Merton students receive second shock as future of adult education hangs in balance ahead of ‘unexpected’ meeting

Anxious campaigners striving to save Merton’s beleaguered adult learning service were shocked yet again when an online announcement informed them the future of their studies will be unexpectedly discussed today.

This comes a few weeks after SW Londoner reported on the possible closure of Merton’s Adult Education (MAE) due to major budget cuts.

The council cabinet is to choose between six different scenarios for MAE’s potential survival and the outcome will influence thousands of adult learners in the borough.

Even though the announcement said students will later be invited to offer suggestions for shaping the future of the much-valued service, campaigners believe a decision to sell off MAE has already been made.

A campaign spokesperson told SW Londoner: “What is the point of having a consultation if the council has already decided on commissioning?

“Now, more than ever, it is important that the views of students and Merton residents are heard.”

Students fear that if adult learning ceases to be run by Merton council it will be degraded by alternative providers and that the Skills Funding Association will stop financing it.

The team behind the @Save_MAE account tweeted:

More than 5,000 people are currently taking MAE course and the service is treasured by many who changed their lives or careers by attending classes and learning new skills.

An online petition to save MAE has so far gathered more than 500 signatures, but not all those presently enrolled are aware of the impending changes.

Concerned students of all backgrounds left their comments on the petition, hoping the service can still be saved.

Cherry T. wrote: “I am not a wealthy pensioner, but I am fully functioning and my art classes enrich my life and self belief that I can still learn.”

Nancy F. wrote: “I believe the college is an excellent centre which serves the whole community and provides a great place for learners with special needs and disabilities.

“It is rare to find a place with such a caring and safe environment for people to develop their skills.”

Another affected learner tweeted:

To save funds spent on back office staff and building usage, the council is considering closing the Whatley Avenue venue, where MAE is now based, and spreading classes around the borough.

But people feel Whatley Avenue is vital to retain the sense of community shared by MAE students.

Jean T. wrote: “To spread out classes around the borough would lose many students who find travel difficult. It helps some of us to keep going.

Without Whatley we might vegetate at home and put increased costs on the NHS!”

Merton council’s community and housing director, Simon Williams, who signed the announcement published on the MAE website last Thursday, wrote: “The commissioning model, if agreed, would mean changes for students.

“Courses could be provided at different sites within the borough and by different providers.

“However, the cabinet paper makes it clear that we are committed to providing adult education and continuing to provide a wide range of course for students in Merton.”

The prospect of Merton Adult Education merging with local colleges will also be discussed, the preferred option will be decided upon today and the final decision will be made on January 9.

You can sign the petition to save Merton’s Adult Education here.

Image courtesy of Googlemaps, with thanks

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