Shock for parents as college fees for special-needs students soar from £250 to £1,635

PUBLISHED: 11:07 31 July 2008 | UPDATED: 13:28 06 May 2010

Protesters at the huge rise in fees put a banner at Westminster Lodge

Protesters at the huge rise in fees put a banner at Westminster Lodge

SHOCKED parents of young people with learning disabilities at Oaklands College in St Albans are reeling after being told they will have to pay a 600 per cent increase in fees from September. Not only is the charge due to rise from £250 to £1,635 per yea

Oaklands principal Mark Dawe

SHOCKED parents of young people with learning disabilities at Oaklands College in St Albans are reeling after being told they will have to pay a 600 per cent increase in fees from September.

Not only is the charge due to rise from £250 to £1,635 per year from the start of the new term but they only learned about the increase in a letter from the college which arrived on Saturday - three weeks after Oaklands broke up for the summer.

As a result many parents have been unable to speak to anyone about the increase or why they have been kept in the dark about discussions which appear to have been going on for the last three months.

One parent, Maria Bradley, of Tavistock Avenue, St Albans, who has a 20-year-old son about to start his second year on the Post-18 Entry Level course, said this week: "It is now holiday time and we have not been involved in any of the three months of discussion."

Describing the increase as discriminating against people with learning difficulties, she said it was not as though children like her son had any other choice about where they wanted to go. "This was our only option," she said. "It provides them with essential skills for independent living. Without it they can become isolated and develop health and learning problems. The impact is so enormous."

In the letter parents received from Oaklands principal Mark Dawe, he said the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), the body responsible for funding learning programmes at the college, had introduced new fee policies.

It goes on to tell parents what the new amount will be and how to apply for help with funding if they are eligible for it.

Mrs Bradley, who has written to St Albans MP Anne Main and both the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition because they each have disabled children, said: "There is no logic in this at all except for a financial one."

She has urged other parents in the same position to call her on 07884 195490 so they can look at setting up some kind of action group.

Another mother in the same position, Mrs Rose Di Maio who lives in St Albans and has a 20-year-old son on the course at Oaklands, said how difficult it would be to find that sort of money within a few short weeks.

She added: "I just feel so angry about the way we found out about this so late in the day. I am not sure if my son will be going back because of the way we have been treated and the amount of money involved."

Mrs Marie Wells, of Ennerdale Close, St Albans, has a 19-year-old son who was due to start the course in September. She said: "I am really upset and have been crying for the last three days. We can't afford it but we are not entitled to income support. Over three years it will cost well over £5,000."

She said she would have to give up her part-time job to look after her son who, she suspected, would end up watching TV every day if he did not go to college. She added: "I have had two sleepless nights and it has ruined the summer holiday."

Oaklands was remaining tight-lipped this week. A joint statement issued with the agreement of the LSC said: "We have worked with - and continue to work with - the Learning and Skills Council to collectively seek a way to resolve this issue in the best interest of the learners.

"Both the college and Learning and Skills Council are keen to support and serve this priority group of learners in accordance with funding constraints and procedure.

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