Cinderellas of adult education

16th March 2007 at 00:00

Len Parkyn `Old Clappers', Vines Cross, East Sussex

Susannah Kirkman's report on students with profound and severe learning difficulties makes powerful reading (FE Focus, March 2).

The observation that "there is a black hole in provision aged 19-plus" is pertinent at a time when the Learning and Skills Council is holding regional consultations about this group of marginalised learners. Hardly a week goes past without a report on cuts in services, loss of courses, shortened programmes, larger classes, lack of welfare and personal support and more stringent entry criteria that defines individuals and groups of learners.

People despair of the systematic curtailing of post-19 adult education.

Given the cuts this academic year one can extrapolate that there is a loss of approximately 30,000 places for those with learning difficulties and disabilities. Predicted numbers for September 2007-who knows? Indications suggest colleges are in a state of planned or forced retraction.

Some staff have been encouraged not to publicise this decline. Indeed, I am aware of the LSC "leaning" on managers to limit the voice of some colleagues who are concerned to maintain quality, flexibility and achievement. For staff whose principal role is pertinent to the transitions process, options in FE are now significantly limited. Cases where students with severe learning difficulties are not welcome in local colleges are common because of specific entry criteria and the need to hit predefined attainment targets. The term "ineducable" was used recently by a parent in the press - a phrase not heard since the early 1970s.

It is shameful for the LSC and central government to claim provision is expanding and has never been better. There was a golden era in the mid-90s under the Further Education Funding Council.

In the last decade, I have not seen a formal response from the LSC denying reductions in service. Perhaps, rather than create smokescreens or illusions, the LSC could put real effort and resources into funding educational programmes that meet the needs of those with profound learning difficulties. Let us not waste time on reinventing provision and discussing issues. Rather, let all participants work toward an enhanced service for this deserving group of learners whose personal careers may not be in the world of work or academia.

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