PLANS to cut funding for Adult Community Learning by 37.5 per cent have been pushed to the forefront once again.
NIACE Dysgu Cymru – a group supporting adult learners in Wales – criticised the mooted Welsh Government move and said it could also see budgets for part-time further education cut by 33 per cent.
The financing of education is an explosive business, as the rows over university fees in England and Wales suggest. But can we really afford to scrimp on providing for those adults who want to study?
The Leader spoke to three residents whose lives would have been very different if they hadn’t had access to part-time or community education.
Wayne Greenshields, 28, of Plas Madoc, said community courses in food hygiene, childcare and jewellery making helped him break down barriers.
He said: “They aren’t your typically blokey courses and I think it broke a few stereotypes.
“Five years ago I was struggling to keep hold of my son and stepson. I was isolated, unemployed and had problems with alcohol and depression.
“There’s this idea of some people in Plas Madoc – that you don’t want to try, that it’s ok not to do anything with your life.
“And that mentality can be passed on to your children and they pass it on to their children and it just carries on.
“It’s what keeps the poor poor and the rich rich.”
After some prompting from acquaintances, Wayne, who previously worked in security, turned to a very different way of life.
He said: “I could talk forever about what it was like moving from that to learning about milk, child delivery, access to play and that kind of thing. It was the most petrifying time!
“But I ended up setting up a playgroup and eventually running an adult learning enterprise of my own.
“I’ve got five guys doing digital photography now and there are two who are now doing an access course with a view to going to university.”
Wayne said that he was almost unrecognisable from his 23-year-old self.
He said: “I was completely different. I didn’t even try.
“Now I’m working for Association of Voluntary Organisations Wrexham, the substance misuse group, and I’m going to Cardiff to tell 200 people my story.
“I wouldn’t have been able to speak to two people five years ago.
“I love learning. I think it’s amazing and I don’t ever want to stop.
“I want to go to university, I want to carry on. It’s been positive, empowering, all those things, but you have to take that first step.
“If you take away funding for community education, you take away that first step for people. If people don’t have the opportunities, they won’t be able to better themselves.”
Beth Pitts, 25, of Bagillt, returned to education as an adult.
She said: “I was bullied in school, so I left when I was 13 or 14. I tried out various options but they didn’t work out for me for various reasons and I finished at 15 with three GCSEs. Not one of them was above a D.
“It was having my kids that made me change my mind. I decided I’d go back to college for me. I was 21 when I started back.
“I’d always wanted to be in school – I was a bright pupil but circumstances got in the way.”
After enrolling as an adult, Beth excelled in administration, took qualifications in business access courses and came out with two As and a B at GCSE.
Although her education was full time, so wouldn’t have been affected by the budget changes, she did opt to take an extra part-time night course.
She said: “A lot of the people on the course with me wouldn’t have been able to do it if it hadn’t been part-time. A lot of them had children and relied on childcare or worked during the day.
“I can’t see how they’d do it if suddenly the costs went up.”
Leader photographer Mel Cross, who lives in Northop, discovered her love of photography after opting for a class after eight years of soul-crushing office work.
She said: “I left school with a handfull of GCSEs and did a Btec in care. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life.
“I became a nanny and worked in Mostyn but I was only 18 and I found it hard so I started doing office work.
“Looking back I realise that I really wasn’t happy, although at the time you do what you can to pay the bills. I did a photography taster course and ended up enrolling on a full HND course.”
Mel said she felt lucky to have found something she truly enjoys doing but is aware that if it hadn’t been for the availability of the part-time course, she never would have embarked on this new career.
She said: “It’s a difficult one. I know the Welsh Government must be in a position where they just don’t have the money.
“But at the same time, they are also trying to get people off benefits – and this is one way of doing that. There are lots of people out there who have made the most out of a second chance to better themselves.”
David Jones, chief executive of Coleg Cambria which has campuses in Flintshire and Wrexham, said the college was operating in a difficult time.
He said: “These latest reductions are disappointing but as Flintshire and Wrexham receive very small amounts of Adult Community Learning (ACL) funding, the real impact is much less than in other more generously funded parts of Wales where the same percentage cuts will now have a major negative impact.
“We have anticipated these cuts for many years in Flintshire and Wrexham and the creation of Coleg Cambria as a college for North East Wales has meant we have a very strong institution, able to face these challenges with confidence, and with very little negative impact on learners.”
A spokesman from the Welsh Government said they were committed to reducing the number of young people who are not in employment, education or training and have protected provision for 16-18-year-olds in further education colleges in their latest budget. This, however, does not apply to over 18s.
The spokesman said: “We have been as open as we can about the scale of the financial challenges facing further education.
“Letters have been issued to local authorities explaining the 37.5 per cent reduction to their funding for ACL.
We are considering how we can mitigate the impact of these reductions and will be meeting with local authorities and FEIs to consider how best to approach delivery in future years.”