Employment and Learning Minister, Stephen Farry, discussed the education opportunities for adults with learning disabilities during today’s Question Time. Mr Farry explained that many students are able to participate in the full range of mainstream education options, with further resources provided by the Department’s additional support fund which provides £2.5m per year for technical and personal support. In 2013 and 2014, 2000 adults were able to benefit from the fund. “Colleges maintain close contact with local schools and related professionals to ensure that provision is relevant and appropriate to the needs of the potential students and to ensure that all students are aware of the opportunities available in further education.” Following concerns about transitions to adult provision for young people with learning disabilities, the Department undertook a number of actions to improve the service and will be leading a cross-departmental group to identify any further gaps in provision.
Many members were also keen for an update on the process and allocation of funds for the European Social Fund (ESF). The ESF is an open and extremely competitive funding programme. At the conclusion of the most recent application process, the Department offered funding to 68 applicants, equating to £112m for the first 3 years of a 7 year programme. 40% of funding will be supplied by the European Commission, 25% from DEL and 35% from public or private sector match funding. Due to the popularity of the programme it was not possible to make offers to all applicants, including many who had scored above the quality threshold. Mr Farry added that “this investment in projects across Northern Ireland will provide opportunities to people who face the greatest barriers to work and learning. The funding will help individuals to fulfil their potential by giving them better skills and job prospects.” The Minister reiterated to any businesses disappointed in losing out on funding that the process is open and competitive and also indicated his happiness to meet groups to discuss the outcome of the process.
Mr Farry also discussed apprenticeships, employment support, zero-hours contracts, redundancies and the potential impact of a conservative government following the recent Westminster elections.