Special needs college set to close

‘No money’ to continue post-16 education at Heddon College

A BARNSTAPLE college for special needs teenagers looks set to close just two years after opening.

Heddon College, the post-16 area of Lampard Community School, is likely to be mothballed in July after funding from Devon County Council was withdrawn, and an application to become an Independent Specialist Provider was turned down by the Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA).

The college was set up in partnership with the county council in 2009 as a pilot project for 16-19-year-old students with complex learning and medical difficulties, such as autism and cerebral palsy.

Heddon’s well-equipped teaching rooms, top-quality ICT suite and common room are currently used by 23 students from all over North Devon and 30 students have applied to enrol at the college next year.

Head teacher Karen Rogers said the college needed to find around �13,000 per student to keep the unit going.

She said she had informed students, staff and parents of the news at a “deeply upsetting” meeting last week.

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“I’ve explained that Heddon might have to close because there is not enough money but promised that we wouldn’t leave them stranded and that we will do everything we can to help them,” said Mrs Rogers.

“The students didn’t react well to it and we have seen changes in their behaviour already.

“There is no choice for these students; those who want to do the higher level courses and topics that will offer them the best chance of employment will now have to attend Petroc, although some have found it difficult to cope with the physical environment at the college.

“It’s a bit like taking an eight-year-old child from a mainstream school and telling them they’re going to college next year. Heddon is small, intimate and students know the routine. Everything is personalised.

“The problem is that with some of our students, so many of their disabilities are hidden and they can find themselves in real danger when things go wrong.”

Special needs students going into mainstream post 16 education at Petroc are only likely to receive around �4,000 as part of their calculated guided learning hours funding.

“It’s so disappointing; if you have a special needs child you have to fight for everything,” added Mrs Rogers.

“We always knew this was a pilot scheme but it’s been so successful and we really thought we’d find a way to keep it going. We are trying to do whatever we can to challenge this but the problem is everyone is blaming everybody else.”

The YPLA, the government non-departmental body that funds training and education for all 16-19-year-olds in England, said it had held discussions with the county council and Petroc.

It said Year 12 and 13 learners were being supported through a partner-provider agreement between Petroc and Lampard School.

“Petroc College has stated that it can meet the needs of existing learners at Lampard, including those currently under the partner-provider agreement, using its own resources,” said a spokesperson.

“It may be that the parents are not aware of the current involvement of Petroc or the potential of the provision which can be delivered and further developed there.

“The college is prepared to work closely with the school to ensure that transition is effective.”

Huw Davies, Petroc’s director of curriculum and innovation, said the college had been running very successful provision for learners with special needs for 30 years.

“Our highly experienced and qualified staff provide a supportive and caring environment which meets the needs of learners, including those with multiple and complex needs.

“We have a proven record of successful progression on to post-19 courses, which prepares these learners for supported and voluntary work in the wider community.

“We have been working in partnership with Lampard School for over a year and will continue to work together to meet the needs of these students.”

A spokesperson for Devon County Council said that the council was not responsible for funding post-16 provision in this case but had agreed to work with the school on an experimental basis to see if such provision was viable.

“We found some money to fund this as a pilot and the school was asked to stress to parents all along that there was no guarantee this would become a permanent provision.

“Devon County Council has had to make spending cuts of �54.6 million in the 2011-12 financial year and there is no money to continue this unless the YPLA decides to fund it.

“We would be delighted to cooperate with the YPLA in helping this continue, if that was their decision, in light of the support from students and their families.”

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