No place for disabled

17th June 2005 at 01:00
Dozens of adult learners in London have fallen foul of 'heartbreaking' cuts. Shekhar Bhatia reports

Sixty disabled students will be told not to return to their college in September as they become the latest adults to lose out in the funding squeeze on further education.

Hampstead Garden Suburb Institute says it has been forced into the "heartbreaking" cuts in places because the students are on courses that fall outside the Government's spending priorities.

Just 20 students are expected to stay on at Creative Connections, which is part of the institute. Many of the rest have only limited communication skills and will have to stay at home.

The students, aged between 25 and 60, are said to be bewildered by the fact that teachers who have nurtured them over the past year are now saying that they cannot teach them any more.

The LSC's funding priorities include 16 to 19-year-olds, adults lacking GCSE-equivalent qualifications and people with literacy and numeracy problems, leaving much of adult education exposed to cuts. Between 200,000 and 300,000 places are expected to go across the country.

Creative Connections is part of the education for life skills department at the institute.

It has 10 staff, helping make it the biggest provider of adult education in north London. The courses aim to improve the communication skills of students - some of whom have previously relied on sign language. They are encouraged to read, write and speak through various forms of study such as visual arts, dance and multi-media.

Classes are small and supported by specialist teaching staff from both therapy and educational backgrounds.

Fay Naylor, principal of the institute, said: "Over half our learners communicate non-verbally, which means that they are unable to study at the required level of literacy and numeracy to qualify for educational support.

"They are effectively being excluded from learning through no fault of their own, and it will have a devastating effect on the quality of their lives.

"By giving us pound;120,000 less in funding this year, and by making it clear that the funding of education for adults with severe learning difficulties is not one of their priorities, the LSC has effectively forced us into this position."

Amrik Perera, who has taught the students for two years, said: "We have been holding back from giving these students this heartbreaking news for as long as we can.

"At least 60 of them will not be coming back. Some will just stay at home and in bed all day. Others will attend learning day centres, but we are a proper educational establishment offering them the best they can get in this area."

The pound;120,000 budget cut for Creative Connections is part of cuts in adult education taking place across the country.

A spokesperson for the Learning and Skills Council said: "The main allocation has not been cut and the institute needs to deliver our priorities within this allocation. We are not specifying that it needs to cut Creative Connections."

Mr Perera said a campaign was under way to try to raise the money and keep the 60 students at the institute. This will include seeking Lottery funding for financial support.

Himani Weir, head of Creative Connections, said: "Many learners will find it difficult to fully understand the reasons for this and will only know that something they had that was good has been taken away from them.

"Those responsible for this will not be there to witness the human cost of their actions."

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