Natspec Network: July Highlights

We’d like to end the term and start the summer break with our last Natspec Network until term resumes in September. We’re pleased to be ending the academic year on a high and have several great news stories collected from the sector and Natspec colleges.

In today’s article, you’ll find:

  • Natspec Student Stories | Leaver Success and Accomplishments
  • Ofsted Reports | Foxes Academy and Heart of Birmingham Vocational College
  • Ruskin Mill Trust | Run of the mill magazine
  • Recode London | Orchard Hill College
  • Events

Natspec Student Stories and Accomplishments

In our latest Natspec News email, we highlighted several student accomplishments from Natspec colleges over the last year. We’re pleased to hear about the significant milestones and achievements learners are making throughout their time at Natspec colleges and the impact it’s having on their lives post-FE.

We’ve spotlighted learners in our student success stories section and encourage all to celebrate these fantastic accomplishments.

Ofsted Reports | Foxes Academy and Heart of Birmingham Vocational College

Students with SEND in an art lesson at Heart of Birmingham Vocational College
Students in an art lesson

We’re pleased to hear that Heart of Birmingham Vocational College has received a ‘Good’ from Ofsted. The news comes as a great close to the academic year and shines a light on the hard work that Heart of Birmingham Vocational College employees, tutors, support workers and more have put in to create excellent outcomes for learners.

Students from Foxes Academy
Foxes academy have had a fantastic year!

In addition, Foxes Academy has ended the term on several highs as they achieve a third consecutive ‘outstanding’ grade in all areas of college life from Ofsted. They are also 2018 winners of the TES Overall FE provider of the year and Specialist provider of the Year awards, spotlighting the incredible work that staff, employers, learners have made to the college. Read more.

Congratulations to both Heart of Birmingham Vocational College and Foxes Academy!

Ruskin Mill Trust | Run of the Mill Magazine

Ruskin Mill Trust has announced the launch of their latest project: Run of the Mill Magazine. The idea was created and named by students from Ruskin Mill Trust colleges and will encompass extraordinary stories that showcase student’s journeys through college and life.

Run of the Mill Magazine by Ruskin Mill Trust

The magazine will feature stories that spotlight the remarkable in the seemingly ordinary and highlights accomplishments in a memorable way.

Read more.

Recode London | Orchard Hill College

Orchard Hill College students
Students from Orchard Hill College

Students from Orchard Hill College took part in Recode London at The Workshop in Lambeth. The initiative is run by the Mayor of London, the LEGO® Group and Institute of Imagination.

Students rose to the challenge set by Recode London to build eco-friendly vehicles to tackle the capital’s air pollution. They put their coding and building skills into practice and created a range of vehicles out of Lego and that were activated via ipads. Students then got to parade their pollution busting automobiles along a specially designed street built entirely out of Lego.

This is the first time that students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) have taken part in the sessions and The Deputy Mayor for Social Integration, Social Mobility and Community Engagement, Matthew Ryder said: “Recode London is a wonderful way for young Londoners to put their imaginations to the test, have fun and solve some of the capital’s problems through coding. All students deserve the opportunity to develop these skills, and we had some great ideas coming out of the session which were then translated into coded Lego constructions – excellent work all round!”

David Pallash from Lego Education was in attendance and students were excited to show him how well their designs had come together and how fast their vehicles could go!

John Prior, Executive Head at Orchard Hill College and Academy Trust, commented: “What an incredible initiative. Students were really engaged and have come up with some very creative designs. I have also been very impressed by their coding skills, we have seen everything from voice-activated cars to vehicles with touch sensors. Great teamwork from all involved.”


Post-16 specialist education: essential information for new providers

Have you recently opened a new education provision for post-16 or post-19 students with SEND? Or are you thinking of opening a new specialist post-16 institution, funded by the Education and Skills Funding Agency?

Entering the FE sector is not straightforward: attend this event to find out common pitfalls and hear what others have learnt about an effective transition, curriculum planning, costings, staffing, reporting, contracts, partnerships and more

“I never realised how much I didn’t know about specialist FE provision – I’ve learnt so much” – Sarah Jones, Willow Tree Centre

“Becoming a college changed our whole perspective and culture.” – Therese Timberlake, ROC College; Part of United Response, Devon

26 September | Manchester | Book here 

29 November | London | Book here.

TechAbility conference 2018

TechAbility presents a conference for all who wish to improve and expand Assistive Technology provision for their learners. This one-day conference is focussed on increasing skills and knowledge in assessment and AT practice across the FE sector.  Designed to enable leaders, managers and practitioners to choose the right solutions for learners, helping them to access the curriculum or workplace to deliver positive education and training outcomes.

16 October | Birmingham | Learn more and book your place

Charlotte’s story: Soaring through college and life

Charlotte joined Fairfield Farm College in September 2016 on the Employability Skills course.

Over this time she has been hardworking and committed to her studies, resulting in fabulous and successful work placements at Hope Nature Centre in both the cafe and animal park for the duration of her course on which she achieved her E2 Certificate in Using Employability Skills as well as English and maths qualifications.

Although keen to secure ‘a place of her own’ Charlotte is remaining in her family home as she takes on her post-college Supported Internship placement on Project Search (Bath).

We wish Charlotte all the best in her future!

Rhys’ story: Rising star secures job at FTSE 100 company

Rhys Joyce is a student at National Star College in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, a specialist college for young people with complex disabilities and learning difficulties.

Student from National Star College
National Star student Rhys Joyce


Last year he met Jonathan McMahon, Joint Chief Operating Officer of St. James’s Place Wealth Management during a function at the college.

‘We talked about the Duke of Edinburgh Awards and I explained that I had completed my Silver Award. Mr McMahon suggested I shadow him a day at work which I was honoured to do,” said Rhys.

The 19-year-old who is originally from Bridgend, Wales, has Duchennes Muscular Dystrophy which affects his mobility and he uses a power wheelchair. This week

(Thursday) he completed his three-year BTEC Level 2 Sports programme.

Rhys decided to approach St. James’s Place about opportunities with the company and, following an online interview and two face-to-face interviews, he was accepted on a one-year contract at their head office, which will start in September.

“I couldn’t believe it when they told me. It has been a big inspiration of mine to be like everyone else and to have a job so that I didn’t have to take money off the state,” said Rhys.

St. James’s Place has been working with National Star College and Rhys to ensure that the company’s office in Cirencester is accessible, and he is provided with the right equipment to help him in the role, including an electronic moving desk.

Jonathan McMahon, Joint Chief Operating Officer, St. James’s Place, said, “We’ve worked closely with Rhys to ensure the role suits him and his talents, and that he has all the support he needs to do a great job. We’re looking forward to welcoming Rhys on his first day in the office and know he will make a valuable contribution to the company.”

“I’ve been fortunate that St. James’s Place has seen the person and not the wheelchair,” said Rhys. “It’s a great opportunity and I am grabbing it with both hands.”

Benjamin’s story: moving on to work and life

students stars in theatre production
Benjamin stars in Orpheus the mythical

Benjamin will be leaving the Orpheus Centre this summer and moving back into the area where he grew up.  He will be near his parents but his accommodation will be with Heritage Housing Association. This will be supported living with a particular emphasis on gaining more independence within his local community.  Benjamin is a keen singer and had a starring role in the recent West End production of Orpheus the Mythical.  At Orpheus Benjamin has done well in his studies gaining a Grade 2 Merit in his Professional Performance Practice from the Royal College of Music and a Silver Arts Award among other qualifications. On a recent visit to Bexley College he enrolled for a four day course that will further develop the skills that he has learnt at Orpheus.  The course will ensure a smooth transition into the world of work and incorporates local travel training and links to performing arts.  He will continue with a number of passions in his life, these being his role as a civilian instructor in the Air Cadets and performing with the Rock Choir in Bexley amongst others.  Benjamin aspires to work in the retail industry, as he has developed skills in this area through work experience placements at Orpheus, and is due to start working for the Co-op when he leaves in July.

Robert’s story: From school to independent living

Student stars in theatre production
Robert stars in theatre production Oliver.

Robert is leaving the Orpheus Centre this year where he has gained qualifications in drama, music technology and performing arts.  He is moving to supported living accommodation in Crawley where he will be living as independently as possible and managing his own future. He has long held a desire to work in theatre and will continue to engage with Freewheelers and StageRight as an aspiring actor. He recently performed in the West End production of Orpheus the Mythical.  Robert is keen to integrate with his new community and this will be facilitated through his support provider and the ‘Out There’ programme ran by Dimensions. The programme runs sessions every day with different pursuits that will help with Robert’s personal health and fitness following on from his successful involvement in wellbeing activities at Orpheus.

Megan’s story: from college, to work and life.

Megan, who has Down’s syndrome, started at Derwen College in September 2013 as a student in Creative and Performing Arts. She looks back at her time at Derwen very fondly ‘It was a pleasure to be a student at Derwen College. I have become a strong and confident woman. I was so happy from the start.’

Megan was part of DOT – Derwen on Tour – a performance production internal and external work experience placement. Students rehearse for individual projects, developing key skills such as effective communication, team work, self-discipline and commitment. The group take Makaton sign, song and dance performance and workshops out to schools, businesses and high profile events and exhibitions all over the UK to showcase their work.

student in a theatre production/ performance
Megan during a performance

Megan remembers other experiences and opportunities from her three-year stay at Derwen College – being a member of the student council, socialising with friends in the student union, rehearsing and performing in shows at Derwen and in Llangollen theatre, learning independent living skills, taking part in further work training onsite in the college’s gallery, Orangery Restaurant and offsite in the Station Café at the railway station in Gobowen. ‘Not one of the experiences I had at Derwen was wasted – each has been important in helping me learn different life and employability skills.’

Transition planning begins early at Derwen – Megan’s mum Tracy says ‘I found Megan’s transition from Derwen College and beyond seamless. There was a good connection between transition staff at Derwen and Megan’s social workers, which meant that a supported living placement was set up early on. I knew who I could and still can contact at Derwen; in particular the Transition Coordinator at Derwen College has always kept in touch to ensure that Megan has been able to continue to build upon her employment skills and maintain a fulfilled life.’

Megan and Tracy however, said they did feel a void after Derwen. ‘Megan’s college life was a place of joy, connection and fulfilment. We were unable to anticipate the level of change and the effects this may have.’

Megan moved into her supported living home just four weeks after finishing at Derwen. She shares with two friends who also went to Derwen. Megan explains ‘there is a care team who support us. Someone is always at the house when we are there and sleeps in at night in case we need extra support. At the weekend I see my family and boyfriend. I also have some hours each week for one-to-one support time, I get to choose what to do – I love going to the cinema.’

student in a supported living accomodation
Megan at her new assisted living placement

At the same time as starting her supported living placement Megan enrolled on a local training course. Tracy says ‘unfortunately this did not work out. It was such a big adjustment to finish college and move into her new home. There was a lot of change all at once.’

A little over a year on and Megan has an equally active and busy life to the one she experienced whilst at Derwen; she attends Heart of Worcester College studying on Gateway 2 course Monday to Thursday.

On Tuesday mornings she has a paid part time job at County Hall helping with general office duties. Megan also completed travel training and now gets the bus to work on her own too.

On a Friday morning Megan volunteers at a community café – serving customers and preparing hot and cold snacks and drinks.

Megan also volunteers at the local Swan Theatre as a steward serving ice creams and sweets and selling programmes and promotional materials – staff support Megan with handling money. She keeps an eye on patrons who might need help and cleans up after performances. ‘I love chatting to all the people coming to see the shows and I get to see the shows too, which is the best reward for me as I love performance. I do this two to three times a month, but lots more in pantomime season.’

student with theatre performers
Megan with theatre performers

Evenings and weekends Megan continues to keep an active social life; ‘I go to a youth group twice a week, Zumba twice a week with my mum and on Sunday I go to church.’

Megan has ideas for the future – ‘I would like to try different types of work – I have looked at animal care at a local sanctuary already, but I am a bit too busy to do this as well at the moment. I want to find a drama club that I can join, as I love being on stage and want to do this again. And, I would like to get married to my boyfriend Tim and live together in our own house.’

‘I thank Derwen College for playing a big part in my journey.’

‘For anyone thinking about going to Derwen College, I would say go for it, you’ll have the time of your life and, it will prepare you for life.’

Olivia’s story: going from strength to strength!

Former Derwen College student Olivia Crossley-Holland, has gone from strength to strength in developing her employability skills. Olivia has Down’s syndrome and started at Derwen in 2011, opting to study Catering Studies alongside Hospitality and Housekeeping.

former derwen college student at work in the kitchen
Olivia at work in the kithcen

Whilst with Derwen Olivia achieved an NVQ Level 1 in Food Preparation and Cooking, which saw her preparing saleable goods for the public, such as jams and chutneys in the college’s Food Production Centre, to serving at various functions and events, and working in the onsite Orangery Restaurant and Garden Café. Olivia also gained experience working externally in the railway Station Café in Gobowen.

After leaving Derwen in 2014 Olivia’s journey has taken her back to her home area of Derbyshire where she is now working for The Moon Inn, Stoney Middleton. With the support of Derbyshire County Council Community Connectors Olivia has found paid employment as a kitchen porter. She also volunteers for a local café and has an annual role in her village pantomime.

Staff at The Moon describe Olivia as ‘an asset to their team and a pleasure to work with.’ They are amazed at Olivia’s work ethic and ability to focus on her job. Olivia’s mum feels that this is down to the excellent vocational training that Olivia received during her three years at Derwen College. The fact that training is daily really establishes an understanding of what it is to work in catering.

‘Liv loved her time at Derwen and it really did teach her how kitchens and cafes work and how to work in a team and get the job done. It made her employable.’

Former college student at work
Olivia at work

Orpheus student Awa pursues her dream of directing

Awa joined Orpheus in September 2016 and from day one demonstrated an eagerness to learn, along with a positive exuberant attitude. Thanks to Orpheus’ work experience programme, Awa has had the opportunity to train with Graeae, Britain’s leading D/deaf and disabled theatre company.

Since starting at Orpheus, Awa’s confidence and self-belief have flourished. Learning to face her fears, she has built resilience to become more independent in every aspect of her life. Often acting as an advocate for disability and an ambassador for Orpheus, she faces the physical and emotional challenges cerebral palsy can bring while supporting others to understand nothing is impossible if you have the right support, a positive attitude and work hard.

In her first year, Awa was selected to attend a short apprenticeship at the BBC in London, giving her the fantastic opportunity to discover how a news team runs, developing her passion for journalism. This is what work experience at Orpheus is all about; giving students the skills, confidence and experience they need to become young, independent adults who lead happy and fulfilling lives.

Awa, smilingAfter completing an intensive week at Graeae in October 2017, Awa went on to be picked for a 3 month internship starting in January, for two days a week. Having continued with this, travelling independently to London and working with a mentor she had her contract extended and was asked to stay until the end of July working 3 days a week. This has not only provided valuable travel training, a boost in confidence and lots of independence, it has encouraged Awa to pursue her dream of directing and given her the opportunity to develop the skills she needs in the world of work.

Awa later completed a Supported Internship with Active Prospects as well as a Gateway qualification in preparing for employment. During her internship Awa impressed Active Prospects with her skill set, in particular researching and presenting a ‘Retrospective on Diversity’ in celebration of Active Prospect’s 30th year anniversary.

She has worked with the National Theatre in London twice in 2019, collaborated with Graeae Theatre Ensemble, and had a number of affiliations with reputable theatre companies. It is Awa’s aspiration to become a theatre director, and to this end the college has supported her fully in achieving all the facets required for continuing her career in the Arts, from acting, dance classes, and facilitating workshop attendances. Awa now moves back to East London to supported living where she can further enjoy her independence, made possible by her hard work and determination.