CHANGES have been made to teaching at an adolescent psychiatric unit in Winchester despite claims of “discrimination against mentally unwell young people”.

Teachers at Leigh House Hospital have been in a disagreement with Hampshire County Council over a shake-up in education at the Alresford Road unit.

HCC has cut teachers pay, in some cases as much as £7,000, with new contracts coming into force which will see staff teach all year round, unlike the term time structure of mainstream schools.

The plans were signed off last year, but since then five employees have been in dispute with the authority, with protests calling for HCC to re-think the new arrangements.

But their appeals were not upheld and since then they have continued to work but have lost their status as teachers, with HCC removing the need for a teaching qualification and redefining them as tutors.

This has been met with backlash from former patient and protest organiser Johanna Keeler has been fighting the changes.

She was admitted in the build-up to her GCSEs and could not attend her secondary school, Henry Beaufort, so was taught in the hospital’s education unit.

She continued: “They [the teachers] have seen a 40 per cent pay cut, they have been asked to work all year round, which is actually damaging for the young people as well. Teachers employed in other schools are given breaks, it should be the same job.”

Ms Keeler said that HCC is “showing no regard for the pupils there at the moment”.

“These kids have got mental health issues they should be able to access education like they would in home schools.

“They [the council] have taken the need for a teaching qualification. When I was a patient there I had really good quality teaching but that will not be on offer there as there is not a competitive salary.”

During one of the dismissal hearings a teacher at the unit, who has not been named, implored with HCC to reverse its decision.

They said: “Unless HCC believe mentally unwell children should not receive the same quality of educational teaching as those in mainstream schools they should continue to respect my teachers pay and conditions and the associated teaching practice. If they do not think this is the case then this is a serious case of discrimination against mentally unwell young people.

“I am all for change if it improves the outcomes for our young people. This restructure is already clearly showing signs of causing the opposite.”

And the transformation has been criticised by the National Education Union (NEU), who worked with the teachers throughout the process.

The NEU said: “This is going to have a significant impact on their working lives, with the usual school term times and holidays being abandoned, and being expected to work throughout the year instead. They will be unable to contribute further to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, further disadvantaging them compared to fellow teachers. As far as the children are concerned, we believe in the principle that all children, especially those who are ill, deserve to be taught by qualified teachers.”

HCC has said the changes have “enhanced and improved, with the curriculum extended”.

The spokesperson added: “We wanted to improve service provision for children and young people who miss school owing to health or other circumstances. To do this, we needed to be able to provide year-round teaching, not just term time only. As a result, this expansion of service required staff to move from teacher employment terms and conditions - which restricts them to working term time only – to those of other local authority staff.

“Ultimately, the changes made represent a positive investment in improving outcomes for vulnerable children and young people, by providing greater access to high quality education and skills learning.”