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.

TechAbility Standards: a route-map to excellence in assistive technology

Neil BeckNeil Beck, assistive technologist at TechAbility and National Star, explains how the recently developed standards can help providers ensure that their learners are making the most of assistive technology.

This article first appeared in Quality Times, Natspec’s member-only quality focussed publication.

What is assistive technology and why is it important?

When we talk about technology, people often think ‘cables and complex elements’ and that can be a turn-off, so I always prefer to talk about what technology can do for an individual, rather than what it is:

  • a student writing poetry using their voice
  • another reading emails for the first time, using a screen-reader and proudly replying
  • a young person making choices to look through family holiday photos with switches
  • a woman recovering from a stroke regaining lost independence: being able to communicate and return to work.

In our field we focus on assistive technology that improves educational and therapy outcomes for learners. It is a diverse field and covers everything from literacy tools to eye-gaze.

Where did the standards come from?

In the years that Fil McIntyre, my fellow assistive technologist, and I have been working for TechAbility we have found a wide unmet need around assistive technology. Support for assistive technology has come in waves for the specialist FE sector, with pockets of excellence and outstanding professionals driving this forward. We realised how important it is that colleges are able to take responsibility themselves for making effective use of assistive technology and for continuous improvement in this area, rather than relying on external support. Our focus has always been on making learners independent; now we realised we needed to improve the independence of colleges.

So, in the way that another Beck created the London Tube Map to simplify navigation, we decided to create a map to show how to navigate the technology out there – and the plethora of considerations to getting excellent outcomes. We wanted to demystify assistive technology for colleges. Our aim was to create a resource, available to everyone, that would lead to lasting improvements across the sector.

What are the standards?

The standards are a series of categories, which are then broken down further into specific recommendations with resources to help meet them. Let’s take an example:

Assessment Standard iconThe assessment standard recommends:

  • trained staff
  • standardised assessment
  • review point
  • appropriate environment
  • accessible documentation
  • appropriate equipment.

It then develops each of these points to explain how to achieve them and provides useful resources.

The categories cover everything from access skills to transition and are written to assume no prior knowledge.

Technology advances quickly, but the standards aim to provide guidance around the infrastructure and tools that have remained common.

How can the standards be used?

  • as a self-audit tool
  • to identify training needs
  • as a guide for inspection
  • to identify areas for improvement

Can I contribute to the standards?

Yes! The standards have been authored by Fil McIntyre, Rohan Slaughter and me, with the support of a wide range of groups and individuals who have contributed their feedback. We plan to update the standards periodically, so please send us any suggestions for improvements or additions, along with links to additional resources you think we could usefully reference. I’m also happy to field any questions you may have about the standards.

Where can I find the standards?

The standards were launched at the recent TechAbility Conference 2019 – Raising Standards, and are available on the TechAbility website.

What next?

We will consider if there is a demand to tailor this resource to fit mainstream education and if there are any omissions. We will also look to turning this resource into a specific online audit tool in future should there be call for this.

I hope the standards help you and that they give us all a platform to build from.

Neil and Fil are also going to be leading a workshop at Jisc’s Digifest on the 10 March about the TechAbility Standards, if you’re eager to learn more.

Natspec Highlights January 2020

A new year brings exciting new times for our members! In this month’s highlights, we round up some news from before the Christmas break, as well as exciting new things that have happened since.

At Natspec we’re busy preparing for the National Conference, which is approaching fast. There’s also only two weeks left to submit applications for the Natspec Awards!

Read on for stories about a tennis festival, outstanding colleges, musical performances at colleges and how one exceptional student has been offered a place at the University of Oxford.


  1. Setting students up for life at CSCD
  2. Colleges continue to be outstanding
  3. University of Oxford beckons for exceptional Royal National College for the Blind student
  4. Learners Deliver Outstanding Musical Performance at Google UK in London
  5. Students rally together at college’s first tennis festival
  6. A big move for HBVC
  7. Christmas competition all wrapped up
  8. New College Worcester students thriving in new environment
  9. Being guided to success
  10. Introducing Student Ambassadors

Setting students up for life at CSCD

Our latest student story is now up on the blog! Hear from Corey (18) from Communication Specialist College Doncaster. Corey has autism and communication difficulties including a stutter. In his own words, Corey explains how the college has exceeded all his expectations with the support it has provided to him as he strives to achieve his career goals.

You can also watch a video of him speaking about his experiences at CSCD:

Our students have great things to say about being at Communication Specialist College Doncaster.Thank you Corey for sharing your story.

Posted by Communication Specialist College Doncaster on Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Colleges continue to be outstanding

Orchard Hill receives another ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted grade

Students and staff at Orchard Hill celebrate their outstanding resultOrchard Hill College has maintained its Outstanding Ofsted rating, first granted in 2013, at a recent inspection.

The report stated; “Since the previous inspection governors, leaders, managers and staff have maintained their exceptional standards to provide an outstanding experience for their students. They hold extremely high aspirations for students.”

The report went on to praise the curriculum, which is carefully designed and bespoke to individual students. It ensures they are successful and independent in their lives after college. Students receive excellent support and a “high proportion of students….gain employment or move into voluntary work.” The report also acknowledged the “robust safeguarding processes in place that ensure students are safe in and out of college.”

Commenting on the inspection, Kelly Phillips, College Principal, stated: “I am so proud of all our students and staff who have worked so hard to maintain an ‘Outstanding’ judgement. Our students truly deserve this and it represents the continued dedication of the entire college community.”

Aurora Boveridge excels in monitoring visit

A recent monitoring visit to Aurora Boveridge College, part of Ofsted’s visits to newly-funded specialist colleges, revealed that the College is making ‘significant progress’ across the board. Ofsted praised the high quality of students’ work, the flexible curriculum, and the individualised support each student receives. Boveridge is the first newly funded provider to be inspected without any areas of weakness identified in the report.

Coleg Elidyr graded ‘excellent’

Estyn recently inspected Coleg Elidyr and graded them as ‘excellent’ across the board. The report praised the teaching at the college for “[providing] learners with highly stimulating experiences that help them to engage fully in their learning and make exceptional progress.” Estyn made note of the creative, well-planned curriculum and purposeful, strategic planning for individual skill progress as particular strengths.

The excellent qualities of Coleg Elidyr’s leadership can be seen in the recent, thoughtful piece Vice-Principal Kirsten Jones wrote for Quality Times: Where does ALN reform in Wales leave specialist colleges?

University of Oxford beckons for exceptional Royal National College for the Blind student

Kelsey smiling at RNC with his guide dogKelsey, a student at the Royal National College for the Blind, has been offered a conditional place at Trinity College, Oxford to read Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE).

The news has come during a busy and exciting year for Kelsey. Alongside studying for A Levels in English Literature, French and History, Level 3 Braille and AS Mathematics, Kelsey is Chair of the College’s Student Representative Group, a Student Ambassador and a member of the College’s Eco Committee. He also plays Goalball, representing RNC in the domestic intermediate league.

In November, Kelsey also managed to fit in a trip around the country on a rickshaw as part of the BBC Children in Need’s Rickshaw Challenge. All of this whilst preparing for the University of Oxford’s entrance exam.

Kelsey was thrilled to receive his offer and said: “I was completely shocked when I received the offer from Oxford. I am absolutely over the moon, and can’t wait to see what the future brings. For now, it’s time to work hard, and to enjoy the best of everything RNC has to offer – it has already given me so much, in preparation for university life, and there is no way I could have got even this far without the fantastic, unique support and provision which has been offered to me here.”

Kelsey’s English Literature teacher, Libby Hudson said: “Kelsey has a great deal of drive, but he is also a very modest and unassuming character, and a great pleasure to teach. Obviously, I’m delighted that he did so well in the entrance exam, and I never really had any doubts that he would do well at the interview.”

Kelsey has always been politically motivated and, ultimately, hopes to pursue a career in politics or political journalism.

Learners Deliver Outstanding Musical Performance at Google UK in London

Jess and Fletch from Portland College were special guests at AbilityNet’s TechShare Pro Conference at the end of last year. The Conference promotes the impact digital technology has in changing the lives of disabled people. Jess and Fletch attended alongside Digit Music and students from another college.

The two day event was held at Google’s London office. It commenced with a Gala Dinner on Tuesday, followed by the TechShare Pro Conference on Wednesday.

In preparation for their performance in front of 200 professionals, Jess and Fletch composed a 10 minute piece utilising the innovative Control One technology. This new musical interface removes restrictions from music creation, by adapting everyday technology. Control One works by taking a regular wheelchair controller and adapting it to enable its user to compose music.

Si Tew, Creative Director and Founder of Control One commented: “It was an honour to be able to present Control One and the work that Portland College students have been involved in at such a prestigious event, with accessibility professionals from across the world.”

“Digit Music aims to remove restrictions from music creation and TechShare Pro 2019 has taken us one step closer. It has been wonderful working with Jess and Fletch over the last few months. We have known Jess for a number of years through work with The Able Orchestra but Fletch is a new recruit and we are so happy to have him on board.”

“That was his first gig with us and it happened to be at Google’s UK headquarters for some very influential people. Not a bad start! The two wonderful musicians were also supported by an excellent care team who made the trip possible. Thanks to everyone who was involved. Roll on the next show.”

Impressed by the stunning performance, staff from Apple, Sony and Google congratulated the students and talked to them about the new technology.

You can watch the performance below:

Students rally together at college’s first tennis festival

Two students showing off their tennis rackets

A smashing time was had by all when Derwen College hosted its inaugural tennis festival. The college welcomed more than 20 students from Severndale Specialist Academy and Coleg Cambria to the Derwen College Disability Tennis Festival.

The festival’s aim was to make tennis accessible to all using tennis skills in fun games and challenges, engaging all students of all abilities. Tennis Shropshire representative and former chairman Bob Kerr was in attendance. He brought along Tennis Factory equipment – fun and colourful equipment to play tennis-themed games.

LTA coach Thierry Piangnee, who runs weekly coaching sessions at Derwen College, also shared his skills and expertise with students.

Sports co-ordinator Steve Evans praised everyone who took part and helped make the college’s first festival such a success.

He said: “We ran a range of tennis-related activities, turning traditional tennis on its head to find ways to engage all the students. Everyone enjoyed taking part in activities and having a go, playing together supported by professional tennis coaches. It was lovely to see everyone of all abilities pick up a racket and play. We are proud to have organised such a fun event promoting fitness, social skills, self-confidence, team-building and fun through tennis.

“Derwen College is all about inclusivity and our sports and leisure activities are no exception.”

This was the college’s first tennis festival and is part of Derwen’s commitment to tennis as part of the college’s packed sports and leisure programme.

A big move for HBVC

Students and staff at Heart of Birmingham Vocational College have finally moved into their new building. Settling in to the new classrooms, everyone is excited for what the new space can offer.

Nothing has stopped for the move, though. One learner from the supported internships program provided the “wow” moment this month. He overcame his initial nervousness and lack of self-confidence at his placement in the restaurant at Edgbaston Priory Tennis Club to speak to club members when clearing their tables. Usually, he’s happy in the kitchen with his dishwashing duties. But he’s been coaxed away to spend some time in the restaurant. He said he felt calm and relaxed in the environment and proved he was ready for the next step in his own development and in his overall employability. He won everyone over with his smile, friendly manner and professionalism – the only way is up!

A group of students in the kitchen with the ingredients and tools for breakfast

Other students are continuing to develop their independent living skills within the new facilities including the Independent Living Skills Flat. Students are visiting Tesco or Aldi and using the sunflower lanyards. They have learnt about how wearing them can help them when out and about shopping for themselves. The students are starting off the term by making toast. This builds on their independence to be able to do this at home before coming to college. By the end of the term, all of the students will have gained the knowledge and experience of how to make themselves breakfast.

Christmas competition all wrapped up

Amy with her christmas card. The card is colourful and shaped like a heartAmy from Derwen College won the Christmas card design competition organised by the Association of Colleges. As the winner, her vibrant design features on the association’s official Christmas greetings card for 2019 – both card and electronic GIF versions.

Amy, from Hereford, was awarded with a voucher for her hard work. She said she was happy but surprised to have won the competition with her heart-shaped creation which features iconic Christmas images such as stars, stockings, holly and a Christmas pudding.

She said: “I was really shocked when I was told I’d won. I phoned my Mum straightaway and she was shocked too. I like art and design, and enjoy using bright colours and strong shapes. For this design, I drew a Christmas pudding, stocking, holly, parcels, baubles and stars. I used marker pens to make the colours stand out.”

Association of Colleges Chief Executive David Hughes picked the winner of the competition.

He said: “We are delighted to be using Amy’s fantastic design on our Christmas cards. It’s great to have talented students designing cards for us and this year the standard of entries was extremely high as always. Amy’s stood out through her use of such vibrant colours and the spirit of giving and a time to celebrate was clear. We’re very proud to be circulating it far and wide this festive season and I am sure everyone will love it!”

AoC christmas card. There are colourful stars and other shapes arranged in the shape of a heart. The text reads 'Merry Christmas and Happy New Year From the Association of Colleges'

New College Worcester students thriving in new environment.

The students look over pieces of wood to choose the ones they wantLearning Support Assistants at New College Worcester have been taking students Corey, Toby and DJ to Bonterre every Wednesday. Bonterre, a 15 acre farm just outside Worcester, provides a unique and expertly delivered experience to help children with Autism, ADHD and other issues affecting school engagement. They centre their educational services around ‘Care Farming’ – using the land as a medium to stimulate and engage.

As Winter descends, the layers have increased, but the zeal for offering our fabulous three this wonderful opportunity has not. The students have enjoyed activities that range from making planters using carpentry skills, animal care, planting seeds, transplanting seedlings, mowing the field and planning the sensory garden as well as eating lots of cake!

Being guided to success

Fadzie and guide dog, Terbie, during a mobility session with Tony Hodgson, Teacher of Mobility and Independent Living SkillsFadzie, a student at RNC, is planning for work and life as an independent young adult, all with her first Guide Dog, Terbie.

In year 4 Fadzie started to notice her eye sight deteriorating and thought she might need glasses. A year and further investigation later, she was diagnosed with glaucoma and registered as visually impaired.

Throughout the rest of school Fadzie had learning support assistants in her lessons and achieved excellent grades at GCSE. Going on to study for A Levels, she was predicted high grades and worked extremely hard. Unfortunately, she did not achieve what she wanted.

Looking back at her year 12 and 13 Fadzie recalls the struggle she had with the workload. “School was fast paced and I was struggling to keep up in the lessons, I had to take work home and catch up in my own time. It made me think that I might not cope with university, that’s when I decided that I needed to go to RNC.”

In year 13 Fadzie was matched with Guide Dog Terbie. “Moving away to a residential college can be scary but she made me more confident about going. Terbie learns routes quicker than I do and she is so chilled out in busy areas and it helps make me be more relaxed.”

Fadzie started at RNC in September. Since then, she has been undertaking mobility training to learn routes into town, including public transport. “The mobility training at RNC is really good. The teacher doing my training is also a Guide Dog user so he really understands our needs. There are also a lot of other students and staff with Guide Dogs at college, they have given me help and advice and we even go for walks together.”

So, what does the future the hold for Fadzie and Terbie? “I would like to go to University College London to study Psychology. I’ve done some work experience and volunteer mentoring with young people and I really enjoy it. I want to be in a position where I can help people, and I love London.”

Life in the city might be daunting for some, but Fadzie is not fazed; “Terbie has made things so much easier and more relaxing. With a long cane it was hard to concentrate all the time, but now I can trust Terbie to spot things. I am able to relax and I don’t need to worry.”

“Coming to RNC with Terbie is a great stepping stone. We are able to experience living independently but with support from people that understand visual impairment, it’s really changed my life.”

Photo caption: Fadzie and guide dog, Terbie, during a mobility session with Tony Hodgson, Teacher of Mobility and Independent Living Skills

Introducing Student Ambassadors

QAC's new student ambassadors in red QAC hoodies

Joe, Dan, Kieran, Nakeisha and Aisha have been selected as QAC’s Student Ambassadors for 2020!

Acting as a role model for both prospective and current students, duties include meeting and greeting QAC visitors, guiding visitors on campus tours. Occasionally, they even represent the College at external events.

The student ambassadors play a key role in a variety of College events. They offer a students’ point of view to visitors and share their opinions and experiences about College life.

Derwen's student board in their blue derwen college jackets

Student Ambassadors at Derwen College were also recently seen on social media showing off their new jackets!

We hope to see some of the Student Ambassadors at our upcoming Student Voice Parliament.

Corey’s story: being set up for life

Corey (18), who has autism and communication difficulties including a stutter, is a student at Communication Specialist College Doncaster. In his own words here, Corey, who is originally from Rotherham but now lives in Bawtry with his family, explains how the college has exceeded all his expectations with the support it has provided to him as he strives to achieve his career goals.

Our students have great things to say about being at Communication Specialist College Doncaster.Thank you Corey for sharing your story.

Posted by Communication Specialist College Doncaster on Tuesday, 7 January 2020

I have been a student at Communication Specialist College Doncaster for nearly three years now. I am autistic and, since being a little boy, have had speech difficulties which has greatly affected my ability to communicate, as well as my confidence.

I was previously in a specialist school in Rotherham where I completed my GCSEs but then had a decision to make about where I went for my post-16 education.

When I came to visit this college, I knew it was the right one for me because I could see how the staff and students interacted so positively with each other and I got a great feeling about the welcoming environment.

And I was right! The college has far exceeded my expectations with the support they have given me.

I am studying catering and health and social care and the college has organised a number of relevant work experience placements for me that have really helped me understand the work involved in those careers.

I have been to a social centre in Doncaster where I supported adults with learning disabilities helping them to eat and encouraging them to socialise and take part in activities. My second placement has been working at a 4.5 star hotel in the kitchen preparing vegetables, meat and working in the pastry section. I am also just about to start my third placement which is again supporting disabled people with their social life – taking them shopping, out for tea and cooking for them.

All these opportunities are really practical and are giving me skills in the areas I want to work in in the future. Ever since I was about 6 or 7 I have loved to cook and I would really like to work my way up into catering management. On the health and social care side, I’ve always felt compassion towards people with extra needs and I would like to be a support worker so I can help people the best way I can. This college is working with me so I can achieve my life aspirations and I now feel so positive about what’s ahead for me.

The staff at the college have also assisted me personally. My confidence has increased so much and I now have a paid job at KFC which I am really enjoying. I have also developed my social life. I used to be quite introverted but since coming to the college I’ve made lots of friends including with many deaf people which has also given me the opportunity to learn British sign language.

The speech and language therapy I have received has made such a difference to me. The therapist was a god send and helped me so much by showing me different techniques to control my stutter. My communication is now the best it has ever been as before I really struggled to even have a conversation with people. I recently did a speech in front of everyone at the college and I would never have dreamt of being able to do that previously. All the staff are amazing and so supportive.

This college is not just for people who are deaf. I would highly recommend it to people with learning difficulties and communication needs. It’s a really inclusive place to people with a wide range of extra needs and I think it is important to get that message across so other people can benefit from it just like I have.

Natspec Highlights November 2019

It’s been another busy month! The general election got underway, and Natspec produced a manifesto with what we know is needed if young people with disabilities are to thrive in further education. Students from 15 Natspec members met this month at our student parliament, discussing the issues important to them.

We also ran our annual TechAbility Conference, which saw professionals from across the specialist and mainstream sectors gather to discuss how we can raise standards for young people where assistive technology is concerned.

Our colleges have also had a great month, with awards success and a number of students out on works placements. Many colleges have been busy preparing for the end of the year, hosting Christmas fairs and getting in the festive spirit. We’ll have more news from our members in the new year, but until then read on for a highlight of the best stories from across the specialist sector.


  1. Valuing Specialism; realising potential
  2. Natspec National Conference: A Question of Quality
  3. Student Parliament 12 November
  4. Hereward college provides outstanding care for young people
  5. Derwen College ace it at county tennis awards
  6. Fairfield Farm College students enjoy work placements at Center Parcs Longleat
  7. Phoenix College students shine on Supported Internship programme
  8. QAC students assist Aston University research into Autism
  9. The Mayor of Trafford Visits Bridge College
  10. Portland College wins awards and grants
  11. Supported Internship gets Doncaster student Robyn ready for work

Valuing Specialism; realising potential

In November, Natspec published its manifesto for the 2019 General Election, “Valuing specialism; realising potential”. It calls on political parties and parliamentary candidates to commit to supporting further education for young people with learning difficulties and disabilities in three areas:

  • high quality education and training
  • a system that works for young people
  • brighter futures.

A student practising hospitality skills in a hotel room

Clare Howard, Natspec’s Chief Executive, said “We want the next government to commit to supporting specialism in further education, so that young people with learning difficulties and disabilities can achieve their potential. The SEND reforms in England and similar legislation in Wales include ambitious plans for transformational change, but the system is failing young people and their families. We now need to act so that the vision becomes a reality and the system delivers on the good intentions of the reforms.”

Natspec National Conference: A Question of Quality

We are excited to announce the return of the Natspec National Conference to Hinckley Island on 19 and 20 May 2020. The conference is the largest specialist event for FE professionals who work with students with Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans and/or funded through the high needs system.

Four people share ideas in one of the breakout rooms

There’s a wide range of workshops on offer covering staff wellbeing, effective governance, employment, behaviour support, safeguarding fundamentals, partnerships with LAs, assistive technology, careers advice, therapy and more on offer.

If you work with young people with SEND in a further education setting – whether in mainstream or in specialist provision – the Natspec National Conference is the event to attend to further your practice. Book today!

Student Parliament 12 November

Natspec’s Student Voice Parliament met on the 12 November at QAC in Birmingham in its largest ever gathering. Students and staff from 15 Natspec Colleges were in attendance, along with NUS’s Vice President for FE, Juliana Mohamad-Noor and Member Support Advisor Lauren Cooper.

The day was busy, with students eager to contribute ideas and have their say. The afternoon was spent developing potential campaign materials. Students picked their own topics, depending on what was important for them. We’re eager to take this work further and develop it in the coming months and look forward to seeing students again.

Two students and a member of staff from RNC present their concept, a linked paper chain with messaging

Hereward college provides outstanding care for young people

Nine members of the residential staff team standing smiling outside Hereward College

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) recently rated Hereward College as ‘Good’ overall, and found it ‘Outstanding’ for care.

The report states that the young people “were truly respected and valued as individuals; and empowered as partners in their care in an exceptional service.” One parent told the inspection team: “They’re an amazing team and everything is so efficiently run. I feel very welcomed and any problems are dealt with promptly.”

Jane Ferguson, Vice Principal for Safeguarding & Pastoral Care at Hereward College said:

“We are delighted that this report has highlighted the importance of our highly trained and committed staff in providing a quality service. Independence skills are a core part of what we offer to our residential students, enabling them to achieve their goals and take control over their own lives.”

The report also reinforced the safety measures which are in place to keep students from harm stating “enhanced safeguarding systems were robust in capturing all concerns and actions taken,” with students confirming “the staff are well trained and take our well being into account.”

Derwen College ace it at county tennis awards

Staff and supporters at Derwen College have rallied together to achieve a county tennis award for their inclusive tennis programme.

They won Disability Programme of the Year at the 2019 County LTA Tennis Awards on 16 November. The college now qualifies for the regional Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) awards which will be announced in March 2020.

Students from Derwen in their sports hall with tennis rackets and their tennis certificate

A representative from the college was awarded with the certificate and prize by Tennis Shropshire chairman Simon Jones and Tennis Shropshire president Jilly Broadbent. The awards honour those involved in tennis who made a difference to players of all ages in terms of fun, fitness, and inclusivity, as well as success.

Derwen College Sport and Leisure Team have worked with Tennis Shropshire to offer tennis sessions and competitions to all students. A Tennis Shropshire coach has provided weekly tennis sessions. Students also had a chance to attend the Davis Cup Competition and Wheelchair Masters competition which inspired them!

The college has also organised Derwen College Disability Tennis Festival which takes place in December 2019. Derwen students have participated in community tennis events and regional competitions. Last year, three students competed in the National Learning Disability Finals in Nottingham.

Sport Co-ordinator Steve Evans said he was delighted that the efforts of students, staff and support from Tennis Shropshire had been recognised.

He said: “It’s very much a team effort. We are very proud of what students have achieved in tennis and have seen some remarkable successes. For some students, that is winning a competition, for others it is simply seeing them pick up a racket for the first time, or building the confidence to teach other students how to play. We are proud to say that more than 100 of our students have been given the opportunity to participate in tennis activities which have encouraged social skills, self-confidence, and health and wellbeing. Most importantly, they’re having fun!”

Fairfield Farm College students enjoy work placements at Center Parcs Longleat

Brodie working on maintaining a bike at centre parcsFive students at Fairfield Farm College have started a new 12-month work placement project at Center Parcs Longleat. This exciting new project sees students work in various areas of the popular tourist destination, whilst learning skills that will help them with the future carers.

At the start of their exciting journey, the five students took part in an informal group interview with Center Parcs team. This was then followed by a very successful induction day. There, the students found out more about the company brand and ethos, as well as learning all about their fire safety and manual handling procedures.

There are a variety of roles that students have taken on. Brodie is working in the cycle centre learning and developing skills in bike maintenance. Tom is working in the grounds team keeping the site in top condition, using skills developed in his horticulture classes. He’s learning how to use tools and machinery to complete outdoor tasks and maintain the village.

Tay is working in the staff restaurant. She is serving food to Center Parcs staff and using the till to process payments, using the skills she has learnt in the Fairfield Farm Café and Shop. Tomas is working with the head chef and his team to prepare food for all areas of the Center Parcs village. Finally, Devon is a steward, working back of house on the dishwasher to keep all the service items clean and tidy.

Darren Barber from Fairfield Farm College said “We are incredibly proud to have started a new work placement project with Center Parcs Longleat forest. The Center Parcs team have been truly outstanding in welcoming and supporting our students into the organisation, we couldn’t have asked for a better start to working with them.”

Phoenix College students shine on Supported Internship programme

A student with two cleaners from Queen Mary UoLPhoenix College are proud to be part of the QMUL Project SEARCH Supported Internship programme. They are now 2 months into the first year of Project SEARCH and all six of the interns have exceeded every expectation.

The first few weeks of the programme were spent getting to know the campus, integrating with staff and students as well as letting the interns get to know each other. Queen Mary University of London have been a fantastic host, welcoming and support the interns. Departments not involved in the programme have been making enquiries as word is spreading about the fantastic work the interns have been doing!

All of the interns have spent just over a month in their first rotation of work experience at the University. The departments currently hosting interns include Residential Cleaning, Catering, Retail, Grounds and Gardening, Portering and Maintenance. In each of these departments, the interns are working closely with an experienced mentor who supports them whilst on the job and teaches them best practise.

Yusuf, in cleaning, has built a brilliant relationship with his mentor Maggie, who has encouraged him to learn new skills and push himself in the workplace, whilst staying professional. Another of our interns, Jack, has been doing so well he has been given the responsibility of decorating a student’s bedroom all by himself. This is a credit to Jack for all the hard work he has been doing to gain the trust to earn such a big responsibility. Watch this space for more news about the interns and how they progress over the academic year!

QAC students assist Aston University research into Autism

A student in a QAC hoodie standing with his arms folded in QAC's college library

Students at Queen Alexandra College in Birmingham assisted researchers at the Aston Neuroscience Institute (ANI), Aston University with their research looking into how the differences in sensory brainwaves of teenagers with autism can assist in earlier diagnosis.

18 teenagers with a diagnosis of ASD and 18 teenagers without the diagnosis (aged between 14-20 years) were involved in the study. The researchers focussed on sensory areas of the brain because a substantial number of people with autism report issues with processing incoming sensory information, often suffering from hypersensitivity, meaning that bright lights, loud sounds or crowded situations can be overwhelming.

The findings, which have been published in the journal BRAIN, found that different patterns of brain wave activity were triggered in teenagers diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) compared to neuro-typical teenagers, when performing the same simple visual task.

The Mayor of Trafford Visits Bridge College

A student demonstrates their work to the Mayor of Bury and college principal, Lisa Duncalf

Bridge College welcomed the Mayor of Trafford, Councillor Rob Chilton, for a visit. The visit was hosted by the Principal Lisa Duncalf and the Mayor was given a tour of the college.

On the tour the Mayor was able to see the full range of facilities available at the college. He was also able to see the colleges brand new purpose built café, built with nearly £24,000 in donations from educational foundations and trusts. Students can not only use café, they can also work in it, allowing them to gain hands on real life work experience in the catering industry.

Mayor Chilton said: “It was a genuine pleasure to meet the students and staff here at Bridge College and everyone has been so welcoming. I’ve been impressed to see how engaged the students are and it was really inspirational to see them not only developing valuable new skills, but also to see how happy they are to be leaning and just how much they value life here at the college.

“I was also very impressed by the dedication of the staff. It’s clear that they have a great team here at Bridge College, who are thoroughly dedicated to supporting the students in meeting their goals and aspirations.”

Portland College wins awards and grants

Portland College has two exciting pieces of news this month!

Portland Pathways receives generous grant to fund pathways programme

four members of staff outside Portland Pathways

Portland Pathways is looking forward to a bright future after receiving a generous £150,000 grant from the National Lottery Community Fund this month. The grant will provide funding of £50,000 per year over three years, to support the running of the Pathways Programme.

Since launching a pilot in Mansfield in 2017, the Portland Pathways initiative has gone from strength to strength. With a focus on reducing the disability employment gap in Mansfield and Ashfield, the unique ‘roll-on, roll-off’ programme provides the encouragement and tools for people to excel.

One of our first clients demonstrated how successful the initiative is. Hannah Harvey, who has epilepsy, had been looking for work for nearly a year before visiting the Pathways team. After spending time getting to know her strengths and interests, the team supported Hannah to find an Apprenticeship in Teaching and Learning. Following successful completion of the 18 month programme earlier this year, Hannah gained a place at Huddersfield University to pursue her dream of becoming a qualified History teacher.

The initiative has gone on to win two prestigious awards, has supported 96 people into sustainable employment and has seen 188 people complete our Recovery College course.

Portland College Crowned Autism Hero Awards Winners

Members of staff from Portland College with their awards certificatesPortland College attended the prestigious Autism Hero Awards where they were shortlisted for two awards; Leading Business and Lifetime Achievement.

They were crowned Leading Business in celebration of their commitment to supporting people with Autism. On top of this wonderful accolade, Mark Morton, Positive Behaviour Support Manager at Portland College received Special Commendation for the Lifetime Award for the positive impact he has on the lives of so many people with Autism.

Portland College has several staff with Autism who thrive in the supportive work environment they provide. They can relate to learners, identify and overcome triggers and provide an excellent level of support based on their own understanding and experiences of Autism.

Mark Dale, Principal and Chief Executive commented, “We started our journey to excellence with our first dedicated provision for people with Autism in 2010. Over the years we have developed and grown, and trained all our staff to understand and support learners with Autism.  Now we offer a vibrant, sensory rich and inclusive environment, where Autistic people can thrive alongside people with other disabilities.

I am so proud of the whole team, every member of staff works together to provide a platform where each learner and citizen has the opportunity and support to excel.”

Supported Internship gets Doncaster student Robyn ready for work

A student from Communication Specialist College Doncaster is getting an insight into the world of work thanks to a Supported Internship at the town’s Chamber of Commerce.

Robyn and the team at the chamber of commerce

Robyn has been studying at Communication Specialist College Doncaster since September 2015. With the help of her Social Worker and the team at the college she secured a work experience placement at Doncaster Chamber of Commerce through the summer.

Rachael McEwan from Doncaster Chamber of Commerce said: “It has been a real pleasure to work with Robyn, she has worked with us throughout the summer and has been a great addition to the team.

“Due to the success of the work experience we were thrilled to accept Robyn on a Supported Internship which will see her continue to work across all the Chamber departments for two days a week until Christmas in an administrative role.”

Robyn is continuing with her academic studies for two days a week and is really enjoying the experience.

She said: “I am learning a lot of new skills at Doncaster Chamber and the team are all very welcoming and friendly. It is good to be at college for two days a week and working for two days a week as it will help me to grow my skills and confidence for when I finish College and start to look for a job. I want to say thank you to the team at College who helped me to get the Supported Internship with the Chamber and thank you to the Chamber for having me.”

Natspec National Conference 2020: A Question of Quality

We are excited to announce the return of the Natspec National Conference to Hinckley Island on 19 and 20 May 2020. The conference is the largest specialist event for FE professionals who work with students with Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans and/or funded through the high needs system.

A Question of Quality

Four people share ideas in one of the breakout rooms

This year’s focus will be on quality of provision. We will seek to challenge, question and stretch your practice in all areas of provision. Having been through years of negotiating the external legislative, structural, systemic and funding changes since 2013, the time is now right for high needs FE providers to focus on their own practice.

So, whatever you need to improve – safeguarding, mental health, behaviours of concern, admissions and assessments, careers, information, advice and guidance and routes to employment, ways of working with PMLD learners, governor input – there will be sessions at conference to support you.

Keynotes and Workshops

Delegates visit the Axcis Education Stand

Conference speakers and workshop facilitators will be asking delegates to question their existing approach, to consolidate and improve good practice, and make changes where necessary.

We are pleased to welcome Dame Christine Lenehan back to the conference for day 2, discussing What next for specialist FE within the wider SEND system? On Day 1, Gareth Morewood’s keynote tackles mental health and autism / learning difficulties, whilst Liz Hodges will take us through the national research picture on multisensory impairment.

A full list of the 15 different workshops at the conference is available to browse; delegates who attend both days will be able to attend four sessions.


Delegates visit the Axcis Education Stand

We are delighted that previous sponsors, Axcis Education Recruitment and Databridge are returning to support the conference again this year.

We are also expanding the exhibition space into the London Suite. This will provide additional space for exhibitors and a better experience for delegates. Delegates will have the chance to discuss their needs with specialist suppliers and find out how they can support organisations within the specialist sector.

Awards Dinner

Delegates gather for a drinks reception

Tuesday night plays host to a glamorous drinks reception and awards dinner. For the first time we will be presenting the Natspec Awards, aiming to raise quality and celebrate innovative practice amongst Natspec’s members.

Book now

A roundtable discussion at the Natspec Conference

This is a must-attend 2-day event for professionals working in specialist further education. It will be packed with best practice and cutting-edge research, leaving you with contacts, ideas and actions to take back to college.

Packages for delegates are now available on the conference website and you can book your place now!

Student Voice Parliament 12 November

Natspec’s Student Voice Parliament met on the 12 November at QAC in Birmingham in its largest ever gathering. Students and staff from 15 Natspec Colleges were in attendance, along with NUS’s Vice President for FE, Juliana Mohamad-Noor and Member Support Advisor Lauren Cooper.

The aim of the day was to build off the work of the previous parliament meeting back in June. Since then, many colleges have elected new student councils, so a whole new raft of students arrived ready to contribute ideas.


With all new students coming from different colleges right across the country, the first call of the day was introductions. Students and staff were encouraged to draw and write on a coloured piece of card. These cards contained their name, where they were from and something that they liked. When finished, students gathered up the cards and exchanged them with another table.

From looking at cards from other people in attendance, students and staff were able to learn a little more about each other.

What do we need?

Students were then asked to consider a range of questions which were discussed at the previous meeting.

  • What makes you different?
  • What are you good at?
  • What do you need help with?
  • What should that help be like?
  • What do people in the community need to know?
  • What would help?

Students were given a short amount of time to discuss the topics amongst themselves. Following this, contributions to the parliament were welcomed. One student said that it was important to ‘live life to the max’ and ‘look to the future and not to the past.’

A group of students generates ideas with a member of staff

On the subject of help, one student said that ‘families support the stuff that you do and ignore the things you can’t do.’

The key statement made was ‘there aren’t many non-disabled adults out there who understand what disabilities you have.’ Students felt that, outside their colleges and immediate family, many people didn’t give them the time they needed, or make the effort to understand them.


In the afternoon, students started work. The aim was to produce leaflets and messaging on the issues that were important to them. Themes picked by the students included:

  • transport
  • anti-bullying
  • autism acceptance

Some students made posters, some made leaflets, and others had individualised creative ideas about what to make. Students from RNC Hereford made a paper chain, with statements written on each piece.

Two students and a member of staff from RNC present their concept, a linked paper chain with messaging

The aim is to take the materials generated by the students and use them to put together a body of materials Natspec and our members can use to campaign on issues relevant to young people. Our current student voice banner, made following a design by students at ROC College, is always very popular at events. We’re excited to be representing and promoting the voices of young people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, and see it as an important part of our work.

What now?

Our next student parliament will be held next year; we are still confirming a date and venue.

We’ll be developing resources for colleges and the wider sector to use to promote student voices. If you couldn’t make it to student parliament, but would like to contribute, please contact sarah.laszlo@natspec.org.uk

EHCPs and High Needs in FE: the key facts

Natspec has collated some of the recent data on SEND and further education. The latest round of data points to the continuation of trends that have been previously identified.

The increase in number of children and young people with EHC plans has largely been driven by 16-25 year olds; students 16-25 now represent 22% of all EHCPs. The rise in 20-25 year olds with EHCPs is not as sharp as last year, but it is continuing to increase.

The number of young people with EHCPs in further education continues to increase, up to 57,000 in 2019 (an increase of just over 10,000 students).

Of young people who are High Needs funded, the number placed in General FE colleges continues to rise to 27,496 this year. The number of young people placed in specialist colleges also continues to rise, increasing by 1000 students to 5224 total. The proportion of students aged 16-25 educated in special schools continues to decline, but the overall number holds steady.

There are now 127 SPIs in England, up from 107 in June 2018. 108 are funded by the ESFA. Natspec has 94 full member colleges.

You can read our full summary of the pertinent data below