chicester collegeChichester College has joined forces with Chichester Festival Theatre and Rolls-Royce to launch a specialist training programme in the performing arts for students who live with conditions such as Down’s syndrome, autism and Asperger’s syndrome.

The ground-breaking programme, entitled Theatre Inc., is the first of its kind in the UK to be recognised by the Government’s Educational Funding Agency.

Only 1 in 3 people with a learning disability will take part in education or training and currently 58,000 people with a learning disability are supported by day care centres. Lecturer in dance, Siobhan McCormark, suggested that "everyone wants to see greater diversity in the arts.

"To achieve that, we need to look at what’s happening in our schools and colleges. Theatre Inc. is a first step to create opportunities for talented young people with learning difficulties, and unlock their potential in the working world."

Existing courses are publicly funded up to the age of 25, but students with learning disabilities have often had to re-enrol in similar courses. This means they lack ways to develop skills in one area, find it hard to become specialists or gain qualifications leading to employment.

To combat this, Theatre Inc. will provide youngsters with the experience of a professional performance company. It will offer specialist, vocational training to young performers through a supported work placement.

The training will be tailored to individuals’ needs and abilities, focusing on the performing arts but also covering numeracy, literacy, ICT, communication and general life-skills.

Estelle Palmer, lecturer at Chichester College, said: "I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and training many brilliant, talented students who desperately wanted to continue their training past the foundation level, but had hit an academic ceiling.

"They could pursue recreational courses which were fun, but not designed to prepare people for employment. We want students to fulfil their potential and become technical specialists who can pursue careers in the performing arts."