Coronavirus and Specialist Colleges: What’s the State of Play?

Across the country, there are over 100 specialist colleges which deliver further education and training for students with learning difficulties and / or disabilities. Since the general closure of schools and colleges in mid-March, specialist colleges have been working hard to maintain provision.

To assess the impact of coronavirus on specialist colleges, Natspec conducted two surveys: firstly examining the state of play in the week commencing 23 March (the first week of the stricter lockdown rules) and the second in early May.

The results show how the seven weeks of shutdown has affected provision both on and off-site and look to the future in terms of what impact COVID-19 will have on specialist FE provision in the longer term. The response rate was high: 70% in the first survey and 56% in the second. The survey took place before the most recent announcements about the planned re-opening of education settings from June 1, but colleges were asked how they were preparing to readmit students.

Tes FE News have published a write up of the survey.

The Findings

Broadly, the survey revealed that the sector is coping with the existing challenges, and the situation is improving from March. More college sites are open, and to a wider range of learners, though the majority remain at home. Senior Leaders are looking ahead on how to expand provision for more learners to return to face-to-face learning.

However, the survey also revealed significant concerns going forward to the next academic year. 31% of specialist colleges have no students confirmed to start in September, despite the Children and Families Act stating that placements should be agreed by March 31. Although this deadline is routinely missed, the COVID-19 outbreak has exacerbated the situation with decision-making significantly slowed or stalled. The lockdown is making it difficult to assess incoming students, and normal procedures for transition are being disrupted.

Not only is this causing considerable stress and anxiety for young people, who are unsure where they might be for the next academic year, it also has serious financial implications for specialist colleges. Colleges are unable to plan for the upcoming year, not knowing how many students they have or what funding they will receive, and a number of colleges are reporting concerns about the financial health of their organisations.

The Survey

The full write up of the survey, with comparisons between the situation in May and March, is also available to download.

Natspec Highlights March 2020

We end March in a very different position from where we started it.

The COVID-19 crisis has placed new pressures on specialist colleges, and they have risen to the challenge in ensuring the young people they care for are kept safe – whether this is within college or at home. We are continuing to keep our guidance about the pandemic for specialist colleges up-to-date with new information as we have it. Natspec remains open to support our members through this time.

As these stories cover the period of the entirety of March – and some from before – they cover a time when learners were still able to go out safely into their local communities. Right now, specialist colleges are focussed on keeping students safe, whether by remaining open for vulnerable young people or by providing the means for them to continue their education at home.

Read on for stories about how colleges got involved in National Careers Week, get involved with developing local and national policy, and success at a dance competition! Plus, this month’s announcement of the Natspec Award’s shortlist.


  1. Announcing the shortlist for the 2020 Natspec Awards
  2. National Careers Week
  3. Basic Skills award for Homefield students
  4. Queen Alexandra College students attend the Midlands Colleges Parliamentary Reception
  5. Learners Become Inspectors!
  6. Work placement success for Trinity Specialist College students
  7. All the right moves for Derwen Dance Crew
  8. A specialist team that helps children and young people to communicate has grown
  9. New College Worcester hosts Dine in the Dark

Announcing the shortlist for the 2020 Natspec Awards

The Natspec Awards aim to recognise and celebrate excellent practice in the specialist further education sector. We want to promote innovation, continuous improvement, and raise standards across the sector. As specialist colleges strive to carry on supporting their learners despite the uncertainties and challenges presented by COVID-19, we hope to celebrate the hard work they do.

On Monday, we were very happy to announce the 18 shortlisted entries.

The winners will now be announced at Natspec’s Principals Forum on the 8 October.

National Careers Week

A number of Natspec colleges got involved in National Careers Week, demonstrating everything they do to help learners move into employment. Here are stories from just some of the colleges who participated.

Portland College

At Portland College, learners took part in Application and Interview Day which were organised by the college’s Information, Advice, Guidance and Transition team.

On Monday they created application forms. Then, on Thursday they took part in practice job interviews with external employers from Cerealto, Creswell Crags, Nottinghamshire County Council and Your Space Health and Fitness Club. The employers gave positive feedback to the learners and tips on areas to develop.

Derwen College

Students at Derwen College took on work-related tasks and challenges in Horticulture, Retail, Hospitality and Housekeeping, and Performing Arts.

A number of 'i couldn't but I can now' posters, with things such as 'learn my lines' 'make ceramic bowls' and 'do karate' listedStudents were invited to take part in a poster competition highlighting the work and independence skills they had learnt whilst at College. The ‘I couldn’t, but now I can …” competition received 47 entries which demonstrated a huge variety of skills. Themes varied across employment, independence and social skills and included skills such as using a till in the Orangery Restaurant, learning lines for a performance, making sandwiches, using kitchen knife skills, folding clothes and going out to work in the community.

Of the competition, Derwen College Governor Barbara Court said: “It was inspiring to see such a large number of entries covering a diverse range of skills and knowledge that students recognised they had acquired whilst at College. These were transferable skills that will serve students in their work and independence skills at College, and in the future.”

The week also offered the opportunity for businesses and employers to visit to see how Derwen College supports students into work, and to view a demonstration of the College’s newly developed CV Builder app.

Derwen has created and developed innovative new apps to further support students into work. The College has developed a suite of apps as part of a ‘Support Work’ project, funded via the Marches LEP Growth Deal with Government for capital skills projects.

Derwen College Quality Manager Samantha Brown said that the College is constantly supporting students in the pursuit of suitable employment, and they were pleased to focus on National Careers Week.

She said, “Careers Week provides a platform to celebrate the wider world of work. By embracing an across-college approach to career guidance and providing an insight into future work or learning possibilities through positive and fun exploration, we hope to empower students to develop and express their own aspirations.”

Basic Skills award for Homefield students

Students from Homefield College with their certificatesSix students from Homefield College successfully completed the Basic Skills course at Giving World, a charity that redistributes end-of-the-line and surplus products to communities in need. Each week a different student took on the role of group leader, demonstrating the task for that session and assigning duties to each team member. Over the course of eight weeks, the team quality-checked and packaged 5000 toothbrushes, 3000 pencils and hundreds of school jumpers. It was a great experience enjoyed by all the group, who developed their communication, team-working and leadership skills.

Queen Alexandra College students attend the Midlands Colleges Parliamentary Reception

Two students from QAC attending the parliamentary receptionQueen Alexandra College (QAC) were recently invited to attend the annual ‘Celebrating Midlands Colleges’ Parliamentary reception in London. The event, organised by the Association of Colleges (AoC), provided a great opportunity to celebrate the significant contribution colleges make to communities and local economies in the East and West Midlands.

QAC sent two of their Student Council Reps, Connor and Adam, as well as Deputy Principal Jan Gormley and Curriculum Area Manager Andy Ainsworth to represent QAC!

They all had a brilliant time and were able to take away some useful information from the various speakers and guests, such as the Secretary of State for Education and a number of MPs.

Learners Become Inspectors!

Learners from portland college contribute to a table discussionIn March, four learners from Portland College – Ryan and Tyler from the Demonstrate learner journey and Matthew and Chelsea from the Progress journey – attended a Young Inspectors co-production event that was held in Leicester.

The East Midlands is looking at reforming their SEND policy and has representation from professionals and families, but currently they have no input from children and young people.

This event trained young people as young inspectors who can go into services across the county. There, they can provide feedback based on their own experiences and make recommendations for improvements across the service.

The learners had a great day and represented themselves and Portland College very well. They all hope to be inspecting their first service very soon!

Work placement success for Trinity Specialist College students

Jack gives a thumbs up in his Asda uniformJack, from Trinity Specialist College, secured a week placement at ASDA Minworth after being successful at interview. He worked 9.00 until 3.00 on Monday 9th until Friday 13th of March with support from key staff.

Jack developed excellent speaking and listening skills by communicating with a range of customers and co-workers, he followed direction and exceeded expectations. Jack’s responsibilities included replenishing stock, checking for out of date items, supporting customers to find what they want and rumbling where you have to put all the things back people leave around the store. By the end of the week he was restocking twelve trollies of items in only a few hours.

Jack learnt a lot about the history of ASDA and delivered a short presentation to his peers at Trinity Specialist College.

Jack stated “it was hard work and the days where long, but I made new friends, learnt lots of new skills and even accepted banter from some members of the public. I found it a rewarding experience and it made me realise I would like to work in this area when I leave college”.

Hanniel secured a voluntary role at The National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas after a successful interview. He attended his first meet and greet session, meeting other volunteers new and old. He was a little nervous at first but did brilliantly standing up in front of a room full of people with no support. He introduced himself, talked about interests and was confident to answer questions put to him. It was a great opportunity to engage in conversations around the table throughout the day.

Hanniel has since started to volunteer on a weekly basis at the Arboretum. He wears his volunteers uniform with pride and works hard throughout his four hour shift. He helps within the food services department clearing and cleaning the tables, helping with drinks and condiments and is becoming confident in answering questions from visitors about the Arboretum. He is building good relationships with other volunteers who enjoy his company and have been extremely helpful in making Hanniel feel part of the team. The Arboretum has over 300,000 visitors a year and gets extremely busy during peak hours, Hanniel has successfully adapted to the fast pace of the catering department.

Hanniel will have the opportunity to complete training at the Arboretum and is already booked to go on a first aid course. The Arboretum staff have organised a trip to The Back to Back Houses in Birmingham as a thankyou to the volunteers and Hanniel is looking forward to attending.

Hanniel stated “I really like going to the Arboretum especially seeing lots of new people. I really like helping the people there. It is busy, but have lots of tasks to do and this keeps me occupied…you also get lunch and the food is amazing!”.

All the right moves for Derwen Dance Crew

A group shot of the Derwen Dance Crew in their matching red jacketsDerwen Dance Crew (DDC), made up of talented students from Derwen College entered Nexstar dance competition in Wolverhampton. The team performed as a group and with individual performances, receiving standing ovations from the audience and professional judges.

The team of 10 students were thrilled to win first prize in the over 16s SEN Street Crew category.

Students Ben and Billie-Jo also wowed judges when competing against mainstream dance schools. Ben was awarded second place in the over-16s mainstream Street solo, and Billie-Jo achieved fifth place in the over-16s mainstream contemporary solo.

The judges were impressed by the high standard of DDC, with two handing out the highest possible marks for the group’s performance. The achievement was made especially incredible as DDC was only launched in January, giving students just six weeks of rehearsal time to learn four group dances.

Student Ben was delighted to receive a trophy for his performance in the mainstream street dance competition. The Performing Arts student, whose speciality is the ‘freeze frame’ move, said he was very happy with DDC’s success.

“I was emotional and cried happy tears. I was very proud to dance in front of my parents and in memory of my grandma who recently passed away,” he said.

“It felt like I was a professional dancer. I have been dancing a long time and would like to do it as a career. Carrying on my Street Dancing at Derwen College has made me more confident.

Ben has been performing street dance since he was at school and said he was pleased to be able to share his skills with Derwen College students.

A specialist team that helps children and young people to communicate has grown

A specialist speech and language therapy team at Doncaster Deaf Trust that helps children and young people to communicate has grown.

The Speech and Language Therapy Team works with children and young people who are deaf, hard of hearing or have communication needs including autism at Doncaster School for the Deaf and Communication Specialist College Doncaster, both under the Doncaster Deaf Trust management.

Emma Robinson and Lauren Woodcock, who have been delivering the specialist support for almost five years are looking forward to welcoming a new member Emma to the team.

Emma said: “We are really excited to be growing the Speech and Language Therapy team based onsite at Doncaster Deaf Trust. We are looking forward to Emma Taylor joining us in February and helping us to provide the support the children and young people at school and college need. We get involved in all aspects of the pupils and students’ educational journey, right from the initial assessments to working out individual plans to meet their communication needs.”

Alexis Johnson, executive principal said: “We are pleased to be expanding this vital service for our children and young people. Along with our onsite audiologist, the Speech and Language team are a real part and parcel of the fabric of our organisation.

“Our pupils, students and their parents have the support they need from the team to ensure that individual needs are met via this specialist one to one and group service.

“Lauren and Emma both go above and beyond what is expected of them to ensure that our young people build their communication confidence and we are sure that with the extra resource we are investing in the team will have even more impact.”

Helping others learn British Sign Language

Doncaster Deaf Trust have also launched a new online course allowing anyone to sign up and learn British Sign Language up to level one. This is a great opportunity to learn some basic sign language – you never know when it might become useful!

New College Worcester hosts Dine in the Dark

Learner and Felice Tocchini in the kitchen preparing foodA charity event that has been in the planning for two years finally came to fruition in March and what an impressive event it was! With the support of top local Chef, Felice Tocchini, NCW held its first ever blindfold dinner at Feli’s Bar and Restaurant in Worcestershire. Guests wore a blindfold and enjoyed a four course meal, which was a truly sensational sensory experience. Each course was attractively presented and was a gastronomic treat. Diners were encouraged to wear their blindfolds throughout the meal but found it really difficult. It was a real insight into some of challenges faced daily by people who are vision impaired.

NCW students Andrew and Stuart worked alongside Felice Tocchini in preparing for the event. Both are studying Level 3 Food Science and Nutrition. He explained how to make sauces and mousses as well as demonstrated the skills of smoking ingredients and rolling pastry properly. These dishes were then incorporated into the exciting menu that Felice had devised.

During the event Andrew and Stuart helped host the evening, answering questions to enable diners to explore the world of vision impairment. They were confident and articulate and explained that although they have a vision impairment they have learnt to accept and manage it in order to achieve success.

Ms Emanuel, Head of Independent Living Skills said: “As a teacher you can inspire and have belief, and students here need to trust you and have the confidence to take risks. It is an absolute honour to have taught Stuart and Andrew since year 8 and to have seen them grow, learn and believe in themselves.”

Announcing the shortlist for the 2020 Natspec Awards

The Natspec Awards aim to recognise and celebrate excellent practice in the specialist further education sector. We want to promote innovation, continuous improvement, and raise standards across the sector. As specialist colleges strive to carry on supporting their learners despite the uncertainties and challenges presented by COVID-19, we hope to celebrate the hard work they do.

Today, we are pleased to announce the shortlisted entries for the awards.

2020 is the inaugural year of the awards, recognising six areas of practice where specialist providers are doing amazing and incredible things. Shortlisted entries will now go forward to be considered by an independent panel of experts chaired by Nigel Evans former lead HMI for High Needs.

Initially, the awards were to be presented at Natspec’s National Conference in May. This is, unfortunately, no longer possible. But we are determined to celebrate this year’s awards winners and have therefore decided to postpone the announcement on winners to the 8 October, at the Principals’ Forum. This will give us a chance to present the awards the way we want to, and celebrate the specialist sector amongst friends.

Clare Howard, Natspec’s Chief Executive said:

“At Natspec we greatly value the skills and talents of staff working in the specialist further education sector. Their work deserves to be recognised and celebrated and the Natspec Awards provide the perfect opportunity to do this.

In this first year of the Natspec Awards we were delighted to receive over 50 entries from members. The entries covered a great variety of work illustrating the diverse and innovative practice across the specialist further education sector.

Overall, the standard of entries was high, and some difficult decisions had to be made when finalising the shortlists.

I am pleased to announce the shortlisted entries for each award category. Many congratulations to all who have made to the shortlists and many thanks to everyone who sent in entries this year.”

The shortlist

Innovative Use of Technology

A staff member assisting a learner with a virtual reality viewer

Derwen College

National Star College

WESC Foundation

Pathways into Employment

A student practising hospitality skills in a hotel room

Camphill Wakefield

Heart of Birmingham Vocational College

Landmarks College

Student Voice

Two students giving a presentation at the student voice parliament

Coleg Elidyr

Eat that Frog CIC

Elfrida Rathbone Camden – Leighton College

Wellbeing and Mental Health

A staff member and a learner communicate by sign language

Ambitious College

ESPA College

Queen Alexandra College

Inter-disciplinary working

A group of people have a discussion around a table

Bridge College

National Star College

RNIB College Loughborough

Partnership working

Two women work together looking at a laptop

Derwen College

Link19 College

Wargrave House LEAP College

Learning Support/Care Assistant (LSCA) – The Orpheus Centre, Surrey

The Orpheus Centre in Godstone, Surrey is seeking an enthusiastic and experienced Learning Support/Care Assistant.

35 hours per week, 44 weeks a year (hours may be altered on occasions according to the needs of the curriculum and organisation).

  • To support courses which are designed for those with learning difficulties and/or disabilities aged between 18 and 25, to learn more independence skills, demonstrate transferability of skills into their daily lives and progress into a supported living environment.
  • To provide support for students with severe and complex learning difficulties and/or disabilities (LDD), and tutors to ensure the delivery of an effective programme of further education and to work as part of a co-ordination team.
  • Communicate with parents and/or carers on a daily basis and set up communication books if required.
  • Meet and greet students as they come to the Centre and at the end of the day check they are leaving on the correct transport/sign them out.
  • Working with the whole class, a small group or individual learners as required.
  • Supporting and complementing the role of the tutor and where necessary, assisting in the preparation of the teaching environment and equipment under the tutor’s guidance.
  • Cleaning away materials and filing the students work.
  • Encouraging students to demonstrate appropriate social skills as well as behaving appropriately in public settings; including all areas of the College.
  • To be flexible in meeting individual student’s need(s) and deliver discreet support to named students.
  • To ensure accurate individual student records are maintained.
  • Helping to build students’ confidence and motivation.
  • Acting as liaison between tutor and student.
  • Providing LSCA team members and relevant tutors with information in relation to aspects of student’s behaviour, education and welfare.
  • Encouraging students to demonstrate appropriate social skills as well as behaving appropriately in public settings; including all areas of the College.
  • Assisting with a wide range of medical and personal care tasks as necessary and providing physical support where needed.
  • Must have the ability to communicate effectively with other professionals, colleagues, service users and families/carers and have the ability to support individuals with their personal hygiene and intimate care needs in a respectful and dignified manner.
  • To have an understanding of the changing needs of adults with a learning disability and must have regard for the dignity, respect and rights of students.
  • The role requires a great deal of flexibility and some manual handling tasks are also intrinsic to this post. Personal care is part of the duties of this role and training will be provided in giving medical care and support.
  • Participating in all timetabled activities, providing personal assistance and supervision for students before, during and after lessons.
  • Taking necessary action in an accident or emergency such as; following fire procedures, requesting necessary assistance or taking over a group of students.
  • Participating in team meetings and training programmes as an active member of the team, where appropriate.
  • Working with managers and employees to support the developing culture of the learning organisation.
  • To support learners with managing behaviour and accessing the curriculum.
  • Helping students understand and undertake set tasks in an appropriate way including note taking and supporting with literacy and numeracy.

Salary: £16,275 – £17,187

For further details please check out the full job description. To apply, please email

Supported Work Placement Coordinator – The Orpheus Centre, Surrey

Supported Work Placement Coordinator in Learning on a 2 year fixed term contact basis.  Salary up to £25k per annum,

This is a full time role 35 hours per week, 52 weeks per year and is funded by by the National Lottery Community Fund.

Main Duties

Coordinating the Supported Internship and Work Placement Programme effectively by

  • using agreed planning strategies that meet the project outcomes
  • develop and maintain the project to meet ESFA requirements
  • contributing to the effective utilisation and timetabling of the programme resources
  • liaising with the English, Maths & learning Support Team, learning team, parents, employers and other providers to ensure clear communication between all groups
  • working with the fundraising and marketing team to ensure the programme is widely publicised and promoted including the sharing of regular updates of progress and successful outcomes

Ensuring the Supported Internship and Work Placements programmes meet the needs of students and employers by:

  • Carrying out an audit of the local area identifying and engaging with suitable employers regarding offering job opportunities for young people with SEN whilst on programme
  • cultivating strong working relationships with employers and building a database of appropriate links
  • identifying areas where there is growth and demand for employees to inform curriculum planning
  • working with final year students with SEN to match them to suitable employment opportunities
  • co-ordinate and facilitate the transition arrangements for students progressing into employment
  • ensuring students are well prepared to engage with employers and their respective job roles
  • providing workshop sessions which develop and address relevant employment skills, matching these activities to the needs of all learners
  • leading reflective workshop-style sessions after supported internship placements to help learners identify strengths and goals
  • supporting students on a day-to-day basis on their work placements providing job coaching in the workplace and responding to student needs
  • learning the work place duties of each placement and make any modifications (label cabinets, simplifies written instructions, etc.) necessary to the successful completion of the job by the student who will interview for that work rotation
  • coaching students to complete the essential tasks/duties/core skills of the in partnership with other staff – The goal is independence so the Supported Internships Coordinator/Job Coach needs to build natural supports (mentors within the workplace) and reduce the amount of time spent with each student as core skills are developed
  • reinforcing employability skills learnt in class and to help students to understand protocols and interpret work culture
  • co-ordinating and planning the related activities of the Job Coaches delivering job coaching in placements
  • co-ordinating the preparation and development of appropriate programme resources
  • promoting independence identifying and reporting on progress towards this for all students
  • having responsibility for ensuring that job coaches work within the time constraints of their contracts
  • having responsibility for applying for Access to Work funding for all students on supported internships
  • maintaining records for finance and liaison with student finance officer in respect of funding and Access to Work
  • organising relevant alternative learning in the event of a day of supported internship being cancelled by employer due to unforeseen circumstances.

For further details please check out the full job description. To apply, please email

LSA Team Leader – The Orpheus Centre, Surrey

We have an exciting opportunity at Orpheus and are currently looking for a Team leader to help lead and support a team of Learning Support Assistants (LSAs) and Learning Support/Care Assistants (LSCAs)

Salary: £19,500 per annum

9-5, 35 hours per week. (Please note: This is a Term Time Only contract, for 44 weeks a year, 38 of which are term weeks, plus 6 weeks of administration and training to be worked as required by the organisation)  There is a need to be flexible and working hours may be changed in response to the needs of the organisation and will involve some evening and weekend work during performances

The role of the LSA Team Leaders is primarily to lead a small team of LSAs/LSCA’s and support the Additional Learning Support (ALS) Coordinator in administration tasks to ensure the smooth running of the learning support team.  The Team Leaders will also provide practical support for learning sessions, contribute to Student Journey Planners and provide feedback for tutors in respect of students’ learning and achievement.  The Team Leaders will provide information and data to the ALS Co-ordinator, Curriculum leaders and Head of Learning as required.

The following duties will be shared between 3 team leaders:

Lead a team of LSAs/LSCAs

  • To take responsibility for co-ordinating learning support provision in classes and during intensive and performance weeks throughout the academic year
  • To contribute to group timetables by identifying appropriate LSA/LSCA support across the week and updating timetables once completed
  • To create registers and issue these to tutors, monitor their accuracy, collate results and update master sheets, provide data to management when required
  • Coordinate lunch club activities on a rota basis
  • To coordinate volunteers and timetable them effectively working with the volunteer coordinator
  • To carry out risk assessments and maintain and update the risk register for day students, informing members of the learning team and others as appropriate
  • To coordinate the preparation of the student learning diaries ready for distribution on the first day of each half term
  • To coordinate strategies and identified resources to enable students to effectively access learning
  • To support the completion of details in Student Progress files relating to support needs for identified students/communication and social interaction (COIN) students
  • To be responsible for coordinating support during intensive weeks
  • To support and coordinate the roles of Learning Support and Care Assistants (LSCAs)
  • To contribute to group timetables by identifying appropriate LSCA support across the week and updating timetables once completed
  • To monitor personal development, behaviour and welfare (PDBW) logs for all students

For further details please check out the full job description. To apply, please email

Natspec Highlights February 2020

Welcome to February’s edition of the Natspec Highlights! Bringing you news and great stories from across our membership, we’re delighted to share just some of what they’ve been up to with you!

This month features news about a smashing fundraising event, multiple successes with supported internships, and a focus on careers – just in time for National Careers Week! Read on for all this and more.


  1. Rising stars at Derwen College
  2. Landmarks film highlights supported internships
  3. Local partnership grants opportunities to scores of Portland College students
  4. New College Worcester focuses on careers
  5. Emily’s story: from college to paid employment
  6. ‘Food for Thought’ Event Highlights Disability Employment and Raises Over £14k
  7. Student brings history to life for museum visitors
  8. Fairfield Farm College Students Work With University Of West Of England On Robotics Project
  9. Student shines at Newfriars
  10. Crafting Connections

Rising stars at Derwen College

There was no loafing about for industrious students at Derwen College as Real Bread Week arrived.

Two students in the kitchen with their loaves of uncooked bread

They were busier than ever kneading, proving and baking home-made bread to support the week. For students on Hospitality and Housekeeping programmes, bread making is one of the catering skills they learn in preparation for employment.

Fresh loaves and rolls are also sold by Retail students at the college’s on-site Garden Centre Shop. Every Wednesday, they also sell them on a weekly market stall at Bailey Head, in Oswestry. From producing and baking bread, to labelling up and selling, the story of Derwen’s bread is an ideal example of how the college brings learning to life.

Teacher Paula Hampson supports students through their catering and bakery skills. She emphasises that there is a lot for students to learn on many different levels. As a teacher, Paula likes to get creative with bread. She experiments with different grains and shapes to support students’ learning.

She says: “The bread-making process is adapted for a range of students with different learning difficulties and disabilities. All can benefit from the process in some way, whether for their independence skills or for future employment.

“It is a pleasure to see students’ progress and link their learning to baking for a commercial setting. Students can take pride in their produce being sold to customers in our shop or at the local market.”

Hospitality student Carys Williams said: “I really enjoy bread baking, especially the kneading, you have to put a lot of effort into it. I like the shaping as well, as you can be creative. Today is the first time I have tried to make a plaited loaf, and it’s turned out quite well.”

Volunteer Week

Community-spirited Derwen students have also been doing their bit for national Student Volunteering Week. Learners have packed shopping bags, taken part in garden maintenance and raised funds for Derwen College Charity.

Sioned Davies, pathway lead for retail and horticulture, said that students and staff were pleased to take part in Student Volunteering Week.

A derwen student helping pack bags in Morrisons

She said: “Community is vital for us at Derwen College. We rely on the local community to support Derwen in offering valuable work placements and work experience to our students. People from the community also visit our on-site restaurant, cafe, Garden Centre and Shop, print shop and Hotel 751, and it’s important that we give back to the community that supports us.

She continued: “Volunteering helps students to develop their employability skills, contributes to the wider and local community life and increases students’ self-confidence and wellbeing. Volunteering is a big part of all our students’ learning every week, so it’s been great to be a part of national Student Volunteering Week.”

Landmarks film highlights supported internships

Landmarks have worked with over 30 Interns since 2016. During this time, they have supported many to achieve their dream of employment. Below is a short video about Internships at Landmarks. It highlights some particular learners who have achieved their goals, including Lewis, previously featured as a success story on the Natspec site, and Ryan, who turned his mechanical interest into employment.

Local partnership grants opportunities to scores of Portland College students

A student using a pitchfork to turn soil

Two Portland College learners undertook a Supported Internship with local company Matrix Properties last year. Both of them achieved paid employment at the end of it. This academic year, two more learners are currently undertaking a Supported Internship with the same company. In addition, Matrix Properties have also given several learners access to short term placements. All the staff at Matrix Properties have been welcoming and accommodating, and have made the process very easy.

The learners are having a great time working with Matrix Properties. They’ve helped the team to keep the grounds neat and tidy and made it a healthy habitat for the plants and wildlife. They have learnt how to perform various gardening and grounds maintenance task and can now confidently use many hand tools independently. The garden is evolving as the seasons change, and the learners all enjoy watching it. Their contributions have made a big difference to the lovely space!

Matrix Properties enthuse about how these placements have benefitted them as a company. “Students with learning difficulties have proven to us to make excellent employees. At Matrix Properties, we couldn’t have been happier with the results. What started out for us as an opportunity to benefit from additional resource from students, as well as provide them with a platform to develop skills, build confidence and enhance their employability, has actually resulted in a successful recruitment process for us, saving us time and money finding and trialling the right people.”

New College Worcester focuses on careers

In December, New College Worcester held its first ever Success in Employment event. A whole school day focussed on just careers!

Fortis Living, HOW College, Fujitsu and The Herefordshire and Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce were some of employers who took part in the day. As part of it, they offered invaluable advice and information to NCW students.

A student talks to a man who is explaining something as part of the careers fair

The day was packed full of opportunities for students of all ages. It began with an inspiring welcome speech from vision impaired careers expert Seema Flower, Founder and Managing Director of Blind Ambition. Seema is someone who has overcome much adversity in her life whilst launching her own successful consultancy business.

Students split off into groups to experience a variety of careers and work-based activities throughout the day. These included:

  • CV writing workshops
  • mock interviews
  • accessing support
  • how to dress for work
  • the opportunity to talk to a number of former students who have gone on to achieve successful professions.

A big hit with many students was the Careers Fair which took place in the morning. It allowed them to meet with a variety of employers to gather information, advice and guidance on what to do after leaving school.

Describing his experience of the day, Year 13 student Alex said: “I really enjoyed having the chance to speak to so many different businesses and organisations. I’m hoping to go in to IT after leaving NCW, so making contact with companies such as Dolphin Interconnect Solutions and Fujitsu was really motivating for me and has made me think more about what I’d like to do within the IT sector.”

Emily’s story: from college to paid employment

Emily holding a drink behind the bar and smiling

There’s a new student story up on the blog! Emily really enjoyed her time at QAC and successfully completed a Hospitality programme. The College provided the support that she needed and offered her the opportunity to complete an external work placement with The Birmingham Repertory Theatre as part of her course.

Read more about how Emily’s getting on.

‘Food for Thought’ Event Highlights Disability Employment and Raises Over £14k

In February, a spectacular event for over 100 guests took place at stunning Clevedon Hall near Bristol. The hospitality students of Foxes Academy teamed up with top chefs to highlight the benefits of employing young people with learning disabilities in the industry. The evening raised over £14,000 for The Springboard Charity, who help unemployed people of all abilities and backgrounds to find employment in the Hospitality Industry.

Tom makes cocktails behind the barGuests enjoyed cocktails made by former Foxes student Tom Hawkins, who worked alongside Massimiliano Terrile from The Waldorf Hilton. Julie Baker from the Hilton gave a speech sharing the inspiring stories of Foxes students now employed in their hotels. Foxes students worked with special guest chefs including Briony May, Josh Eggleton, Liam Finnegan, Dez Turland, Jamie Coleman, Alex Thompson, and Chris Cleghorn. Clevedon Hall’s talented team supported the students serving five courses to the highest standards.

The dinner was hosted by Foxes Academy, The Springboard Charity and Clevedon Hall. Chefs and the three organisers generously donated their time, resources and talent free of charge. The overall sponsor of the event was, and food sponsors included The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, Arthur David, Martin Frobisher’s, Kingfisher Brixham, Step and Stone, Town and Country Fine Foods and Wickwar Wessex Brewery.

Minister for Disabled People Justin Tomlinson said: “Foxes Academy is leading the way in supporting young people with learning disabilities to gain the necessary skills and confidence to secure paid work. I am especially impressed to see that 85 per cent of their 2019 graduates have gone on to enter employment.”

“Our Disability Confident scheme, which Foxes Academy is signed up, helps employers to recruit and retain disabled people in the workplace. And I’d encourage other employers to join and realise the benefits of having a diverse workforce.”

Student brings history to life for museum visitors

National Star student Piyush is impressing people with his history knowledge after landing his dream work experience placement at the National Museum Cardiff.

Piyush, or Mr P as he is affectionately known by the team at National Star in Wales, uses his communication device to share interesting facts about a range of artefacts when he works as a gallery assistant at the museum.

He spends time at college each week undertaking his own research about the items on display. He then prepares a short presentation for visitors, which is programmed into his communication device.

Sharing a passion for history

National Star Teaching Assistant Hannah Bernard said: “Mr P was really keen to learn about local Welsh history which motivated him to work with his tutor to secure a work placement at the National Museum Cardiff.”

“He’s so passionate about this opportunity that he’ll conduct research at home to extend his learning and then input what he has prepared into his AAC device.”

“Not only is Mr P using his voice to share his passion for history, but he is also becoming much stronger and more confident about controlling his communication device with his feet. He knows that the information he is delivering will be heard by a range of visitors, from primary school children to adults and foreign tourists, and so what he says is clear, informative and full of fun facts.”

“I’m really enjoying my role of speaking to children and interacting with groups of people during my placement role at the National Museum Cardiff,” said Mr P.

“I enjoy working alongside Dave and I love to learn from him! My favourite exhibit is the volcano exhibit and I have learnt a lot about volcanoes from the experience of being on my placement. I’m excited that I have helped groups of school children learn whilst being able to have fun!”

An Ambassador for the college and museum

David Enright, from the National Museum Cardiff, said Mr P has had a hugely positive impact at the museum. He’s helped to bring exhibits to life with his presentations, and has also improved awareness about the talents of disabled people.

“Our skills development placements at the National Museum Cardiff are designed to help people like Mr P develop a range of transferable skills that will make them more employable,” said David. “He is already having a positive impact on our visitor experience.”

“Mr P is not fazed by talking to large groups of schoolchildren or family groups. He is a fantastic ambassador for National Star and the National Museum Cardiff, challenging any preconceptions that our visitors may have about the abilities of people with disabilities.”

“In the short time that he has been sharing his knowledge of our artefacts using his communication device, he has become more fluid and needs less help. The gaps between his talks are shorter and he is growing in confidence.”

There are plans to take Mr P behind the scenes at the museum for an exclusive look at some of their lesser known exhibits, including a Sumatran tiger.

Mr P’s work placement is the start of a growing partnership between National Star and the National Museum Cardiff. In time, more National Star students will work with the museum to gain valuable experience to help them improve their communication, teamwork and employability skills.

Fairfield Farm College Students Work With University Of West Of England On Robotics Project

a group of students interacting with peppa the robot

Five students at Fairfield Farm College recently visited the University of West of England to take part in an exciting robotics project nicknamed “Peppa”. The aim of the project is to look at the future of technology. How could it support children and adults with disabilities now, and will that change in the future?

Students joined the co-production research team to explore available technology. The aim was to understand how technology can impact on the lives of people with disabilities. Society is changing quickly and the students were quick to seize on the opportunities they might have because of it.

Students experienced some of the technology available, including an interactive robot, to see how it could help with the future needs of children and adults with disabilities. They also spent time in the robotics lab, which they all enjoyed.

Student shines at Newfriars

Marshall assembling camera equipmentSince joining Newfriars College, Marshall has gone from strength to strength. He has experienced some hard times but has come out of the other side a bright, sharp, well focussed student.

Marshall is one of their highest achieving students, achieving his BTEC Level 2 in performing arts & Level 2 distinction following the English Speaking Board qualification.

As a media student, Marshall continues to wow audiences with his fantastic artwork, props, scenery and theatrical make up. Back in September 2019 Newfriars offered Marshall an internal supported internship to work alongside the three departments he enjoys the most. Marshall now has a day working in performing and visual arts, a day supporting the ICT manager and a day supporting the arts department.

Crafting Connections

‘Crafting Connections’ is the third annual collaboration between Ruskin Mill Trust and Hay Festival exploring neurodiversity in an atmosphere of creativity, social inclusion, research and cultural exchange. Speakers at this year’s event include:

  • the brilliant and charismatic Steve Silberman, award-winning author of NeuroTribes
  • performer and writer Kate Fox
  • Dara McAnulty, the 16-year old activist and author of Diary of a Young Naturalist’.

Participants can book on to one or both days of the conference at £35 per day which includes all refreshments, lunch, and the evening event, as well as the opportunity to take part in craft workshops.

This year’s event takes place at Ruskin Mill College in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire. Full details and tickets are available on the Ruskin Mill Land Trust website.

Emily’s story: from college to paid employment

Emily works the till behind the bar

Former Queen Alexandra College (QAC) residential student Emily has entered paid employment at The Birmingham Repertory Theatre in Birmingham City Centre.

Emily really enjoyed her time at QAC and successfully completed a Hospitality programme. The College provided the support that she needed and offered her the opportunity to complete an external work placement with The Birmingham Repertory Theatre as part of her course.

Initially the work placement was over a three month period, but it went so well Emily’s placement converted to paid employment upon completion of her studies at QAC. Emily now works two regular shifts a week as a Barista and Usher, but often gets offered overtime due to her hardworking and professional attitude.


Responsibilities include opening the bar, serving drinks, greeting customers, selling programmes and merchandise, cleaning and taking payments. Emily loves music and theatre, so this is the perfect role for her!

Rather than return to the family home, Emily also progressed onto QAC’s supported living option, Independence Plus. As a residential student, the College’s 24-hour curriculum helped Emily develop her independent living and social skills and Independence Plus allows her to continue to develop this independence. Clients on the programme still need support and the aim is to deliver a service that provides the means to live independently/semi independently into the distant future.