reach out to King’s to do. One would hardly think that, as learning has shifted to an unusual setting, new and updated measures for disabled students would be an outrageous demand.
I am of the firm and upmost belief that making education easier and more accessible for students with special education needs would advantage everyone, not just those of us who need them. King’s isn’t just betraying its disabled students – it is betraying all its students.