Closing courses 'short-sighted'

RICHARD BATSON Closure of learning centres in north Norfolk would cause a major setback in people's quality of life and job prospects, says the woman who founded one of them.

RICHARD BATSON

Closure of learning centres in north Norfolk would cause a major setback in people's quality of life and job prospects, says the woman who founded one of them.

Centres at Sheringham, Fakenham and Hunstanton are among satellite operations under review by the College of West Anglia.

The move follows falling student numbers caused by a hike in adult education fees and policy of promoting vocational rather than social courses.

North Norfolk District Council will be asked to deplore any proposed closures, and to call for talks between a range of colleges and course providers to improve education and training opportunities for the over-19s.

The motion is being tabled by Su Pointer, who founded the Sheringham centre in its former role as a "telecottage" in 1987, and worked with the expanding service as it set up other centres until 2003.

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But she stressed her move was not fuelled by personal disappointment of watching what she had set up being knocked down. It was through concern for the impact on the community.

"It goes completely against all strategies to increase people's aspirations and skills, and would wipe out all their opportunities," said Mrs Pointer.

In the early days 1,200 students a year used the Sheringham centre for a blend of work and social courses from computers and languages to art and stained glass - satisfying a need to both raise skills and provide something to do for the area's elderly population.

"There are concerns about levels of basic skills, and there is a cross-over. If people join a fun class and enjoy it, they look at doing others and getting qualifications. And for the elderly it is well known that learning keeps people's minds alert," she added.

The closures, combined with the cuts in adult education, would decimate learning opportunities.

The college, based at King's Lynn and Wisbech, is reviewing the future of outlying centres, but has stressed any closures would not happen until July, enabling people to finish courses.

Mrs Pointer said such closure moves were "short-sighted and irresponsible", and is asking the council to broker a meeting between the college, the adult education service, Learning and Skills Council, and Paston and Easton colleges to look at possible solutions.

The motion will be discussed at the full council meeting next Wednesday at 6pm.