College blow for learning disabilities

SUFFOLK College is to stop providing courses for people with learning disabilities from September, it emerged today.The college says it will be working with other organisations, like Suffolk County Council's social services department, to provide alternatives.

SUFFOLK College is to stop providing courses for people with learning disabilities from September, it emerged today.

The college says it will be working with other organisations, like Suffolk County Council's social services department, to provide alternatives.

But the council say their own funding for adult education has been reduced and they have no spare cash available.

Dr Peter Funnell, the college's assistant principal, said: "We want to ensure these people have proper opportunities to progress and move on.

"We are not really in a position to run provision for people year after year which is not challenging them and not progressing them. That's not what a college does.

"There may well be people who require the kind of therapy that can be gained from learning but there are a number of other agencies that provide that sort of support.

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"If there's a social care need for students with learning difficulties it's not really for the college to meet that obligation."

Dr Funnell said the college has been working closely with social services and voluntary organisations to look at alternatives and said it was a relatively small number of students that would be affected.

However, a spokesman for the council's social services department said: "We are disappointed with this decision by Suffolk College.

"We have recently been made aware of the closure of the courses, and we are considering the impact this will have.

"We are keen to work with the college to see whether there are some ways our social care and adult education staff can help to devise some sort of replacements, but there is little time and no spare funding to do so."

Jane Midwood, county councillor with responsibility for adult care and community services, said: "Our adult and community learning service is funded by government through the Learning and Skills council who have reduced our funding.

"We would have liked reasonable notice of these changes, and will do what we can now to help, but we have no funds to run such courses."

Although specialist courses for students with learning disabilities at the college will be stopped they will still be able to enrol on other courses at the college.

Dr Funnell said the college is not receiving the right kind of funding to carry on with the courses but stressed that it was not purely a cost-cutting move.

He said: "It is not serving anyone's interests to try and provide services that we are not funded to provide."

Will you be affected by these changes? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

Suffolk College's decision to stop the classes has provoked mixed reactions from local learning disability charities.

Colin Poole, chief executive of Optua (formerly Rethink Disability), said: "Suffolk College has a legal responsibility to ensure students with learning disabilities can access courses and I'm sure they will support genuine learners in this.

"Optua runs life-skills courses in Ipswich for people with learning disabilities and we also find we have to ensure the same people do not simply re-enrol each time, as many people are attracted by the social side of learning.

"We are pleased people enjoy our courses but there is a need for people to move on and give other people the opportunity to learn. The college appears to be taking a similar view."

Steve Allman, chief executive of Out and About - an Ipswich-based charity for people with learning disabilities, said: "We would hope the "special" courses are being replaced by enabling learning disabled students to study alongside their non-disabled peers, with a clear mechanism for support of students and staff."

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