Tears as special needs college forced to close

Joseph Bulmer

End of term means end of an era for Heddon College

STAFF and students at a Barnstaple special needs college have said a tearful farewell at the end of term on Friday.

Heddon College, the post-16 area of Lampard Community School, has been forced to close indefinitely following the withdrawal of funding that has seen the college thrive since being set up as a pilot project in partnership with Devon County Council in 2009.

Head teacher Karen Rogers said the school had held an “emotional and difficult” leaving ceremony for 23 students from all over North Devon.

Thirty 16-19-year-old students with complex learning and medical difficulties such as autism and cerebral palsy had applied to enrol at the college next year. They must now find alternative places at a mainstream further education college such as Petroc, or a specialist residential college, such as Oakwood Court College in Dawlish.

Mrs Rogers said: “Everything has gone so well this year and we didn’t ever believe we’d be in this situation. We couldn’t have done any more.

“We are deliberately trying to leave the door open to see what comes out of the Government’s special educational needs Green Paper and post-16 funding review.

“From next April, post-16 funding will go direct to the local authority; they will have more control over budgets and we are hoping that will give them a bit more flexibility.

“Heddon College will not open this September but we have another meeting with the LEA in October and they have told us they are still open for discussion with a view to re-opening in September 2012. Whether that happens or not is down to the budget holders.”

In March this year, the Gazette revealed that the college faced closure at the end of the current term just two years after opening.

Parents and students rallied against the cuts in May while at the same time North Devon MP Nick Harvey urged the Department of Education to take over funding for the college.

This week, Mr Harvey called on Devon County Council to use money from reserves to keep the college open for another year.

The MP, who has been campaigning for Heddon, believes it would be more cost effective to invest in the college rather than transporting pupils from all across North Devon to alternative colleges, including in the south of the county.

Mr Harvey has urged county councillors to consider funding the pilot at Heddon College while the college seeks independent status and alternative funding arrangements.

“All councils have money put aside for a rainy day and Devon has been lucky to be able to put aside more this year than they had planned to,” he said.

“A relatively small amount of this money would be enough to keep Heddon College open for another year while staff and governors investigate other options open to them.

“The Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, has told councils that rainy days are here, and they shouldn’t sit on pots of reserves that could be used in other areas during these difficult times. I believe that this is exactly the sort of use for a portion of this money.”