By Jenni Davidson
A Brighton college that last week lost its public funding held an open evening tonight (Friday 29 November) to explain what it offers.
The Self Managed Learning College (SMLC) in Grosvenor Street, Brighton, will lose funding for 11 of its 16 students from the end of December.
A decision was taken against funding the students at a meeting of Brighton and Hove City Council’s Children and Young People Committee on Monday 18 November.
Parents have until Christmas to come up with the £1,300 per term fees or find another form of education for their children.
The SMLC takes children aged 9 to 16 who decide for themselves what they want to study and work in small groups of up to six towards their own learning goals.
Each child agrees a contract of learning, which replaces the traditional curriculum.
Some of the children attending the SMLC have been home educated while others have attended mainstream schools and been bullied or experienced mental health problems.
At the council meeting two of the children attending the SMLC spoke up in support of the college.
Finn Miers, 14, said: “We are all really distressed at the thought of having to leave our college, our community and our friends.
“We cannot go back into mainstream school because we were so unhappy there – most of us were horrifically bullied”.
Another SMLC student, Katy Wilson, 14, said: “I felt like the odd one out at mainstream school and I was really unhappy.
“I was different to the rest of the people there and got treated differently, a lot of the time in a mean way.”
For the last two years the 11 children had been supported in attending the SMLC by money that Brighton and Hove City Council received from the Department for Education.
This government funding was for children who were home educated but attending a college or alternative education institution.
In November 2012 the Government announced that it would no longer cover those students after July 2013.
Brighton and Hove City Council funded one more term from September 2013 from its own education budget to allow time for consultation.
The Conservatives and some of the Green group had wanted to continue to fund at least those at Key Stage 4 until they had finished their GCSEs.
Students cannot sit GCSEs at the SMLC, but many of them opt to sit exams elsewhere.
Councillor Vanessa Brown said: “Young people studying for exams should not be disadvantaged by making them change schools.”
“It just seems morally wrong.”
Their proposed amendments to extend the funding at this meeting and a previous committee meeting on Monday 14 October were lost.
Dr Ian Cunningham, Principal of the SMLC, also presented a deputation asking for the existing students to be funded until they completed year 11.
Children attending the SMLC are considered by the council to be home educated because the SMLC is not a recognised as a school.
It is not registered with the Department for Education and is not subject to Ofsted inspections.
However, the SMLC is approved by the council as an alternative education provider.
Alternative education providers are institutions that support students with special personal, behavioural or social needs in their studies.
Parents of the children at the SMLC disagree that they have opted for home education and believe the children have special needs that would not be met in a school.
A relative of one of the SMLC students, Alan Turner, quoted the 1996 Education Act at the committee meeting:
“Each local education authority shall make arrangements for the provision of suitable…education at school or otherwise than at school for those children of compulsory school age who, by reason of illness, exclusion from school or otherwise, may not for any period receive suitable education unless such arrangements are made for them.”
He added: “The 11 SMLC students are students of compulsory school age for whom the traditional delivery method of mainstream school did not work.
“They were not learning, they were not happy and they did not feel safe.”
If any of the children are identified as having special needs, they would be eligible for funding for alternative education.
The council would need to assess each child and agree that they did have special needs.
“It’s our identification of need, not a self-assessed need by parents and children,” said Councillor Shanks.
At the time of the meeting on 18 November one of the parents had asked for a special needs assessment.
Another parent, Lilac Wilby, said that the other parents had been waiting to hear the council’s decision on funding before asking for an assessment.
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