Big blow for adult learners

Three college outreach centres serving hundreds of adult learners across west and north Norfolk look set to close.The College of West Anglia last night confirmed its centres in Hunstanton, Fakenham and Sheringham were under review.

Three college outreach centres serving hundreds of adult learners across west and north Norfolk look set to close.

The College of West Anglia last night confirmed its centres in Hunstanton, Fakenham and Sheringham were under review.

Principal Peter Stewart said changes in courses ordered by the government had led to falling student numbers.

“We have entered a period of consultation concerning the intended closure of these centres,” he said. “It's not been an easy decision but the reality is that you haven't got the student numbers and you haven't got the income, you've got to make some difficult decisions.

“It is changing the landscape of learning in west and north Norfolk, but that is the harsh reality of changing government policy.

“The college has had to change the focus of its programmes from the sort of courses which proved popular, to full qualification-based programmes, which are more demanding and less popular with adult learners.”

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Mr Stewart said the college hoped staff employed at the centres could be redeployed. He added the centres would not close until July 2007, meaning students would be able to complete their courses.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said: “This is symptomatic of what is happening with so much government policy affecting rural areas.

“We're seeing the loss of learning centres, we're about to get an announcement about rural post offices, we're about to see the closure of cottage hospitals. If you live in rural England you're rapidly losing services because of this government. The government's approach ignores the value of learning for its own sake, it's all part of the tick box culture.”

North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham said: “I do think this is a retrograde step. The whole idea of outreach centres is to serve people in those communities. I'll be writing to education secretary Alan Johnson for an explanation because this does seem contrary to the government's skills agenda.”

City and Guilds computer student Michael Clarke, 60, from Overstrand, studies at the Sheringham centre in The Boulevard, which supports 180 students and five staff.

“It's a major blow. People go there to up their skills, keep their grey matter alive and for social reasons,” he said.

“For North Norfolk a local facility which is very important to a wide range of ages will be taken away.”

People will have to travel further to access services. Retired florist Sheila Parriss, 67, who has completed three computing courses at the Sheringham centre, said: “I'm really angry. It's the only place in Sheringham for people to attend.

“So many people in my age bracket are trying to get into computers, because it's a way of life, but not everybody's able to travel to King's Lynn or Norwich to attend courses.”

A petition has already been launched in a bid to save Fakenham Learning Centre, in Norwich Street, which has 295 enrolments, students aged 17-90 and 12 full and part-time staff.

Senior administrator Julie Holliday, who has been at the Fakenham centre since 1998, said: “Since we heard the news our students have been coming in expressing their concern about the future of the courses and everybody's very upset. We started the petition yesterday and already have 33 signatures.”

A member of staff at Hunstanton Learning Centre, in Valentine Road, which has around 150 students and six staff, said: “Staff are very upset about this, we haven't really been able to gauge what the students think yet.

“The college has promised to backfill opportunities at the main site but most of us didn't apply to work in Hunstanton to end up working in King's Lynn.”