LordMandelson’s department has been accused of slashing spending on coursesfor people with learning disabilities and evening classes for theelderly, to fund re-training of people in the recession. A new skillsbudget for 2010/11, published this week without fanfare, reveals a£150m cut in funding for qualification-free courses often taken bypeople with learning disabilities and older peoplewho want to develop a new talent without getting a certificate at theend of it. The number of students expected to benefit from theso-called “developmental learning” budget, will shrink from 583,000this year to 213,000 next year. The move has prompted concerns that thegovernment is sacrificing learning for it’s own sake in the newutilitarian age of training.
The skills investment strategy documents reveals howMandelson’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills intends topay for plans to improve the nation’s technical skills and develop anew generation of technicians to build the post-recession economy.Funding for each adult apprenticeship will be cut by around 10% to fundthe creation of 35,000 new places, as announced by Mandelson last week.Nick Clegg,the leader of the Liberal Democrats, will raise this issue at theannual conference of the Association of Colleges in Birmingham today.He told the Guardian: “These plans will come as a bitter blow to thehundreds of thousands of vulnerable people who will see their coursesdisappear. It is incredibly cynical of the government to slip this newsout in an obscure policy document and not be upfront about the impactthat these cuts will have. “While it is vital that we take astrategic approach to skills, it is absurd to stop funding courseswhich bring a range of benefits to individuals and wider society. Not only are they important in keeping people active but they can alsowork as an important stepping stone back into education for those whomay have had a poor experience at school.” A spokesperson for thebusiness department insisted that while the budget had shrunk, collegeswould be told to prioritise courses for people with learningdisabilities with the funding they do receive and many of thosestudents could qualify for courses under other funding streams. Aseparate “informal learning” budget, which also fundsqualification-free evening classes has been frozen at £210m. But disabilityrights activities warned that it followed longer term cuts fordedicated courses.
David Congdon, head of policy at the learningdisability charity Mencap, said: “We have strong evidence that coursesare already being cut. If they reduce the funding further, it will havea devastating impact. These courses are vital to people’s quality oflife and if they are cut we are doing them a great disservice.” Thedocument says: “There is a clear expectation that FE colleges andtraining institutions will be required to deliver better value formoney and realise efficiencies in order to continue to deliver highquality training to meet the needs of learners and employers at a timewhen public finances are under pressure.” Evening classes that don’tresult in a qualification have been culled dramatically in recent yearsafter the government pledged to focus spending ensuring as many peopleas possible have GCSE-level qualifications. In last week’s skillsstrategy, Mandelson said he wanted more people to get A-levelqualifications, including 35,000 new apprenticeships, in order tobecome high quality technicians.
A spokesperson at the business department said: “Weare not cutting the numbers of funded places available for people withlearning difficulties and/or disabilities. We are protecting provisionfor these learners. We expect colleges and training institutions totreat them as the top priority group for courses funded throughDevelopmental Learning, and expect many of the courses provided forthese learners to come from the Foundation Learning curriculum, wherefunding continues to rise.” UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said:”UCU is concerned that, despite previous statements that front lineservices would be protected, adult learning across the board will behit hard by the government’s spending plans for 2010-11. What angers usmost is that the most severe cuts will fall on the most disadvantagedand those trying take their first steps back to learning.”