PARENTS of young people with special needs have voiced fears over cuts in funding at Elmwood College’s supported learning department.
They are worried that the forthcoming merger between Elmwood and three other Scottish colleges will spell the end of a department they say provides them with a lifeline.
Elmwood is to join forces with Oatridge, Barony and the Scottish Agricultural College to offer more streamlined provision of land-based education.
But the college says the cutbacks are nothing to do with the merger, blaming a reduction in government funding.
The issue was highlighted by Liz Louden of Guardbridge, whose 21-year-old daughter Christine has Down’s Syndrome.
Since then other parents have come forward to express their dismay at the potential loss of the supported learning department, the only full-time facility of its kind in Fife.
Mrs Louden explained that Christine, a former pupil of Madras College, had attended Elmwood’s Adult Learning Programme for three years, which had helped her develop her confidence and independence.
However, funding for the programme had now been cut, which meant that from September parents would have to pay £1700 for 34 weeks, or £12.50 per class - and the classes wouldn’t run at all should there be fewer than 12 applicants.
Mrs Louden feared that the situation would lead to the further marginalisation of young people who wanted to have a meaningful role in life.
Another Cupar parent, who didn’t wish to be named, said that the supported learning department was a ‘very special place’ whose loss would have a severe impact on many local families.
As mother of an autistic child, she feared the effect that a merger, cutbacks or even closure would have on her son and others with special needs.
She commented: “It’s important that the future of this valuable department is not ignored while the larger land-based merger ploughs forward.
“At the moment this is what seems to be happening, and I think it will be important in the coming months to keep the matter of this less high-profile department which services the most vulnerable members of our communities in the public consciousness.”
However, deputy principal Scott Anderson stressed that the cutbacks to courses for young people with special needs were a result of government funding being slashed and unrelated to the forthcoming merger.
He said that all further education establishments had had to re-prioritise in accordance with the Scottish Government’s ‘Putting Learners at the Centre’ strategy, formulated in the light of youth unemployment figures, and now had to focus on the 16-19 and 20-24 age groups.
“We are facing an almost 30 per cent reduction in teaching funding and all colleges are having to make some very difficult decisions,” said Mr Anderson.
“We have to demonstrate to the government how we are targeting their priority groups and we don’t have a bottomless purse.
“Courses are being cut across the board and not just in the area of supported learning.
“We are still committed to students with special needs and continue to work with Enable Scotland.
“The cutbacks are nothing to do with the merger; it’s simply the economic climate we’re in.”