Editor's comment

Ministers should be applauded when they show a willingness to relax stringent funding rules. This is exactly what is happening at the City Lit college in London. Bill Rammell, further and higher education minister, agrees that some excellent work outside the Government's priorities for skills training could be lost without a little flexibility over spending.

Visiting the college this week, he insisted the Government was right to stick by the skills agenda.

However, with help from the Learning and Skills Council, he would "find some way forward that involves reorienting some of the programmes that do not draw public funding to meet those funding streams." Five adult education colleges in the capital could benefit from his euphemistic turn of phrase.

But, whatever solutions emerge, they are unlikely to make much difference to a very big cash-shortage problem. Meanwhile, Beaumont college in Lancashire would love a bigger share of the money. The college deals with the extreme cases of cerebral palsy and is short of around pound;30,000 per student since the LSC will only foot two thirds of the bill.

There is a history of students with learning difficulties and disabilities being short-changed in the UK. If the students have disorders such as dyslexia -which has behind it a strong and vocal middle-class lobby - they can be statemented by experts in order to wrest cash for education from the local authority.

But not everyone is so lucky. As Alan Tuckett, director of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, has repeatedly pointed out, those with severest special needs are too often let down. This happened long before the LSC was around. Some of the best-funded mainstream colleges have been guilty of cutting courses for students with learning difficulties.

In fairness, Beaumont college is a somewhat grey area. The education of these students has to be managed with care. Who is responsible for meeting the "care" costs? Is it the Department of Education or of Health? Grey area or not, however, uncertainties are not excuses. A Government committed to joined-up thinking and collaborative action should have sorted out such problems years ago.

Both City Lit and Beaumont are timely reminders of the real underlying problem facing so many in the learning and skills sector. The gesture from Mr Rammell towards City Lit is a move in the right direction, but there is simply not enough money to go around. Are we also seeing the Government's skills priorities starting to unravel?


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