Hearing you have cancer when you're starting or already in further education can be a difficult experience. You might feel anxious about your future prospects. The good thing about college is that there are people and services that can help keep your education on track.
From the day you're diagnosed you have important legal rights. This means that, whether you continue straight away or return after treatment, you should always be able to ask for support.
What is further education?
Further education (FE) covers almost every kind of course from school leaving age that's not part of higher education. It includes A Levels as well as vocational courses leading to BTEC qualifications, NVQs and tech levels. Find out more about further education on the Gov.UK website.
Support for students with a cancer diagnosis can include many different things, for example:
- Recognising you may need time off for hospital appointments and treatment
- Extra time for coursework and extensions to deadlines if you have fatigue or need to work at a different pace
- Scribes or notetakers
- Somewhere to leave stuff you'd normally carry
- Arrangements for special dietary needs e.g. being allowed to keep food in a fridge or eat snacks during classes
- Flexibility in attendance and punctuality when you go for hospital appointments and treatment
- Supervised rest breaks during exams
- Communication with staff during periods you're away
- Staff awareness of cancer and its impact (whilst keeping information about your own situation confidential if you prefer).
The Equality Act is legislation which protects disabled people from being treated unfairly. You automatically meet the Equality Act definition of 'disabled' from the day you're diagnosed. Under the Act, colleges in England, Scotland and Wales must not discriminate against disabled students.
Colleges also have to make 'reasonable adjustments' so that disabled students are not disadvantaged. They have a legal duty to make changes to ensure courses are accessible to students with cancer, including those with late effects.
You're entitled to the support you need to continue with your education and fulfil your potential on the course.
In Northern Ireland you have similar rights under the Special Educational Needs and Disability Order (SENDO).
You need to tell your college you have a cancer diagnosis before they can put support in place. It's your choice if and when you tell people, but doing this early gives your college more time to get things organised.
You should be able to have a confidential discussion with the staff member responsible for disability. This person is usually called the learning support adviser, inclusive learning coordinator or disability adviser. You should be able to find their contact details on your college website. You can usually request an initial appointment over the phone or by email.
You can have this discussion at any time; when you're first diagnosed, if you need time off from the course or when you return. The college should ask your views on what support and adjustments would be helpful. Going through the list of examples of support above can be a useful starting point.
Some colleges will arrange a more formal needs assessment. This is a face-to-face meeting with someone who understands how to support disabled students, including those with health and medical conditions. The assessor can make additional recommendations, with your agreement, and write a report summarising the support you need.
In England and Wales, if you have a cancer diagnosis and have a special educational need, you may also have an Education, Health and Care (EHC) assessment. The resulting EHC plan will look at all the needs you have regarding education, health and care up to the age of 25. The plan can be shared with the college to help them provide the necessary support.
If you have cancer, flexibility on the part of the college and good lines of communication are really important. It's vital the college understands the impact of your illness and encourages you to fulfil your potential during and after treatment.
You may want to put your education on hold for a while. Access courses such as Access to Higher Education Diplomas or the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP) can be a good alternative to A levels if you pause your education but want to go to university.
If you need specialist equipment, the college will probably loan it to you to use on campus. For example they might provide you with a digital recorder for classes. Sometimes there might be extra costs to employ support workers, notetakers and mentors. However you can generally expect the college to cover these out of their Learning Support budget.
Content last reviewed: December 2015
Next planned review: December 2016