Mitchel’s Story: Combining Work with Paralympic Training

Mitchel in the Combe Grove Manor groundsMitchel, a student who attends Fairfield Farm College, has been working incredibly hard on his world of work journey this year. Mitchel works at Combe Grove Manor on Tuesdays with the grounds team maintaining the 64 acre estate on the edge of the city of Bath. Mitchel works the same hours as the estate team which means he has to be up at 6am to be ready and get to work and has shown real commitment to his placement.

Mitchel is going onto the STEPs program in September where he will develop more independent skills and continue his work placement. Combe Grove have been so impressed with Mitchel’s commitment and effort that there has been talk of the possibility of an apprenticeship after next year if he keeps working hard. Mitchel loves being outdoors and working in such a beautiful environment.

As well as working hard at college Mitchel is a committed athlete in the 100 and 200 metre categories and is working towards qualifying for next year’s Paralympics games in Tokyo. Mitchel is currently ranked 11th in the UK in the 200 metre category and 10th in the 100 metre category. Mitchel recently took part in the Ultra challenge and walked 25km to raise money for Fairfield Farm College.

Mitchel working in a hi-vis vest

Natspec Highlights June 2019

It’s been another busy month at Natspec. We hosted another successful Student Parliament on the 11 June, and the last of our Natspec Games was held at Young Epilepsy in the South East – which luckily the weather held for!

Our Colleges have also been very busy as they move into summer. Arts and sports have been a particular focus, with art exhibitions and musical performances taking place alongside sport competitions. The launch of a mini Premier Inn at Hereward College is particularly exciting as it will provide excellent work experience opportunities for students, improving work outcomes.

Read on for a host of stories from across the specialist sector highlighting just some of the incredible things happening at our colleges.

  1. Another incredible Student Parliament
  2. Hereward College partners with Premier Inn for on-site work experience opportunities
  3. Successful work outcomes for students at The Hive College
  4. Visiting Buckingham Palace to receive the Duke of Edinburgh Award
  5. Dorton College student wins South London Learner Award
  6. Rooftop Bee Garden at Argent College
  7. Leading inclusive sport in the local community
  8. New campus for HBVC
  9. RNC student Chris targets strongman competition
  10. Landmarks opens new provision in Rotherham
  11. QAC student band perform at Birmingham town hall
  12. Orpheus centre students launch art exhibition

Another incredible Student Parliament

Student sticks post-it note to 'what are you good at?' wallNatspec hosted its fifth student voice parliament at Seashell Trust on the 11 June. With representatives of nine colleges in attendance, it was a very busy day, with a host of thoughts and ideas being exchanged.

The theme of this parliament was ‘It’s okay to be different, be yourself’. Ben Kinross from NUS said ‘The event showed how Student Unions can look different and work differently but can change education and empower students just the same.’ Throughout the day, students were invited to contribute their thoughts on a number of topics.

Sarah Laszlo, Natspec’s Learner Voice Coordinator, said: “It is my absolute privilege to be able to gather and work with learners from specialist colleges across the country. This event brought forward some huge thinking on important issues for students with learning difficulties and disabilities and I was delighted at the level of engagement throughout the day. I’m excited to take the Student Voice Parliament and its members to further empowerment in the future.”

Read more about the student’s ideas and thoughts here.

Hereward College partners with Premier Inn for on-site work experience opportunities

Hereward College Principal opens the Premier Inn training centre

A ground breaking three-bedroom Premier Inn training centre has launched at Hereward College in Coventry with the aim of helping young people with additional needs get into work. The new mini-hotel, which will not take paying guests, is a state-of-the-art training facility and will be used for young people to learn skills in the hospitality industry.

The new facility was opened on 17 June with former Derwen College student Mary Woodall as the guest of honour. Derwen College led an industry-first partnership with Premier Inn to train students, and as a result of that programme Mary now works at Premier Inn in Greenwich, welcoming thousands of guests every year.

Paul Cook, Principal at Hereward College said: “We are delighted to be working with Premier Inn, who support our ambition to become a centre of excellence in hospitality training and get more people with disabilities into meaningful employment.

“The new training facility will mean that students will be able to gain work experience, learn specific job roles and gain confidence before stepping into the workplace.”

You can read more about the facility on Hereward College’s website.

Successful work outcomes for students at The Hive College

Student from The Hive College on work placement in supermarketFive students on the employability programme at The Hive College in Birmingham are preparing to leave college in July 2019 and move into paid employment. They have all been on supported internships and are going into a variety of employment sectors such as catering, administration and engineering.

The college’s Work Placement Co-ordinator, Julie Pallister has also secured a partnership with KPMG based in Birmingham City Centre going forward into September 2019. They are a very large prestigious accountancy company and are offering internships to three students in their post room, catering and administration.

Julie said they are very excited to be able to offer our students the possibility of gaining employment at KPMG and building a strong relationship with the employers based there, so that they can offer opportunities like this to other students in the future.

Visiting Buckingham Palace to receive the Duke of Edinburgh Award

Students and family members outside Buckingham PalaceFour students from Hedleys College visited Buckingham Palace in May to be presented with their Gold Duke of Edinburgh award. They were greeted and spoken to by Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and presented with their certificate by Tom Chambers who gave an outstanding motivational speech.

The students have worked immensely hard to achieve this award. To achieve the Gold Award they had to complete three separate stages. The first, voluntary work, was completed by helping out in Age UK, keeping a local park tidy by litter picking, completing a crisis collection during the Christmas period and arranging a Culture Shock awards evening for the college. The second involved them enhancing their skills / physical ability, which they did by holding Boccia competitions and created a stop motion film by using still frames. Finally, they took part in expeditions, completing a range of walks and travelling to Fife, Scotland for a week. When they were there they stayed at various places to look at how accessible they were and then gave feedback about their experiences and the accessibility.

Students went all out to visit the Palace and all looked very smart. This was an amazing experience and a great day was had by all who attended.

Dorton College student wins South London Learner Award

Sami receiving her awardSami Begum, a student at the Royal Society for Blind Children’s Dorton College, has won a South London Learner Award. The annual South London Learner Awards are presented on behalf of the Committee of South London Principals (COSLP) and celebrate some of the brilliant achievements made by further education students in the region. Sami has a severe visual impairment but is determined to become a physiotherapist in spite of the condition and is described as a ‘source of inspiration’ to both staff and other students. Sami was honoured with the award in a special event held at the House of Lords, and all at Dorton College and Royal Society for Blind Children (RSBC) are incredibly proud of her achievement.

Rooftop Bee Garden at Argent College

Argent College are raising money to fund modification works to the rooftop garden at Argent College so they can create a safe environment for their new bees and their students. The new beehives will be placed on the rooftop of the New Standard Works in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter and will be the first urban beehives in the Jewellery Quarter.

50,000 bees arrived on site on the 20 June. To help the campaign, visit here. The aim is that the students will be able to harvest organic honey and beeswax from the bees to use within their programmes, creating sweet treats and candles.

Leading inclusive sport in the local community

Tennis CoachingSports leaders working towards their Sports Leaders UK Level 1 accreditation at Fairfield Farm College have been working hard at planning and delivering events for their local community. One event they held, the Rainbow Shower Event, aimed at pupils with additional needs, saw almost 400 pupils from local schools and colleges attend.

They have also been participating in a Youth Sports Trust initiative called ‘Beyond the Baseline’. Paralympic tennis player Louise Hunt has been helping them to prepare for an event in July. They will welcome two local primary schools to Fairfield Farm College & introduce their pupils with additional needs to some inclusive tennis activities – hopefully it will go well!

New campus for HBVC

HBVC students outside the new campusHeart of Birmingham Vocational College opened the doors of their new campus on Friday 14 June – the new campus will be fully operational from the start of September 2019, ready for the new academic year.

The celebrations were kicked off by Chicken George of Genesis Radio, with students and guests dancing the day away to a disco – with a few karaoke numbers thrown in too! The students and staff were also joined by celebrity chef Glynn Purnell of Purnell’s Restaurant and Saturday Kitchen fame, and Michael Stevenson of BBC Casualty fame.

Glynn commented on the day “I have never seen so many people on a dance floor enjoying themselves at 3 o’clock in the afternoon”

HBVC have also recently set up an inclusive mixed college football team where students are also in charge of running the team. They’ve received a Grow the Game grant from the FA to help them get more players from underrepresented groups playing football.

RNC student Chris targets strongman competition

Chris lifting a heavy weightChris, a student at the Royal National College for the Blind, is the first visually impaired competitor to take part in the Doncaster strongman. RNC Sports and Fitness tutor Aaron Reece initially introduced Chris to strongman when displaying new training methods in a group fitness session. Chris said, “Aaron showed me deadlift techniques and said I had a natural ability for it, in just 4 months of training I’ve increased my maximum lift by over 50kg.”

Of the competition, Chris said the organisers had been excellent in accommodating him. “It’s a learning curve for both parties. I’ve never competed before and they haven’t had anyone with my impairment. They have been so accommodating, it’s been great, and they have offered any support I need on the day.”

Even though he hasn’t yet competed in his first event, Chris is already planning on competing again and participating in more strongman competitions.

Landmarks opens new provision in Rotherham

Landmarks have opened a brand new site; Milestone House, based in the centre of Rotherham City. From Milestone House, they will be running our regular programmes of both college and Day Services. The staff will work within the local community to ensure practical activities permeate the curriculum, linking to the farm at Apperknowle, for those who like animals and hospitality and catering in one of their many kitchen suites.

Arts, Craft and ICT, not to mention functional skills, Personal and Social Development and many more subjects will all operate from Milestone House with the offer being developed further with time.

QAC student band perform at Birmingham town hall

QAC student band performingQueen Alexandra College (QAC) were delighted to have its student band ‘QAC Collective’ invited to deliver a ‘close of show’ performance at Birmingham Town Hall to celebrate 70 years of Midland Mencap.

On the evening of Friday 14 June, for one night only, Midland Mencap’s ‘Birmingham’s Big Noise’ event witnessed QAC students take to the stage and perform a set of four songs including their very own original song ‘Never Look Back’, doing themselves and QAC proud.

The evening was in two parts, a range of amazing live act performances from the main stage before the venue transformed into a nightclub with DJ’s and a bar.

Midland Mencap is a charity which works and campaigns for accessible and inclusive services and a better quality of life for everyone with experience of learning disabilities and additional needs. This inclusive celebration was enjoyed by all involved and provided an amazing experience for members of QAC Collective.

Orpheus centre students launch art exhibition

a colourful 3D art pieceThe Orpheus Centre launched its first ever Student Art Exhibition which was met with great success. The theme was identity. Testing the boundaries of our identity is the key factor that dominates actions of young people and so it felt a rich topic to explore in the visual arts. It has been a three-fold project for our students, exploring the artistic materials, gaining the qualifications and learning to draw from themselves for subject matter. All three aspects have been run concurrently. At the end of their time at the Orpheus Centre, our students will launch into the most independent stages of their lives so far. The students are positively supported to get to this point by all staff in respect of their academic, independence and practical skills as well as developing their emotional wellbeing and resilience. This enables them to prepare effectively for adulthood and continued success.

Tom’s Story: Success comes from mixing it up!

Back in November 2018 a group of students from Foxes Academy, a hospitality training hotel for young people with learning disabilities, attended a ‘Tourism Takeover Day’ hosted by Springboard South West. The event took place at the Headland Hotel & Spa, Newquay where Foxes’ students ran a workshop. Teams of young people competed to create the best ‘Foxy’ decorated cake in a 15 minute time slot. The teams were judged on their creativity, ability to problem solve and work collaboratively. The Foxes students also took part in other workshops, one of which was run by the London Cocktail Club (LCC). At the end of the day LCC’s founder, JJ Goodman, gave an inspiring speech about working life in the hospitality sector.

Work experience is an ‘interview’ for young people with disabilities

The Foxes’ crew really enjoyed their experience and the event helped them to think about the next stages of their careers. As third years they begin their transition into paid employment, supported by a Transition Team, who help them to make choices about where and who to live with, and also the type of work environment and employer that will suit their skills and personalities. For one young man, Tom Hawkins aged 22, the takeover day offered a chance to follow his dream of getting a paid job as a barman in London. After chatting with JJ Goodman Tom attended a day’s training at London Cocktail Club’s Oxford Circus venue. Matthew Dakers, Head of Training and Recruitment for LCC was able to see Tom’s customer care approach in a live bar environment. He offered him two days’ work experience. This job matching process further allowed Matthew to see Tom’s skills in greater depth as well as his ability to work as part of a dynamic team, much like an in-depth interview. We’re pleased to report that he got the job! A paid part-time role starting in summer 2019.

Tom mixing a cocktail

Tom is delighted by his offer of paid employment ”I was really happy to learn about making cocktails. The staff are helpful and the customers are good to you. I love being at the London Cocktail Club, it is important for my future.”

Meet Tom

During his three year course at Foxes Tom has gained an NVQ Level 1 Certificate in Hospitality Service along with nationally recognised qualifications in employability, presentation and food hygiene. In addition he has also had work experience with; CH&Co at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, the banqueting team at Taunton Race Course and in food preparation with a care home in Minehead (where Foxes is based). He also gave evidence to the Youth Select Committee on work experience, broke the British record for powerlifting (ABPU Disability 75kg Class Raw Squat 100kg) and appeared on BBC’s The One Show with Sally Phillips promoting disability employment – phew! All of this despite the daily challenges he faces as a result of having Down’s syndrome and moderate learning disabilities. It is really humbling; he never complains and is very clear on achieving his life goal. We wish him all the best in his chosen career.

Tom concentrating hard

Work Placement Success in Triplicate!

Hereward College students Luke Jay, Luke Jones and Luke Allen have all secured full time permanent jobs at Holiday Inn Kenilworth as a direct result of a supported internship with the hotel.

Supported internships are a work based study programme aimed at young people (aged 16 to 24) who have an education, health and care plan, and need extra support to move into employment.

Luke Allen has been offered a job as a waiter on the breakfast service and supporting hospitality events after spending 10 months working in a range of roles including reception, breakfast and dinner service, supporting events and generally meeting and greeting customers.

Luke Allen says: “It is a great working environment at Holiday Inn. The staff have been incredibly supportive and really helped me build my confidence. I have enjoyed experiencing new job roles in the workplace whilst developing new skills and feel incredibly proud to be able to join the team permanently.”

Luke Jay will be taking on the role of housekeeping and general maintenance having spent his time on the supported internship as part of the housekeeping team preparing rooms ready for guests and maintaining public areas.

Luke Jay says: “I was really nervous when I started and didn’t know what to say but thanks to this experience and the support of Hereward and Holiday Inn I have gained lots of skills to be able to work there. I am honoured to be a member of their staff and the housekeeping team.”

Luke Jones will be working permanently within the maintenance team where he has be doing a range of different roles from painting, general fixing, grounds maintenance and essential jobs  to support the day to day upkeep of the hotel as part of his supported internship.

Luke Jones says: “It has been a great feeling how much I have achieved from working at the Holiday Inn. The staff have been so encouraging and given me the confidence, communication skills and independence that I didn’t have before. I’ve learnt so many different skills on my internship placement and it is a privilege to be able to continue working here.”

Louise Sheepy, General Manager at Holiday Inn Kenilworth said: “We are very happy with the three Lukes who have all become extremely valuable members of our team.  It was our aim from the start of the supported internship to enable the young people to develop both personally and professionally, and we have certainly achieved that.

“Their fantastic approach to work and success has meant that we will continue our partnership with the college from September 2019, and I would highly recommend the programme to all employers in the Coventry and Warwickshire area.”

Rosie Herbert, Vice Principal at Hereward College said: “We are incredibly proud of our students getting such positive outcomes from their supported internships at Holiday Inn.  The support provided by the staff at Holiday Inn Kenilworth has been amazing and it’s great to be working with a company who feels as passionate about encouraging young people into employment as we are.”

Natspec Games 2019 – South West

The Natspec Games is a national sports competition that aims to provide inclusive sporting opportunities for young people with SEND. It is run in partnership with AoC Sport and is supported by Sport England. 2019 marks the fourth time the Natspec Games has run, this time in five different locations.

South West Games

Thursday 16 May 2019 marked the launch of the first annual South West Natspec Games, hosted by ROC College, Totnes (part of United Response) and held in Torbay Leisure Centre, Paignton. Students travelling from across the south west regions gathered together to participate in an exciting day of indoor and outdoor activities including football, cycling and tennis along with a few less familiar events such as Boccia and Taiko drumming.

Launching the Natspec GamesSeven Natspec member colleges throughout the south west regions attended on the day including: Fairfield Farm College, WESC, ROC College, Farleigh FE College, Eat That Frog, Exeter Deaf Academy and Foxes Academy. On hand to assist in the smooth running of events were an enthusiastic team of Sport Coaching & Development student volunteers from the neighbouring South Devon College in Torquay. James Heseltine-Carr and Aiden Lethbridge, two of the young volunteers, were keen to communicate how much of a privilege it was for them to be able to attend and help in the success of the day. They stressed that volunteering would help them broaden their understanding and skill base and in turn, gain a wider knowledge when working with special needs and disabled students to take them forward into their future careers.

The opening ceremony went off with a bang as Rebecca Quantrill, Education, Skill Training and Work 2 Work Manager for ROC College warmly welcomed the students to Paignton and outlined the days itinerary. All participants were invited to simply ‘have a go and try any of the activities on offer’. The emphasis was clearly placed on enjoyment and participation rather than competition. The ceremony concluded with an amazing cacophony of fun, excitement, noise, dance and colour as a group of students from ROC Creative performed an improvised music and dance extravaganza. Hard not to be motivated and moved by the enthusiasm displayed by the students involved, and in turn, the vibrant spectacle lead rapturously into the commencement of the day’s proceedings.

Students playing with parachute

Seven very different activities were on offer along with a detailed itinerary of which colleges should be where and when at any given time. The itinerary was aimed at creating a framework to focus the day and ensure everyone had a turn at each event. In the words of the ROC College Principal Therese Timberlake “each student and college will be able to roll with the day at their own pace. The overarching aim is to maintain a calm, fun and exciting atmosphere” and this aim was clearly achieved and evident in the faces of all the individual participants without exception.

Taiko Drumming, an outside pursuit due to the noise, was a great success and very popular amongst all the students. Led by Lucy and Hannah, the mini-workshop introduced the students to Japanese drums and drumming, and in Lucy’s own words, “It’s uniquely accessible, challenging and fun for all.” She evidently wasn’t wrong.

Other outdoor activities available included dance, football and cycling, and it was clear throughout the day that the warm weather, excellent facilities , and enthusiasm of all involved, ensured that ‘rolling with the day’ was certainly achieved in full measure and by all involved.

ROC college students welcoming people to the gamesShannon Howarth, Disability Development Officer from the Association of Colleges (AoC) Sports played a huge part in the planning of the events overall. She remarked on how well the day had gone, and stressed the importance of offering a safe environment for students to freely engage with one another, and hoped to engage all the same colleges and more next year to ensure the games go on to be bigger, better and more inclusive year on year. “The aim is that everyone finds something they enjoy doing and are compelled to continue it outside of today. In turn, this can lead to a healthy and active lifestyle going forward”.

A day out in Torbay is exciting enough, but include Bobby Singh, Team Leader for ROC Active, based in Torbay Leisure centre, and the excitement is raised to another level. With 16 years of experience and a solid gold team of committed and focussed individuals, it’s little wonder that the first Natspec Games held in the South West were a rip roaring success.

The day ended with many a big thank you, most notably, to the team at ROC College for their amazing planning, creative thinking and sheer determination in ensuring 2019 was a year to remember.

Student Voice Parliament – 11 June

Natspec’s Student Voice Parliament met for the fifth time at Seashell Trust on the 11 June. Nine different colleges were in attendance, from as far afield as Exeter, as well as representatives from the National Union of Students (NUS).

Students having a discussion

The theme of this parliament was ‘It’s okay to be different, be yourself’. Ben Kinross from NUS said ‘The event showed how Student Unions can look different and work differently but can change education and empower students just the same’

Throughout the day, students were invited to contribute their thoughts on a number of topics.

At first, students focussed on what they are good at. Activities like photography, football, video games, drumming and singing were mentioned. Some students were good at communicating, and another said they were good at work experience! Whilst it is of no surprise to anyone in the sector that our young people all have things they excel at, the students felt that this was not widely understood.

Student adding post-it note to busy wall

They also talked about what made them different. Thinking broadly, the students came up with all sorts of ways they were different from each over. Different cultures, languages, personalities, opinions, politics, were only a few things suggested. Some students spoke about the things that made them unique – “I’m always humming”, “Jumping up and down when happy & excited” and “I run around to calm myself.”

The discussion moved on to two key topics: “What do you need help with?” and “What should that help be like?”

Students were frank and honest about the ways in which they needed support. A lot of them were things everyone can relate too: managing money, staying positive, making important decisions and dealing with stress. Some things are relevant to lots of our students: help to live independently, understanding their emotions and help to travel independently and safely. Sometimes it was simple things – help with Maths and English, coordination, cutting food up. Others were things that directly related to student’s disabilities; a blind student stating then needed help reading print, signage, menus and info boards.

student adds first post-it note to wall

When asked who should provide help, and in what form that help should come, students were full of suggestions. Teachers, social workers, physios, parents & siblings, friends and doctors were all suggested as people who could provide help. When help should be provided, it should be ‘patient, understanding and caring’. Concern was raised about members of the general public being overly helpful when the students would rather tackle tasks themselves, and it was agreed that anyone helping needed to listen to what help was needed. Inclusion was a theme, as well. Students wanted to be included in social groups within the community as well as in work places.

They were also forthright in expressing what they believed people in the community needed to know. “I am equal to them, I have thoughts, feelings and wants like you do” was a sentiment expressed by one student, and others agreed with them. Greater understanding, of disabled people and their conditions, was desired by all, and patience was heavily requested. Students might just need a little more time to process or communicate what they need.

There were plenty ideas of how people in the community would access this information. Positive portrayals in the media – disabled characters being played by disabled actors – was mentioned. Involving members of the community in college events and celebrations was suggested – something that a lot of colleges already do! BSL & Makaton training was also brought up; basic sign language skills should be part of the school curriculum, and students should be able to do a GCSE in BSL.

Deaf Academy Students give a presentation

The parliament was also treated to a presentation by students at the Exeter Deaf Academy, who have been lobbying to ensure news items and important announcements by the government are signed.

Summing it up, one student commented: “I think it’s really important that this gathering happened.” Here at Natspec, we’ll certainly be considering all the students contributions carefully moving forward.

Emily Chapman said “Last week was so inspirational for me as Vice President Further Education. I heard the amazing ideas and work that specialist colleges are doing, I can see some amazing campaigns and work on the horizon. Seeing the Student Voice Parliament grow and grow over the past two years has been amazing and I’m sure it will lead to more.”

Sarah Laszlo, Natspec’s Learner Voice Coordinator, said: “It is my absolute privilege to be able to gather and work with learners from specialist colleges across the country. This event brought forward some huge thinking on important issues for students with learning difficulties and disabilities and I was delighted at the level of engagement throughout the day. I’m excited to take the Student Voice Parliament and its members to further empowerment in the future.”

Natspec’s next Student Voice Parliament will be hosted on the 12 November at Queen Alexandra College in Birmingham. We are also hosting a workshop for Learner Voice Practitioners on 8 October at Derwen College, Shropshire.

Natspec Highlights | May 2019

It’s been another busy month for our colleges! At Natspec, we were delighted to see so many colleges and students participate in the Natspec Games over the month – and there’s still the South East Games to get involved with in June.

We’ve got some exciting things to watch in this edition of the Highlights, as students from Catcote Academy have been producing their own cookery show, and RNIB college has been hosting a film festival! Students have also gotten involved with the great outdoors, tackling mountains and canoeing canals to complete expeditions, whilst others have been working out how to use digital technology to express themselves.

Read on for stories about the following:

  1. Catcote Academy launches a second series of cookery programme.
  2. Portland College student Jess wins Emerging Artist Award!
  3. Learners from Eat That Frog get a bite of the digital skills apple!
  4. Cambian Lufton learners tackle the Ten Tors
  5. Learners at Homefield College play at Leicester City FC.
  6. Seòl Trust Open Day: 18 June 2019.
  7. Derwen College Students Going for Gold, Silver and Bronze.
  8. The 2019 Shorties Film Festival at RNIB College.
  9. Talking to Support Staff at Bridge College.
  10. Expanse Learning’s Latest Recruit
  11. Hedleys College students become ambassadors to their favourite football team new social campaign ‘United As One’
  12. Hereward College shortlisted for national award for supported employment work.
  13. Ready, Steady, Cook at Queen Alexandra College
  14. Upcoming Events

Catcote Academy launches a second series of cookery programme

Look out Gordon Ramsay! The students of Catcote Futures College in Hartlepool have their very own weekly cookery programme! The show is called Catcote Cooks and each week the students demonstrate how to make simple, functional snacks and meals to increase independence skills.

Teacher Pete Wells said “I’m thrilled at how excited the students are to be part of the project and, of course, with the progress and skills they have demonstrated. As well as showing their awesome cooking prowess, the students have to be mindful of keeping the audience engaged, which is really important. So, like the very best celebrity chefs, they try to ensure there are no boring silences, which is great for their communication skills.”

The Catcote Cooks crew have a diverse range of needs and the college is keen to highlight the use of assistive technologies to allow all learners to be an integral part of the show. Student and presenter James Dean has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, and his movement limited primarily to his head and thumbs. He not only uses switches to control the kitchen appliances used in the show, but he also composed the theme tune. He said “Using the technology gives me independence and allows me to show the world what I can do!”

New presenter Conor Lambert said “I watched the first episodes of Catcote Cooks during my Easter holidays to give me tips on how to present. I really enjoy doing it, it’s my favourite lesson of the week!”

The web-based series is updated weekly and is in its second season.

Portland College student Jess wins Emerging Artist Award!

Jess with her Be Mighty Be Creative AwardOne of Portland College’s first year learners, Jessica Fisher, last month won an award at the ‘Be Mighty Be Creative Awards 2019’ which were organised by The Mighty Creatives, a Midlands-based charity working with children and young people to provide them with creative opportunities.

Jess was awarded with The Young Emerging Artist Award following her work with a developer of a wheelchair controller through which she can play music. She has performed at the Mansfield Palace Theatre and at the Metronome in Nottingham showcasing this amazing piece of equipment. Jess has also been invited to perform at a BBC Introducing Gig with Dean Jackson on the 27 June.

Jess’s tutor Lianne Worth said: “Jess’s family, myself and her progression tutor, Verity Cartwright, are extremely proud of this achievement and are hopeful that this will lead to further opportunities for Jess in the future.”

Learners from Eat That Frog get a bite of the digital skills apple!

Learners from Eat that Frog display the drawings they've made on iPadsLearners from Eat That Frog’s South Devon centres have been working closely with local Apple representatives to help them make the most of the latest technology. Apple originally approached ETF to offer a training day for staff, who were shown how to use the new iPad Pro to its full potential.

Staff then arranged for a mixed group of digital skills and creative learners to experience this for themselves, giving learners the chance to experiment with a design app called ‘Procreate’. With this application they drew artistic portraits (mostly of their tutor!). After creating their portraits the learners began tinkering around with tools the application had to offer, creating beautiful symmetrical drawings.

The learners all expressed great pleasure in learning how to use their technology better, and said they’d love to explore more in the future, which is great, as Apple are keen to keep collaborating with Eat That Frog throughout the next academic year!

Cambian Lufton learners tackle the Ten Tors

Cambian Lufton students climbing the TorsOn the 10 and 11 May, three Cambian Lufton College learners took part in the Ten Tors Challenge on Dartmoor. The group set up camp on the Friday for the overnight stay and completed their challenge walk on the Saturday. Our college team completed the Jubilee Challenge Route 2 in just over 4 hours and were the first team back.

Learners at Homefield College play at Leicester City FC

A student excited about visiting the King Power stadium

Seven students from Homefield College had the chance to show off their skills at the home of Leicester City Football Club. Gracing King Power Stadium’s hallowed turf, the students participated in a memorable ‘Play on the Pitch’ football tournament.

The team had a fantastic day, playing five separate matches with some difficult opposition. The Homefield students came together with great team spirit and made the most of a very special day.

Seòl Trust Open Day: 18 June 2019

The Seòl Trust buildingRuskin Mill Trust are proud to announce the opening of their latest provision, the Seòl Trust, this Summer 2019. Set in 60 acres of beautiful woodland in East Lothian, this day provision offers people with complex needs, aged 18+ years the opportunity to build self-confidence and improve independence through experiencing meaningful craft, land and practical skills based activities. Progression towards internship, apprentices, employment and accreditations are available through a programme built around the unique Trust method of Practical Skills and Therapeutic Education (PSTE). Pishwanton Wood is a site for environmental education, research and holistic practice, offering opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to renew and deepen their relationship with nature.

Derwen College Students Going for Gold, Silver and Bronze

Derwen College students have faced wet weather, blisters and nights under canvas this month in preparation for challenging Duke of Edinburgh’s (D of E) Awards. A total of 44 students have been training for their Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards on gruelling practice expeditions. Students have covered miles of road, canal and lake in the build up to demanding treks which will see them achieving Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards.

16 Bronze Award students tackled a 5km walk across Pontcysyllte Aqueduct into Chirk in preparation for a two-day expedition around the Chirk area. 22 Silver students spent three days and two nights on a canoeing and camping expedition along the Llangollen canal, completing a gruelling 26 kilometres on the water.

Six students have been working towards the most challenging Gold Award. Students spent five days and four nights at Glan Llyn activity centre on the shores of Lake Bala taking part in a range of outdoor activities and helped instructors deliver activities to school children. They also undertook a four day and three night trek in the Beddgelert area of Snowdonia, walking 10km each day

Steve Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards leader and Sports Coordinator at Derwen College says: “The D of E programme is challenging and gives our students the chance to develop skills for life and work. It promotes independence, pushing young people out of their comfort zone. As well as gaining a nationally recognised award, achievement of the D of E evidences commitment and dedication whilst developing problem solving, independent thinking and leadership attributes; skills that the students can use in other areas of life. It is recognised as the world’s leading youth award and can enhance employment and independence – something we actively promote at Derwen College.”

  • Students setting off on their DoE expedition

The 2019 Shorties Film Festival at RNIB College

A student receives a certificate for participating in the film festivalOn Wednesday 8 May, budding filmmakers, directors and producers came together for the Shorties Film Festival at RNIB College Loughborough.

Following on from the success of last year’s film festival, the 2019 Shorties were held to give students, staff and friends of the College an opportunity to show off their best work in the form of a short film. Entries included a film about staying safe on the internet, short animated movies, an instructional DIY video and an insight into what Darth Vader does on his days off!

The audience enjoyed an independent screening of ten films that had been submitted by staff and students of RNIB College Loughborough, Forest Way School, Homefield College and Gateway College.

The film festival was organised by one of the tutors at RNIB College Loughborough, Anna Janickyj, who said;

“This year we moved from Stop Motion Films to Short Films for the Festival. We had 10 very different and interesting films in different genres. Two of this year’s films are part of a series; one continuing the story of Psycho the Squirrel and the other continuing the ‘How Darth Vader Learned to Love…’ series. We also had a number of documentary films for the first time including a film about how to make a work bench. We received 3 external entries from other colleges and schools, so it was good to see their work. We did, of course, have the odd technical glitch, which was quickly resolved. I was pleased to hand out a Certificate of Participation to each entrant and sell a few DVDs featuring all of this year’s films. I hope that we continue with the Short Film Festival next year, and I would like to see many more external entries”.

You can watch some of this year’s submissions here.

Talking to Support Staff at Bridge College

Jade Cole from Bridge College caught up with two of their support workers to chat about what makes them proud, the highs and lows at Bridge College and what inspires them. Sandi says “it’s about ensuring the students feel like they’re in a safe happy environment so they can do their work.”

Debbie says: “One student stands out for me. When he first arrived at college he was working with three support workers and displaying very challenging behaviours. We’ve worked together as a team and now three years later he can manage his behaviours really well! Currently he doesn’t display any challenging behaviours and that’s because of all the input from the staff team.”

You can read more of the interview here.

Expanse Learning’s Latest Recruit

Student with Molly the therapy dogExpanse Learning recently welcomed a new member to the team in Molly, School’s Therapy Dog. Research shows that therapy dogs have the ability to ‘reduce depression, PTSD symptoms, and anxiety’. Therefore, for a specialist school supporting students with SEND, a therapy dog is the perfect fit.

During an average school day, Molly, who belongs to Expanse Learning’s CEO Tony, sits in class with our students, offering therapeutic respite throughout the day, where needed. During break time the students can interact with her, take her for a walk around the school grounds or even play ball with her.

Molly has been supporting our students-she has been settling anxieties and putting smiles on lots of faces. She brings a real sense of excitement to the school and is proving to be one of the main attractions.

Molly is a lively dog, enjoys all the attention and the time spent with students and is really helping to improve the emotional wellbeing of both students and staff at the school. She is a wonderful asset to our team.

Hedleys College students become ambassadors to their favourite football team new social campaign ‘United As One’

"This is an opportunity for different types of people to come together and enjoy the experience" - Harry"I want all clubs to let people know everyone is welcome with open arms" - EwanNewcastle United Football Club, supported by its own former frontman Shola Ameobi, has recently launched a campaign ‘United As One’. We were thrilled to hear when the club has invited Hedleys College students, who are currently attending work experience at St James Park, to become the campaign ambassadors. Both Ewan and Harry are over the moon to become a part of the campaign that they strongly believe in. United As One’ aims to end discrimination and inequality in football and society and improve social inclusion in the sport by linking the club’s work in the fields of diversity, inclusion and welfare under one banner.

Hereward College shortlisted for national award for supported employment work

Hereward College in Coventry has been shortlisted as a finalist for the ERSA Employability Awards 2019 in the Disability and Health Employment category. Now in its seventh year, the ERSA Employability Awards celebrate best practice across the employment support sector and seek to demonstrate the day-to-day hard work and dedication of those working to improve the lives of jobseekers, communities and the wider workforce.

The college has been shortlisted for the Disability and Health Employment award, which recognises an employment services provider who has demonstrated exceptional commitment in supporting jobseekers with disabilities and health conditions to achieve sustained employment.

Its highly successful supported internship scheme has seen rapid expansion, with over 55% of participating learners achieving sustained employment as a result.

As a successful finalist, Hereward College will attend a special ceremony on 20 June with the Minister for Employment, Alok Sharma MP.

Paul Cook, Principal, Hereward College said:“We are delighted that our work has been shortlisted for this national award. Our Supported Internship model has shown real results and continues to grow year on year, showing demonstrable benefits to both learners and business.”

Ready, Steady, Cook at Queen Alexandra College

Student cooks preparing for competitionAs part of Queen Alexandra College’s ongoing healthy eating project, they invited the School Food Showdown to deliver interactive workshops to students.

Chef Ian explained why breakfast is important, the five food groups and why less healthy food should only be eaten in moderation. The session culminated in two student groups (red and green) competing against each other to produce the best healthy meal. The audience voted on the best dish with their green and red cards.

There were two competing rounds and all the student groups involved tried to produce the winning dish; one of the groups produced a Birmingham Stew which was unknown to the entire audience and unfortunately didn’t end up as the group had intended. Despite this, it was a great morning and the students had lots of fun.

Loosely based on the popular TV show ‘Ready, Steady, Cook!’ students found the workshops exhilarating, fun, highly interactive and educational. Chef Ian offered students advice and guidance throughout and kept the audience entertained and engaged!

Upcoming Events

Students were busy throughout May attending the North-West, Yorkshire and Humber, Midlands and Wales and South West Natspec Games. Still to come is the South East Natspec Games, happening on 20 June in Sussex.

The next meeting of the Student Voice Parliament is also coming up on 11 June at the Seashell Trust in Manchester. It’s been two years since we set up the Student Voice Parliament and it’s exciting to see it go from strength to strength.

Announcing the TechAbility Conference – Raising Standards

At Natspec, we know the impact that technology can have on student’s lives. It’s why we launched the TechAbility service, which aims to support providers to make effective use of assistive technology. The TechAbility Conference, happening on 21 November 2019 in Birmingham, aims to build on this by showcasing good practice and enabling you to raise the standard of assistive technology provision in your organisation.

Fil McIntyre, one of Natspec’s assistive technologists, said: “This conference is focussed on how Assistive Technology can be used to ensure learners reach their goals. All presentations are firmly based on practice and use, no matter what the technology. We are also excited to introduce the TechAbility Standards as a new way for you to measure your Assistive Technology provision”

Bookings for the conference are open now and we hope that as many of you as possible can join us.

group examining a piece of assistive technology

Keynote Speakers

We are delighted to announce Professor Janice Murray, Sal Cooke and Robert McLaren as our keynote speakers for this event.

Janice Murray is a professor at Manchester Metropolitan University, specialising in Augmentative and Alternative Communication. From 2016-2019 Janice was the Chief Investigator on the NIHR funded research project ‘Identifying Appropriate Symbol Communication Aids for Children who are non-speaking: enhancing clinical decision making’.

Sal Cooke is a director of the Karten Network and a council member of the British Assistive Technology Association. Sal has previously worked with the Department for Education and Skills, JISC, and a number of schools and colleges. Currently, Sal is particularly interested in working with specialist colleges.

Robert McLaren is head of the industry technology and innovation team at Policy Connect, a think tank dedicated to improving people’s lives by influencing policy. Policy Connect administer the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology, which aims to facilitate engagement on assistive technology amongst Members of both Houses of Parliament, thereby raising the profile of AT and enabling it to help more people.


Assistive Technologist demonstrating the use of a tabletWe have several informative and educational workshops happening throughout the day that will help enhance your assistive technology provision. A wide variety of topics will be covered, with more workshops to be confirmed shortly. Already confirmed are:

Opportunities for Professional Development in Assistive Technology – Paul Doyle, Access Centre Manager, Hereward College & Matt Daly, Assistive Technologist, Seashell Trust

AT Solutions for People with Visual Impairment – Anna Janickyj, RNIB College

Identifying Appropriate Symbol Communication Aids; presentation of a research project – Janice Murray, Manchester Metropolitan University on behalf of the whole team and project collaborators (Barnsley Assistive Technology Service, the University of Leeds).

What Use is 3D Printing? – Matt Daly, Assistive Technologist, Royal College Seashell Trust

Implementing Assistive Technology: What can Specialist Colleges and General FE Colleges learn from each other? – Rohan Slaughter, Subject Specialist, JISC

Demystifying Switching – Hannah Golding, Assistive Technology Manager, Treloar College

Throughout the Day

All delegates will get the chance to discuss and share their opinions on current topics in assistive technology with our experts, and the day will end with a panel discussion where everyone can get involved.

There will also be lunchtime drop-in sessions and demonstrations, with the chance to get hands on with current assistive technology and see how to use it effectively.

An agenda for the day is now available and we hope to see you there.