A company criticised by MPs over the large amount of taxpayer funding it received for student dyslexia support services has closed.
Claro Learning, a provider of disability support services at several universities across the South West, ceased trading at the end of December, according to Plymouth University, having informed the Student Loans Company of its decision to close in September.
It follows accusations in March 2015 by the influential Commons Public Accounts Committee that the Tavistock-based firm had unduly profited from delivering dyslexia support to students at Plymouth.
Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP who chaired the committee at that time, said she believed the firm had “behaved outrageously” by giving students a standardised package rather than prescribing dyslexia help according to individual needs, in what she called a “misuse of public money”.
Her claims followed a National Audit Office report into Claro’s activities at Plymouth, which found that the university’s students received 7.5 per cent of England’s entire Disabled Students’ Allowances budget, despite making up less than 1 per cent of its undergraduate numbers.
Those assessed by Access South West – part of Claro Learning – received an average DSA payment of £4,759, more than double the average received by other disabled students, it said.
Ms Hodge condemned the fact that Claro was both assessor and provider of dyslexia support, although the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said that it “did not find any evidence of misuse of funding”, nor did the arrangement breach any rules.
However, Martin Donnelly, permanent secretary at BIS, told the PAC last year he was “not at all satisfied with how we handled this”. New checks on the allocation of grants, worth £145.8 million in 2012-13 for 64,500 students, were instituted shortly afterwards, as was a new accreditation scheme for providers.
Universities have also been encouraged to look more closely at their spending on dyslexia support after it was announced in December that English institutions will take “primary responsibility” for this area from 2016-17, rather than relying on DSA.
Times Higher Education has been unable to reach Claro, whose website has been deactivated, for comment. However, the company said last year that its higher-than-average payments were a result of “rapid engagement of students” and it had “operated entirely within current guidelines”.
In addition, one of its directors, Jeremy Fox, complained last year that his company had been “MargaretHodged”, which he described as the “act of browbeating individuals and organisations on the basis of questionable evidence, while enjoying the impunity afforded by parliamentary privilege”.
In an article published on the Open Democracy UK blog, Mr Fox described Ms Hodge’s assertions as “shocking detail[s] made up, as we could have easily demonstrated, of cheap tat that wouldn’t survive a first laundering in the waters of truth”.