MP voices fears over special needs cuts

AN Essex MP last night said he is “extremely concerned” about cost-cutting at a college in his constituency after it emerged its special needs budget has been slashed by £80,000.

Elliot Furniss

AN Essex MP last night said he is “extremely concerned” about cost-cutting at a college in his constituency after it emerged its special needs budget has been slashed by £80,000.

Simon Burns, who has a dyslexic son, was speaking out after Chelmsford College revealed they have received a drop in Government funding.

The shortfall has raised questions over the college's special needs support provision and one member of staff has already taken voluntary redundancy.


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Further cuts in staff and hours are now likely as bosses bid to balance the books - leading to fears that youngsters who need the most support will miss out on vital help.

The college has assured any effect on staff and students will be minimal but last night Mr Burns, MP for West Chelmsford, said dyslexic youngsters needed more assistance, not less.

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“As someone whose family has struggled with the problems of dyslexia, I am extremely concerned that as a cost-cutting exercise Chelmsford College will probably cut back on staff who are trained to help students who suffer from dyslexia,” he said. “Dyslexic students need more, not less, help. I appreciate that colleges are facing cutbacks due to the reduction in funding by the Government but to reduce help for dyslexic students to offset the effects of any cutbacks is a cut too far.”

He said he was “more than aware” of the heartbreak and the effort that needs to be put into helping dyslexic students, and felt it would be a “cruel blow” to reduce the assistance that students get during their academic studies.

Mr Burns, whose son is 16 and has recently completed his GCSE exams, said: “I have written to the principle of Chelmsford College about this matter and I urge him to think again so that dyslexic students get all the help they can. If these cuts go forward, I will do all I can to campaign to have them reversed.”

A statement issued by the college said the drop in funding - which comes from the Government sponsored Learning and Skills Council - was “regrettable” but was part of a national problem.

It read: “There has been a reduction in the funding available nationally for additional learner support (ALS). The effect on the college is that we will have £80,000 less to spend on ALS than we spent last year.

“We are committed to make those savings in a way that minimises the effect on students or members of staff.”

Some savings have already been agreed - including the use of specialist services, a skills development centre, more efficient working and the non-replacement of departing staff - but savings of between £30,000 and £35,000 still need to be made.

The statement continued: “We are currently in discussion with the eight (fractional) members of dyslexia support staff and their representatives about possible alternative working arrangements that would have the effect of achieving the necessary savings.

“Through working more efficiently and agreeing changes to hours of work to align more with the academic terms, we believe there are opportunities to make the necessary savings without the need for any job losses or significant change in the level of service provided to students.”

A spokesman for the Learning and Skills Council said they were unable to comment last night.

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