Adults with learning difficulties are losing out as colleges drop courses that fall below GCSE standard because of changes in government priorities.
Dave Claydon, 26, has learning difficulties and was due to attend a course at Salisbury College in Wiltshire this academic year but it has been cancelled.
Claydon lives with other young men in supported housing in Salisbury, is a great football fan and loves Arsenal. He is one of 105 adults affected by the course cancellation and while a number of this group will attend a different course instead, he won't.
Claydon has attended the Pathways course part-time since he was 21. It consisted of eight levels and he had moved up to the highest of these. It is what’s known as pre-entry level, the bottom level of a scale of courses offered by colleges, and consisted of a number of core modules, including literacy and numeracy, as well as other optional subject areas.
Claydon chose to take land-based studies and this involved him going to a local farm once a week to help out.
Claydon’s father Mike, who is a trustee at South Wiltshire Mencap, says that the tasks subtly helped him to learn basic skills - such as working out when wheelbarrows were half full.
He says his son enjoyed the work and it helped him become more responsible because he was doing jobs on his own initiative, compared to when he started there and had to be asked to do things.
Mike Claydon disputes the idea that staff on his son's course are providing day care, arguing that instead they are giving “learning support” to the pupils. “During compulsory education in special needs schools students with learning disabilities had the same amount of learning support to enable them to access education, so why is the Learning and Skills Council and Salisbury College refusing to pay this?” he asks.
He does have some sympathy with the college because many of the pupils stay on courses for years, but adds that to axe a large number of placements at once is not the answer. The college says 59 out of 105 students have been on the course for more than five years.
Mike was only told the course was shutting down at the end of June, a notice period he feels was not long enough.
A spokesperson for Salisbury College said the college had been forced to close the course due to no longer receiving funding as a result of the change in government priorities. She said that the college was in continuing talks with local agencies to try to come up with a satisfactory solution but that it was unlikely the college would run the course again.
The college has been working hard to find an alternative to cutting the course and that this was why parents were informed of the decision belatedly, she said.
Melanie Hunt, the Learning and Skills Council’s national director of learning, says: “While the LSC does recognise that, in the short term, the decision by Salisbury College to close the Pathways programme may cause concern for some students and their families, we do understand their decision.
“The priority of the LSC is to fund learning that enables individuals to progress against a clearly identified learning plan.
Regrettably, it is the case that some of the students have been on the Pathways programme for up to eight years without progressing on to further learning or continuing to achieve within the programme. Therefore, although the college is doing a good job in providing social and day care for these students, the primary responsibility to the community is to provide teaching and learning that enables individuals to achieve learning goals and move on, and it must focus its resources to that end.
“The LSC is actively working with the college and together we are currently meeting with other providers, care homes and students' families to find a way forward. The college announced its decision well before September in order to allow as much time as possible to seek alternative provision to meet the needs of those individuals affected.”