Man told he is too old for college course

Hayley MaceA single father's plans to retrain as a plumber have been left in limbo because his local college has been overwhelmed by applications from teenage students.Hayley Mace

A father's plans to retrain as a plumber have been left in limbo because his local college has been overwhelmed by applications from teenage students.

Tim O'Sullivan applied for a place on the plumbing level two course at Lowestoft College in June and passed the means tests and interviews to secure his place.

However, the 47-year-old's hopes of learning a new trade were blown when he was told shortly after arriving on Tuesday morning that the college could only offer places on the course for students aged 16 to 18.

Mr O'Sullivan, of Caldecott Road in Oulton Broad, gave up his job in the oil and gas industry nearly five years ago to care for his children after his wife died.

With his son due to start middle school this week, he decided to train as a plumber in order to get back into work to support his family.

He said: 'There were about a dozen of us in the classroom who were older and we were told that because we were over the age of 19, it costs more to fund our way through the course and government priorities mean they have to focus on 16 to 18-year-olds.

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'I was gutted. I've waited four years for this opportunity and was really looking forward to starting the course.'

He said that he wanted to study in Lowestoft because it suited his lifestyle. 'I've heard that the college is trying to find places for us to do a course in Norwich, but that's a lot further to travel and would probably mean I'm not home in time for my children getting home from school, so it probably wouldn't be practical,' he said.

The college's vice-principal Philip Belden said that an influx of applications from 16 to 18-year-olds led to the course becoming oversubscribed and, as older students were usually taught in a separate group, the decision was made to try to find them somewhere else to study.

The college has managed to secure some space for the over-19 students to take the course in Norwich and is hoping to be able to arrange transport to and from the city.

Mr Belden said: 'We have a very good reputation locally for our vocational courses and, with the current economic climate, we have been inundated with applications for the plumbing course as young people are being told to get qualifications.

'This year we had so many applications from 16 to 18-year-olds that it caused timetabling issues, particularly because we only have limited resources and space. Normally we have about 36 students for plumbing; this year we've got 60.

'We told this group on Tuesday that we could not get everybody in, but we've found some alternative space in Norwich and are hoping to arrange the transport for them.'

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