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College for blind to close for failing disability laws

A college run by the Royal National Institute for the Blind, where a member of staff was nominated for one of FE's prestigious Star Awards this year, is to close because it breaks disability discrimination laws.

Redhill College in Surrey failed its Ofsted inspection, with the management criticised for failing to plan for the Special Education Needs and Disability Act, and now the RNIB is closing the 80-student residential college.

The inspectors said: "Leadership and management are inadequate. The college has made insufficient progress in addressing significant weaknesses identified at the last inspection. Strategic management by RNIB is inadequate. The college's capacity to improve is inadequate. The college, as a result of RNIB actions, is now without an accommodation strategy and is not compliant with SENDA."

The charity says the number of blind and partially-sighted students has been falling, making the college less viable.

It also admitted that "substantial investment" would have been needed to bring the college up to the standard of the regulations.

The college's FE and adult work-based learning provision is due to be phased out by July.

Eamonn Fetton, the RNIB's group director of direct services, said: "The college has provided a high level of support to many students over the years. We will continue to provide a quality service for the rest of this academic year. And we will be working with our external partners, particularly the Learning and Skills Council, to make sure that students who wish to continue in further education make a smooth transfer to other colleges in the autumn next year."

In contrast to the management, inspectors rated the teaching and student achievement as satisfactory.

Des Shepherd is one of the lecturers. He had made such an impact on his disabled students that he was nominated this year for the Learner's Choice Star Award.

College lecturers have been banned from speaking out about the closure but their union has argued that the fall in numbers of blind students was the result of a deliberate policy by the RNIB to admit those with other disabilities.

The University and College Union also said the charity failed to market the college properly and many blind people were unaware of its facilities.

Other colleges close by cannot offer dedicated provision for the blind. The nearest similar college is 140 miles away and is full, the union said.

Roger Kline, the union's head of equality and employment rights, said:

"Nobody can understand why, of all organisations, the RNIB didn't get its act together and at least check whether they were disability compliant.

"It's hard to imagine that they were completely unaware of their obligations, or that there was a lot of Government money for converting buildings."

In March, staff were celebrating the announcement of pound;14 million of improvements to the college buildings, but the money has been withdrawn since the Ofsted report, which focused particular criticism on the accommodation.

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