Thousands of Merton adult learners left in limbo as council announce £32m service cuts

‘Horrified’ adult learners discovered their study aspirations might come to a sudden end after Merton council announced the future of its adult education services is uncertain.

Due to further budget reductions by the government, the council said Merton’s Adult Education (MAE) will be the first service under review in an effort to find £32million in cuts.

Disillusioned students currently enjoying MAE courses protested the ruling, but the council stressed its pressing concern is to keep council tax low and maintain services to the most vulnerable.

Gay Bennett-Powell, who is part of the campaign to save MAE, said: “Merton Adult Education service provides for educational and social needs of thousands of people.

She said: “Attending a class is also about life-long learning, being creative, a safe and stimulating environment for vulnerable adults, respite for carers.

“We are fighting to preserve MAE for ourselves and future learners and, importantly, those students who are more vulnerable and whose voice may otherwise not be heard.”

More than 5,000 students are currently enrolled in Merton’s Adult Education services taking a wide variety of courses from financial management and computing to oil painting and pilates.

Councillor Mark Allison, cabinet deputy leader, said: “We are committed to continuing adult education in the borough but Merton Adult Education is being reviewed just like all our other services.”

He said: “Residents know that times are hard but we are determined to continue to balance our budget and keep council tax low while protecting vital services to the most vulnerable.”

However, the 2011 Ofsted report showed that 75% of the funding for MAE came not from Merton Council but from the Skills Funding Agency.

A student-led Twitter campaign hashtaged #SaveMAE was launched last week in an attempt to save the service and concerned learners joined in to express their distress about the council’s decision.


Information about the looming change in the way MAE works was reportedly sent only to students with an email address, urging them to offer ideas about ways to reduce costs and keep the service alive.

Opposition councillors have also spoken out against the council’s impending plans.

Councillor James Holmes, Conservative Education Spokesman, said: “Labour have not shared their proposals with opposition parties nor engaged in any cross party discussion or scrutiny. Instead they are cutting front line services, while sitting on millions in reserves.

“The future of Merton Adult Education should be innovative and exciting with community courses at its centre; creating life opportunities for residents at affordable rates.”

Wimbledon’s Lib Dem Parliamentary campaigner, Shas Sheehan, has set up a petition on her website to contribute towards reversing the council’s decision, support it here.

A report to review the options for the future of adult education will come to Cabinet early in the New Year and the final budget will be agreed in March 2015.

Picture courtesy of Richard Lawrence Cohen, with thanks

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