Disabled adults rely on charity

20th January 2006 at 00:00
Underfunding leaves college for students with cerebral palsy suffering 'death by 1,000 cuts'. Steve Hook reports

Collection tins are rattling as a national college for people with cerebral palsy relies on public generosity to make up what it says is a shortfall in government funding.

Beaumont college - where 78 mainly adult students are in residential care to enable them to keep studying - says it turned down 40 per cent of applicants this year because it could not afford to take them on. The college says many students cost pound;30,000-a-year more than the Learning and Skills Council provides.

The Lancaster college, which is run by cerebral palsy charity Scope, is attempting to make a fresh start following criticisms by the Office for Standards in Education and the Adult Learning Inspectorate.

But acting principal Graeme Pyle, one of the new management team, says the college will continue to rely on funds raised by Scope to maintain the quality of teaching and care offered to students.

Under LSC rules, the college can be funded up to pound;62,731 per student a year, with an extra "additionality" top-up available for those who need extra help.

Beaumont, some of whose students are severely handicapped, says the typical cost per person a year is around pound;90,000 and the rules which govern "additionality" funding are not published.

For this academic year, no additional payments have so far been made - leaving Scope to rely on general fundraising activities, including collections from the public, to subsidise the shortfall.

Mr Pyle said: "Parents become distressed when we can't take people and they are angry with us. I have a letter from a parent, begging for a place. It's heart-rending.

"There is historic culpability at Scope in that it has not been clear about its mission. We have been through our period of navel-gazing but that is not the case now. The fact remains pound;62,000 a student is not enough."

The college spends around pound;6.5 million a year.

Kevin O'Brien, chief executive of the National Association of Specialist Colleges, said Beaumont is not alone in struggling under the LSC's funding formula.

His organisation represents 70 of the 75 LSC-funded specialist colleges.

Some are run by well-known charities including Mencap, the mental health charity, and the Royal National Institute for the Blind, and, he says, many have to be supported by donations.

Most of the 3,200 students are over 19 and residential. He said: "There are students with certain learning difficulties and complex needs whose needs simply cannot be met for pound;62,000.

"There is a point here that perhaps education should be provided by Government and not by relying on contributions, however well-intentioned they are."

Andy Lusk, Scope's new education director, insists there are only limited efficiency savings that can be made, describing the situation as "death by a thousand cuts".

He told FE Focus: "In the end, if we don't take these students then they and their families will need the help of social services. The cost falls on society in a different way. There is no saving for society if we don't take them.

"Where they go after we have rejected them is a big question. What I hear is that they are likely to be back at home watching the telly - their education ended."

The inspection criticised Beaumont for poor financial management and strategic planning, although the new management team was described as providing "clear and supportive leadership".

A range of GCSE, NVQ and City and Guilds courses are offered as well as more general tuition to help students cope with everyday life - including personal and social development.

Beverley Burgess, LSC's group policy manager, said: "The council is not aware that Beaumont College is turning away potential learners due to funding pressures. Applications for funding for specialist placements are made to the LSC on behalf of individual learners by the Connexions service.

"The LSC will fund learners to attend the college where they fulfil the published criteria for a specialist placement.

"We are in discussion with both the college and Scope about specific funding issues in relation to LSC-funded learners currently placed at the college.

"The LSC is keen for outstanding issues to be resolved to ensure that appropriate levels of funding can be released to the college."

The LSC says it remains committed to providing for all students who meet the requirements for placement in specialist colleges - including those unable to find suitable non-residential facilities closer to where they live.

Alan Tuckett, director of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, said other students with special needs have been made vulnerable by cuts in adult education, which have led to courses for people with learning difficulties being axed in some mainstream colleges.

He said: "We haven't got an adult strategy which has been thought through.

We have things largely sorted for young people but not for adults."

Scope acknowledges that the LSC has increased its funding for disabled students and the quango says talks are in progress between government departments about how care costs can be met.

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