Parents seek answers for their 'devastated' children as Wigan specialist college My Life Learning loses its contract

Upset parents are demanding answers about their children’s futures after a specialist college’s contract was terminated.

Wigan Council ended its contract with My Life Learning in Standish last month, after it was rated “inadequate” by Ofsted.

The centre provides education for 26 people aged 16 to 25 with additional needs and some of their parents have spoken out against the decision.

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They said their children thrived at My Life Learning and fear they will not receive the same opportunities elsewhere.

My Life opened its college My Life Learning in 2018My Life opened its college My Life Learning in 2018
My Life opened its college My Life Learning in 2018

Parents are also upset that they were not consulted by either Ofsted or the local authority, and say they should have been given five months’ notice, rather than being told the college will close in October.

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Caeryn Collins says her 19-year-old daughter “loves” learning about equine care there.

Her daughter – who did not want to be named – is on the autistic spectrum and has dyspraxia. She previously attended summer classes at My Life before joining the college.

Ofsted rated My Life Learning as "inadequate"Ofsted rated My Life Learning as "inadequate"
Ofsted rated My Life Learning as "inadequate"
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Ms Collins, from Appley Bridge, said: “She was already familiar with the place and doesn’t like strange places, so we were thrilled when they said they would open a special needs college. The only thing she has ever wanted to do anything with is horses, so the fact they had horses absolutely thrilled her.”

Ms Collins says she is “really, really upset” about the Ofsted report and the termination of the contract, without My Life Learning being given time to make improvements.

She said: “Where is the support for My Life? I think it is doing an incredible job. It’s not perfect and I’m sure there are things they could change, but I can say the difference in my daughter in three years is incredible. I have no concerns for her safety, no concerns for her well-being and no concerns about what she is doing.”

Sue Johnson’s daughter Chloe, 18, joined My Life in September 2020. She has autism, visual impairment and other medical issues, and went there to study animal care.

Caroline Tomlinson, founder of My Life LearningCaroline Tomlinson, founder of My Life Learning
Caroline Tomlinson, founder of My Life Learning
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An annual review in March found she was making progress, with a pathway put in place for her to gain several animal care qualifications.

But Chloe’s plans have been thrown into disarray now.

Mrs Johnson said: “It’s a massive shock. I know it was a massive shock for My Life as well. The impact, not just on the young people, but the families, and the stress levels of these kids is through the roof. It’s affecting their mental health. It’s going to break some of them.

"Since my daughter started at My Life, she has flourished in all areas.”

Cath Pealing, the council’s assistant director of educationCath Pealing, the council’s assistant director of education
Cath Pealing, the council’s assistant director of education

She believes My Life should be given time to make changes, rather than having the contract cancelled.

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Mrs Johnson said: “What should have happened is Wigan should have honoured their contracts with these children for at least the next 12 months and really to My Life they should have said they have 12 to 24 months to get everything in place as suggested by Ofsted and give them a chance.”

She fears for Chloe’s future and whether she will still be able to work with animals if she cannot attend My Life.

Mrs Johnson said: “It’s such a unique place. My daughter, since she has been there, I can’t tell you how much she has changed, how much she has flourished in all areas.”

Wendy Crookall’s son Robert, 22, is on the autistic spectrum and has been learning about horticulture at My Life for three years.

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She said: “He was due to have an internship set up to start in September. When I ask about that, they can’t give me an answer whether it will happen or not. My son is absolutely devastated.”

Robert, who lives in Wigan, enjoys being outdoors, so Mrs Crookall believes going to another college and being based in a classroom will not suit him.

She said: “They know what makes him tick, how to get the best out of him, how to encourage him. I don’t think any other placement in Wigan could encourage him in the same way.

"It’s a shame that it has come to this. I’m not going to take this lying down.”

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Last month, a spokesman for My Life Learning confirmed the contract had been terminated by the Education and Skills Funding Agency and Wigan Council, and students would be offered alternative provision by the end of October.

They said students “thrive and achieve things they never thought possible” there and they had not had the chance to show changes had been made since the Ofsted inspection.

We contacted My Life Learning following parents’ concerns, but the spokesman declined to comment further.

A spokesman for Ofsted also declined to comment, but said they take the views of parents into consideration during the inspection process through the Ofsted parent survey.

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Cath Pealing, the council’s assistant director of education, said: “We absolutely understand the frustration and upset this outcome has caused for our young people and their families. However this provision is commissioned as an education provision and therefore whilst it is pleasing young people have made progress in some areas, this needed to have included educational progress that meets the standards of the regulator.

“A July Ofsted inspection rated the provider as ‘inadequate’ and this follows on from a monitoring report in July 2021 where it was identified that the provision was making insufficient progress. Unfortunately over the last year, this has not improved and the Education and Skills Funding Agency made the decision to remove My Life Learning from the S41(Children & Families Act 2014) Approved List, as such it is now unregulated by the Secretary of State.

“We have offered all families and young people impacted by this decision a meeting to consult with them on the next steps and to identify an alternative provider. All young people have the option of returning to the provision in September while we support them and their families with this transition.”