Editor's comment

17th June 2005 at 01:00
We should not use the proceeds of gambling - the twice-weekly flutter on the Lottery - to fund much-needed state education. But, if it happens, surely further education has first claim.

Not any further education, but courses for disabled students who do not fit with the Government's vision of a future skilled Britain. So desperate are the staff of Hampstead Garden Suburb Institute in north London over the impact of cuts that they may seek Lottery funding.

The cuts reported on page 3 of FE Focus are not isolated. Last week, in our letters column, an aggrieved principal of a similar centre in East Sussex said: "Some of my worst fears are being realised as education provision for those with learning difficulties or disabilities is cut." That letter followed a stream of calls from frustrated managers saying courses for some of the most severely disabled were to be axed.

What makes the Hampstead appeal so poignant is that it coincides with robust support from culture minister Richard Caborn for government plans to use Lottery cash for health and education. A consultation exercise suggested that was what people wanted, he said.

All very fine. But did he think to ask why those he consulted felt there was a need to divert cash from sport and culture to fund the core of what the state should provide?

Bill Rammell, the further and higher education minister, argues (below) that "learners are still getting exceptional value for money with the average course cost being only pound;1.42 an hour".

What, exactly, is meant by "average"? Is it the mean average? The median? The mode? And which college in UK plc charges this princely sum? It is easy to bandy around figures and statistics. But where do the people losing their college places feature in all this soulless data?

There is an even more fundamental question: why didn't ministers see this coming? The first reaction of ministers and their advisers was to deny the extent of the cuts. The next step was to defend them. They are now half way to suggesting they are a good thing.

The reason this crisis was not foreseen was that the human factor is massaged out of the picture by bland statistics and a bureaucracy that remains insensitive to local need. So much so that the chance of a place on an adult education course is becoming a lottery.

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