Losing the fun stuff

Leisure courses for adults are being deliberately squeezed out of college schedules. Neil Merrick finds out why

College principal David Gates has upset some of his adult learners. When they tried to enrol for courses at Keighley College this term, they were told to look elsewhere. About 200 of Keighley's 8,000 adult learners suffered the disappointment of seeing classes such as belly dancing, t'ai chi and yoga disappear from the timetable. Instead of offering these subjects, the college has switched money to areas, such as adult literacy and numeracy, that the Government considers more important.

College principal David Gates has upset some of his adult learners. When they tried to enrol for courses at Keighley College this term, they were told to look elsewhere. About 200 of Keighley's 8,000 adult learners suffered the disappointment of seeing classes such as belly dancing, t'ai chi and yoga disappear from the timetable. Instead of offering these subjects, the college has switched money to areas, such as adult literacy and numeracy, that the Government considers more important.

Gates is in a similar position to principals throughout the country. The Learning and Skills Council, (LSC) which funds FE colleges and other training providers, no longer sees so-called leisure courses as a priority. The lion's share of public money is now devoted to programmes for 16 to 19-year-olds and adult basic skills. Employers are expected to pay more if they send their staff on vocational courses, while many adults who only want to study for a few hours per week are being forced to dip further into their own pockets - assuming the class goes ahead.

While Gates acknowledges leisure classes do not benefit the local economy in the same way as construction and engineering courses that the college runs for employers, he is frustrated that the college was forced to make such a crude choice. "There is a strong case for supporting people in the local community that want to take courses that contribute to their health and well-being," he says. "But we have a whole host of targets to meet and we have to choose where to put public subsidy."

Bournemouth and Poole College was told by its local LSC to enrol 1,582 new learners on adult basic skill courses this year - up from 1,189 in 2003/4. Although no leisure classes have yet been cut, they could start to suffer in 12 months' time. "We're having to make choices about who we can afford to educate and who we can't," says the principal, Roland Foote. "We are being asked to decide who should have access to education."

Five years ago, the Government was extolling the virtues of widening participation. Anyone who enrolled on a two-hour bite-sized course was marked down as a potential adult returner - especially if they could be persuaded to go back and study other, more demanding, subjects.

Colleges are still trying to assess the probable impact of a recent LSC consultation paper on fees. While the LSC should continue to subsidise classes from which learners progress onto other courses, colleges are concerned that support may be further reduced elsewhere.

Bournemouth and Poole has been told to pass on an extra 10 per cent of course costs to employers. If it imposes a similar price rise on adult leisure courses, numbers are likely to fall. "Either leisure courses will go across the sector, or learners will have to pay the full whack," says Foote. "Our experience tells us that, when students are asked to pay more, they won't do it."

The LSC already refuses to fund courses that do not lead to recognised qualifications. This has led to colleges tightening up on assessments and imposing unpopular exams - something that can encourage learners to drop out or to decline to enrol in the first place.

Colleges such as Peter Symonds in Winchester have seen the effect that exams, and the failure of students to sit them, can have on funding ( see box below). Like other colleges, it is also reviewing fees and, in some cases, preparing to announce that classes such as yoga may have to go.

Where fees go up, the college tries to soften the blow by allowing learners to pay in termly instalments rather than one lump sum. "The main casualty is daytime classes for the over-60s," says Linda Green, the college's assistant principal for adult education.

Green argues that such classes have educational and other value - even though they are classed as leisure. "During the day we attract retired head teachers and judges," she says. "It's about breaking down prejudices and barriers."

Ian Munro, the Association of Colleges' (AoC) regional director in south-west England, is particularly worried that colleges in rural areas may cut outreach activities designed to encourage people back into learning. Many of these programmes do not lead to qualifications, and therefore do not attract LSC funding. But they often lead to the type of courses now threatened with higher fees and, if numbers drop, colleges are unlikely to be able to afford to continue subsidising outreach work.

Kim Howells, the new minister for further and higher education, is known to be in favour of people learning for fun. But, according to the AoC, the Comprehensive Spending Review is likely to leave colleges seriously short of money by 2007/8 - further increasing the squeeze on adult classes.

Much of the £1.5bn promised by the Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, will go to school sixth forms, work-based learning and prison education, it claims. "There is nothing in the CSR to make further education feel it is being invested in," says Munro. "We are storing up problems in the sector."

HOW COLLEGES END UP OUT OF POCKET

Last year, 12 adults enrolled for a GCSE course in environmental science at Peter Symonds College in Winchester. Although they all completed it, just five opted to take a final exam.

The cost of the course was £536 per student - three-quarters of which should have been paid by the Learning and Skills Council. But where a student does not sit an exam, the LSC deducts 10 per cent from the money that it is due to pay the college.

For the environmental science class, Peter Symonds College therefore lost nearly £300. Although this is not a huge sum, the money soon adds up if repeated across the curriculum.

In the long run, the college could also be penalised for failing to reach LSC targets. "Everything becomes much more mechanical," says principal Neil Hopkins. "The idea of getting people back into learning goes by the wayside."

In addition, the college only charges environmental science students £99 (plus a £47 exam fee) instead of £134 (equivalent to 25 per cent) because it does not want cost to be a deterrent. It is therefore subsidising each student by £35 even before the LSC makes any further deductions.

News
people
Sport
Newcastle players celebrate, Mario Balotelli scores, Alan Pardew and Brendan Rodgers
footballNewcastle vs Liverpool , Arsenal vs Burnley, Chelsea vs QPR and Everton vs Swansea
News
i100Amazing Amazon review bomb
Arts and Entertainment
The Spice Girls' feminism consisted of shouting 'girl power' and doing peace signs in latex catsuits
musicWhat is it? You know what you want it to be...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkFrom Mediterranean Tomato Tart to Raw Caramel Peanut Pie
News
Moss and Grimshaw arrive at the party
peopleKate Moss, Claudia Schiffer and Nick Grimshaw at Jonathan Ross's Halloween party
Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
News
i100
Extras
Boys to men: there’s nothing wrong with traditional ‘manly’ things, until masculinity is used to exclude people
indybest13 best grooming essentials
Travel
travelPurrrfect jet comes to Europe
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch attends the London premiere of his new film The Imitation Game
people He's not as smart as his characters
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

English Teacher- Manchester

£19200 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Are you a ...

Day In a Page

Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities