A college that provided a unique education for more than 80 residential deaf students has lost its battle against closure following a critical inspection report.
The Derby college for deaf people, one of just five specialist further education colleges for the deaf in the country, shuts today with more than 80 staff being made redundant.
A small number of students will now continue their courses at mainstream Derby college, which has been given special funding of pound;1.2 million for up to 28 students. There are also plans in place for the college to become a centre for excellence in the region for people with disabilities and learning difficulties, including deaf students.
But the closure has embittered staff, who are furious with funding chiefs for withdrawing financial support.
With their employment terminating next week, around 50 communication support workers and 30 additional staff were still waiting to learn how many will be offered jobs at Derby college when The TES went to press up.
Dawn Tebbutt, a communications support worker, who organised a campaign against closure, said: "I fear for our students. I do not believe Derby college is equipped to cater for their needs in the same way as we are.
"This college has been the only one in the country offering deaf students full time access to mainstream NVQ, GNVQ and A-level courses with the assistance of communication support workers.
"I believe it will now cost a lot more to make poorer provision for fewer students."
The specialist colleges' troubles began in March last year when inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education awarded it an "unsatisfactory" grade 4. As a result its funding was reduced by one-third, preventing it from recruiting new learners.
Ms Tebbutt added: "When the college was inspected in 1999 it was awarded a grade 1, but difficulties arose when a new principal came in who had limited experience with deaf students.
"Most of Ofsted's criticisms were about leadership and management, and the principal subsequently left. We were not given time and support to recover, which has lead to this wrong and unfair decision of closure."
Peter Farrar, the college's external services director, said: "It is a very sad situation. Derby college is totally incapable of managing or providing the support for deaf students.
"There is no way they have the skills or the knowledge of how deaf students have developed their language.
"We offered to independently provide education and support for one year so that there will be a seamless transition to mainstream education for most of the students, but this was not taken up."
Derby college, however, is insisting that it can provide better education and training for the deaf than the the specialist college. Vice-principal Nigel Gell said: "If we didn't think we could do better for deaf students we wouldn't be going into this.
"We have a good track record for providing education for people with all sorts of disabilities and we want to become a centre of excellence for students with all kinds of learning difficulties.
"We have good expertise here and are confident that we can not only maintain but improve the standard of provision."