Closures under scrutiny

1st June 2007 at 01:00

Charities described the Government's funding of its policies on education for people with learning disabilities as the Achilles heel of the further education system, writes Jospeh Lee.

Ten learning disability charities formed a coalition last month to press for the money to make the promises of inclusion, independence and choice a reality.

James Churchill, chief executive of the Association for Real Change, represents organisations ranging from special colleges to groups giving support to people in their own homes.

He said the closure of "old-fashioned" day centres is presented as an improvement, and sometimes is, but it is often those with the greatest needs who lose out.

He said: "Some of the provision in the past was very traditional and to some people, exploitative, when they were made to do work for a minimal amount of money.

"But to the parents of these people and to the people who use the services themselves, they at least provided structure to their day, five days a week, nine to five.

"If they close the day centre, you can have an all-singing, all-dancing service which is only two days a week if you're lucky - so what do you do for the other three days?"

Mr Churchill said that although it might be intended as an improvement to the service, it is experienced as a cut by many families and carers, especially if they have to cut down their own working hours to look after a disabled person for part of the week.

The aim of opening up opportunities to disabled people was vital. He said:

"There's no doubt that if you don't do anything, people will go round and round on a never-ending circle of courses that don't go anywhere."

Part of the solution would be to ensure that the Learning and Skills Council no longer has to pay for the estimated 43 per cent of the costs of specialist colleges which are related to health and social care.

"It's always been a problem since God was a boy," he said. "It's always been the Achilles heel of FE."

Keith Smith, chief executive of the British Institute of Learning Disabilities, another member of the coalition, said: "We can see that there is widening gap between the positive policies being developed by central government and what is happening in the lives of many people with learning disabilities and family carers."

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