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August 5, 2004

Deaf student denied dream college place

From: Leigh Today, UK - Aug 5, 2004

A vulnerable deaf teenager from Leigh must endure a daily 80-mile round trip by bus and train after education bosses refused to fund his transport to college.

Matthew Tonge was born with a genetic defect that means he is profoundly deaf. He desperately wants to go to Myerscough College in Garstang, because it is one of the few places in the area with enough specialist support to aid him in his studies.

He can't hear or speak and his only way to communicate is through broken sign language. But now he'll have to face a terrifying daily trek to college on buses and trains after Wigan Local Education Authority refused to provide transport.

They say that post-16 student transport is "discretionary and very limited" and that there are a number of courses at closer colleges for students with hearing impairments.

They confirmed they won't be paying £15,000 a year to provide a taxi for Matthew because his statement of special needs ended at 16.

His dad Mike, from Fell Street, Leigh is furious the LEA is not helping his son and fears if something happened the teenager would not be able to call for help or seek assistance.

He said: "Myerscough College is the only one in the area that will assign a sign scribe to him and it's the only one that does the courses he is interested in - animals and animal husbandry.

"If the LEA don't transport him to college he'll have to get a bus from Leigh to Wigan and a train to Preston. That's a stressful enough journey for anyone never mind someone who can't ask for help, has no hearing and can't communicate because no one can else can sign."

Matthew's problems are hampered by the fact that hearing impaired students are only offered the primary deaf language of British Sign Language when they reach their options.

Up until then they are taught Sign Sensitive English which focuses on key words. This means he can't construct or understand sentences written in English.

A signed scribe at Myerscough would be there to turn his sign language into comprehensible sentences.

Mike added: "When he's 17 I'll put him thorough his driving test and get him a car. But how am I supposed to get him to college now, I can't afford to give up work.''

A spokesman for Wigan LEA said: "We are sympathetic to Matthew's position but the course he has chosen to pursue is not one for which we are obliged to pay travelling costs.

"Colleges closer to where Matthew lives also offer general courses with support for students with hearing impairments.

"Matthew does have the option of studying as a residential student at Myerscough, in which case his parents would get a travel refund equal to the cost of 12 journeys, but the family have decided against that option."

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