Valuing specialism; realising potential

Natspec has 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.

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.”

Three key areas

Natspec is calling on all parties and parliamentary candidates to sign up to the following pledges.

Access to quality further education

  • Investment at national level into developing the FE workforce, including hubs for specialist expertise
  • A requirement for strategic planning by local authorities and a regional approach to commissioning specialist services, involving all post-16 providers

a student undertaking physiotherapy in a pool

A system that works for young people

Which lives up to the vision of the legislation.

  • Increased high needs funding available to support those aged 16 to 25, and a simplified funding system
  • Better accountability, in line with the recommendations of the recent Education Select Committee report
  • Reduced bureaucracy by creating standardised paperwork across all local authorities
  • Training for young people to understand their legal rights and help them become more self-determining

A student enjoying using a bubble machine independently

Brighter futures

So that young people can go on to lead happy and fulfilled lives, living as independently as possible with paid employment where appropriate.

  • New national standards for transition from school to FE and from FE to post-college life
  • Training for specialist careers advisers to improve careers information, advice and guidance
  • Address the disincentives to work within the benefits system
  • Investment in housing, adult social services and employment support for people with learning difficulties and disabilities.

Natspec Highlights October 2019


The weather’s turning colder and the evenings are getting darker, but that hasn’t stopped any of our members! Things are as busy as ever. Staff and students participated in AoC’s #LoveOurColleges week, showing their appreciation for further education.

Natspec’s gearing up for a busy month in November, with the National Student Voice Parliament meeting for the sixth time and the TechAbility Conference highlight best practice in assistive technology provision for learners.

October also saw the release of the Education Select Committee’s report on SEND. Natspec’s chair and chief executive both responded to the report, supporting the conclusions made and calling for action to be taken. We also published a new student story about recent Transition2 graduate Jess, who’s progressed to independent living and paid work opportunities.


  1. The Ripple Effect
  2. Queen Alexandra College makes commitment to support students and staff with their mental health and wellbeing
  3. Langdon College develops new calendar in collaboration with care home
  4. Students from HBVC getting out into the community
  5. High Riggs Farm development
  6. Talent and tension at Skills Live @Derwen
  7. Award success for Homefield College students
  8. Linkage College is opening a new campus in East Riding
  9. Portland College is a finalist in Autism Hero Awards
  10. Upcoming events

The Ripple Effect

Pip, a student at Beaumont College, is featured in a new video from the Bendrigg Trust. The Bendrigg Trust specialises in providing outdoor activities for people with disabilities.

Pip was introduced to climbing at a young age. Her love of climbing has enabled her to take on challenges that previously seemed insurmountable. She now competes in para-climbing competitions across the UK.

She’s also helping organise a learning disability climbing festival, taking place in January 2020.

Queen Alexandra College makes commitment to support students and staff with their mental health and wellbeing

Bev Jessop with the AoC mental health and wellbeing charterQueen Alexandra College has reaffirmed their commitment to staff and students by signing up to a brand new national mental health and wellbeing charter created by the Association of Colleges in conjunction with mental health experts.

The 11-point document includes commitments to:

  • Promoting equality of opportunity and challenging mental health stigma
  • Providing appropriate mental health training for staff
  • Providing targeted individual mental health support where appropriate

Richard Caulfield, Mental Health lead at the Association of Colleges, said:

“Every single day colleges like Queen Alexandra College provide a world class education and transform the lives of millions of people. This includes providing support for both staff and student wellbeing at the right time, in the right place. This charter gives colleges the chance to publicly state their commitment to the mental health agenda.”

Bev Jessop, Queen Alexandra College Principal and Chief Executive reiterated the importance of supporting the mental health of staff and students. “Having and discussing mental health and wellbeing issues is sadly often seen as taboo, with too many people troubled about the stigma that is often associated with these frequently invisible conditions. At QAC, we want to work with staff proactively, promoting an open, honest and supportive culture and the AoC MH Charter is another way in which we can demonstrate our commitment to this.”

Langdon College develops new calendar in collaboration with care home

The Langdon College calendarLangdon College’s Karten Centre has been working on a multigenerational collaborative painting and photography project, bringing together two of Manchester’s key charities. This partnership working has resulted in the production of a Jewish calendar which launched on 22 September 2019.

Students at Langdon College, who work within the LC-Print enterprise business, took part in joint art sessions with residents of the Feds’s Heathlands Village care home. Together they created original artwork and imagery based on a monthly theme. Many of the themes reflect Jewish festivals and celebrations.

Langdon College tutor, Rebecca Holmes, said, “The students have worked incredibly hard behind the scenes. Through their teamwork and efforts, they also enhanced many of their interpersonal skills, such as communication and organisational ability.”

At a joyful launch event which took place at Heathlands Village, the calendars were presented for sale to the public for the first time. Trevor Holt, the Mayor of Bury, as well as students and residents involved in the project all attended the launch. Rebecca continued “from creating the artwork together to the students printing and binding the calendars – it has been a huge success.”

Langdon students show the new calendars to the Mayor of Bury

Students from HBVC getting out into the community

HBVC learners with staff at the Care HomeStudents from HBVC have been helping out at a local care home over September and October. The students planned, organised and conducted an activity with the residents.

Staff at HBVC contributed donations for a raffle that was held at the care home. The residents loved it. Afterwards, students also helped the residents plant flowers in plant pots.

Staff at the care home acknowledged the difference they have seen in the students from the first day going there. They said that students have become more confident since they started. Their body language and interaction with the residents became more assured over the course of their time there.

Another group of students from HBVC has recently supported the ‘Can Do Project’. Bearwick Partners invited learners in to deliver a Disability Awareness session. Staff at Bearwick Partners had got fully involved with the spirit of the project, having decorated their desks as specific countries for World Inclusion Day. The session led by the learners was an online, interactive presentation which posed questions to the audience about their knowledge on disabilities. The session proved to be informative and a great way for the learners to explain their experiences to the staff. The feedback proved very positive – success!

As a result of this work, work placements and office space to perform mock interviews are being explored.

HBVC students at Bearwick Partners

High Riggs Farm development

The new accessible toilet at High Riggs FarmRuskin Mill Trust is delighted to announce that their outdoor learning centre at High Riggs Farm, part of Freeman College in Sheffield, has been updated with new toilet facilities. This means the rural site now has accessible indoor toilets. The learning environment is now more inclusive and comfortable for our SEN students, staff and visitors alike. With our previous porta-loos in place, they sometimes created a barrier to learning for our students. Students were less likely to visit the site and access the craft and land based curriculum because of the facilities. So we knew we needed to make a change. That is why we think our new toilets are something to shout about! Ruskin Mill Trust thanks the generous funders on the project whose support enabled the completion of the project: the National Lottery, Newground Together, J G Graves Charitable Trust, Albert Hunt Trust and individual donors.

Ruskin Mill Trust is also delighted to announce that Freeman College has been awarded a ‘Good’ rating by Ofsted following a recent inspection. The award is a well-deserved recognition of the continuing work and dedication of the staff at Freeman.

Talent and tension at Skills Live @Derwen

Students held their nerve to showcase vocational and creative skills during a week-long series of competitions at Derwen College.

Students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) demonstrated their talents in

  • catering
  • table-laying
  • housekeeping
  • art
  • functional skills
  • IT
  • design

Two catering students with their certificates of recognitionSkills Live @Derwen is a new initiative which offers students vocational learning, work placements and independent living skills. The competitions were open to 16-25 year olds who are currently in education in mainstream or specialist colleges or schools and working at up to Level 1. Competing in the competitions were students from:

Competitions were held in industry-standard conditions. A panel of industry experts judged the participating students. Judges included Neil Bevan of branding, graphic design and marketing business Hunter Bevan; author and Wilfred Owen Festival co-ordinator Jan Hedger; library manager Siobhan Shaw; Dave Cank of Severndale Nurseries; and artist Liz Neal.

Demonstrating skills

Taking part in the competitions is a great way for students to demonstrate their skills and readiness for work and independence. The week ended with awards presentations where winners were presented with beautiful glass trophies created by Oswestry’s Designs in Mind.

Clare Howard, Chief Executive of Natspec, visited the college for the launch of the competitions.

She said: “Competitions are an effective method of stretching and challenging students. They help to measure and recognise achievement and show off the work-related skills of our learners. They drive confidence and self esteem, which are needed in the workplace, and the best competitions are based on industry standards to ensure that students are work-ready. Natspec is pleased to support the work of Derwen College and all other colleges who are using their relationships with employers to develop competitions which support students in the vocational curriculum and onto employment when they leave college.”

Derwen College ‘industry champion’ and competition judge Neil Bevan said: “These competitions really showcase the skills the students from Derwen and other Colleges have in many areas that relate directly to employment opportunities. The students demonstrate skill and mastery in many different tasks from bed making to badge making – showing their creative skills and also a high degree of attention to detail. These are all skills that can be transferred directly to the workplace, if employers will give them the opportunity to show what they are capable of. The students are also great to talk to and it’s obvious that they gain a great deal from the competitions and from interacting with people from outside the College environment.”

Horticulture students with the mayor and mayoress

Award success for Homefield College students

Students from Homefield attend the TeenTech Leicester eventTwo Homefield students won the ‘Digital Design Award’ at TeenTech’s Leicester event on Thursday 24 Oct. TeenTech run initiatives to inspire young people to gain skills and experience to become future innovators. As part of the event which displayed careers from the Science, Engineering and Technology industries, students were invited to take part in the Innovation Challenge. In pairs, they identified global and local issues in their everyday lives. Then, they created an idea for an app or other technology that could help. Homefield students AJ and Connor designed an app that could alert a driver of any approaching emergency service vehicles. The app would work with GPS systems to prevent accidents in the rush to make a clear path. The concept was highly commended and gained them the Digital Design Award.

Linkage College is opening a new campus in East Riding

Linkage College will be opening a new campus in the East Riding of Yorkshire in September 2020. Joining Linkage’s three existing bases in Lincolnshire, the new campus will meet the growing demand for specialist education north of the Humber.

It is expected that the education system will see a 56 per cent increase in school leavers with additional needs between 2019 and 2021. There is a further 19 per cent increase expected by 2022. The East Riding site will be the area’s only specialist further education college. The aim is to support young people with learning difficulties and disabilities from York, Wakefield, Rotherham, Doncaster and North Yorkshire, as well as East Riding.

Student Max at Linkage. Student artwork is on the walls

College Principal, Martin Shelton says:

“As with all our campuses, our East Riding site will deliver an individualised curriculum in facilities designed to support independence, vocational subjects, social interaction and key academic learning.

Over the years, we have seen Linkage learners with varying degrees of learning disabilities, from mild to severe, achieve academically and personally in ways they and their families could only previously have dreamed of. We are incredibly excited and proud to be bringing this experience to the East Riding area.”

Portland College is a finalist in Autism Hero Awards

Portland College main buildingPortland College is shortlisted for two prestigious national awards. The Autism Hero Awards are run by the Anna Kennedy Online Charity as an opportunity to showcase and celebrate the excellence taking place in the world of Autism. Portland College is shortlisted for both the Leading Business Award and the Lifetime Award.

The Leading Business Award is given to a business that is fully inclusive, provides opportunities to individuals and gives them a secure platform to excel. As a leading specialist college near Mansfield, Portland College has a strong history of supporting people with Autism and other disabilities to realise their full potential.

The Lifetime Award is for an individual who has worked with dedication and commitment for Autism for over 10 years. Mark Morton, Portland’s Behaviour Support Manager has made an incredible difference to the lives of our learners and citizens. He is a highly deserving finalist for this prestigious award.

Mark Dale, Principal and CEO commented:

“At Portland College we strive to continually develop our provision so we can make a real difference to the lives and futures of our learners and citizens.

We are extremely proud of the hard work and dedication our staff show every single day to make Portland College the provider of choice for people with disabilities. Being shortlisted for two prestigious awards is a great way to recognise and celebrate the tremendous impact our staff have on our learners, citizens and our wider communities.”

Upcoming events

November sees the sixth meeting of our National Student Voice Parliament. Taking place on the 12 November at QAC College, Birmingham, students from Natspec colleges across the country will gather to talk about the issues most important to them. The last parliament saw some amazing discussions about the challenges students face and what they want others to know. We’re hoping to build off last time’s discussions and will report back.

It’s also the TechAbility Conference on the 21 November. If you’re interested in how assistive technology could be used to aid learners in your provision, this is the event for you. With nine workshops on offer, there’s something for everyone.


Natspec Response to Education Select Committee Report

Natspec welcomes the Education Select Committee report on Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, published today. We are particularly pleased that the Committee has considered the whole 0-25 system rather than just issues affecting children of school age. Alongside representatives from a wide range of stakeholders, the Committee heard oral evidence from Natspec’s chair, representatives of member colleges and from a parent of one of our students. Natspec also submitted extensive written evidence.

Bernie White, Natspec’s Chair, who was one of the witnesses at the Select Committee, said:

“We agree with the Committee’s conclusions that the 2014 reforms were the right ones and that the underpinning legislation does not require any substantial change.

We also support their analysis that implementation of these reforms has been hindered by a lack of funding, poor administration, and the absence of a clear system of accountability.

We are pleased that the Committee’s report reflects our evidence and welcome the call for creating a neutral role to overcome the conflict of interest within local authorities who have responsibility for both assessment and funding. For young people with high needs, this has led to a postcode lottery when it comes to education and support as well as disputes over placements and too many tribunals.

We also welcome the Committee’s analysis of post-16 issues, which acknowledges a raft of issues including that of young people having limited opportunities to progress to employment or independent or supported housing – despite the progress they have made at college.”

Natspec CEO, Clare Howard, said:

“The Select Committee has set out the key issues very clearly and we support its call for an to end ‘reactive, sticking plaster policies’ and for the government to act quickly. We all now know what is working and what isn’t – it’s time to move on to identifying and implementing solutions and introducing proper accountability.

It’s urgent that the Department for Education takes the findings of the Select Committee’s report – alongside evidence gathered from other recent research1 – and comes up with ways to get the system working as originally envisaged. For post-16 students, we would urge them to focus on

  • designing a funding system that works for the FE sector, in particular addressing wider than local catchment areas and reducing the bureaucracy of high needs funding
  • requiring local authorities to take a strategic and regional approach to planning post-16 and post-19 provision, in partnership with education and training providers of all types
  • working closely with DWP and DHSC to ensure young people have access to an array of post-college options as part of a fulfilling adult life.

None of this will be possible without adequate funding from government. And it is unlikely to happen unless we have a robust system of accountability and sanctions for non-compliance.

We look forward to working with the Department to ensure that in the future all young people with SEND get the education, training and support they are entitled to.”

1 Recent research and evidence gathered includes the consultation on funding for SEND and AP, the government report on residential schools and colleges, the NAO report on the SEND system and the Timpson exclusions review. You can also read all Natspec’s publications and responses about what is and isn’t working for support for post-16 with SEND.

Jess’s Story: increasing confidence and finding opportunities

Jess serving food at the cafe where she worksWhen Jess came to Transition2 in September 2017 she lacked confidence and belief in her own abilities. Working alongside her EHCP outcomes, with input from Jess and her circle of support, staff at Transition2 set targets to help increase her confidence, perseverance and develop her self-management and vocational skills.

By the end of her first year she had improved in many areas. She developed new skills, such as going to the local shop independently. Steps such as this, and gaining autonomy over her appearance, gave her increasing confidence and made her feel “grown up”. As a consequence of this her ability to self-manage and her readiness for work also increased.

Progress and work opportunities

Towards the end of 2018 Jess started her first volunteering job at a children’s play centre. This is a varied role which includes clearing tables, wiping surfaces, vacuuming, tidying the ball pit, and interacting with the children. Jess gradually increased the amount of hours that she worked so that it became a sustainable outcome after College.

The following year, Jess spoke to her College Key Worker about finding more opportunities to work with children. Their research led them to an indoor climbing centre with a café and a children’s play area. Jess was successful in getting work experience one afternoon a week as a Clipper. In this role, she helps secure children onto the climbing ropes, monitors the walls, and keeps the arena safe and clean.

After gaining the confidence to leave home and move into supported living with her friends, she found another work opportunity at a café in her local community. During this time, she gained her food hygiene certificate so she could prepare food safely.

Jess graduated from Transition2 in the summer of 2019. She now happily continues working at all three placements without any external support, achieving sustainable outcomes far greater than she could have ever believed possible back in 2017.

Demonstrating what disabled young people can achieve

Adam smiling at workAdam’s journey into the world of work initially started with a 6 week vocational placement back in 2017. Within the first few weeks of Adam’s placement, Percy Hedley and Dobbies staff recognised Adam’s strengths and strong work ethics. With on-going support from College and the Employability Project the relationship flourished.

In September 2018, Adam returned to Dobbies, this time as a part of his Supported Internship programme. With the fantastic support from Percy Hedley’s trained Job Coaches, he succeeded and achieved paid work. Not only has Adam increased his social networks, having Adam at Dobbies in Morpeth has also benefited the employer and staff members. Adam has shown them all what disabled young people can achieve. Employing disabled people provides a more diverse workforce and improves staff awareness of disability issues.

The Catering Manager at Dobbies explains:

“We’ve found that disabled employees are committed and eager to achieve, have good attendance records, they are punctual, loyal and stick at their jobs. It’s good to have Adam in our team”.

Amanda Gregson, Hedleys Work Experience Coordinator added:

“It has been an absolute pleasure to work with Adam and see how he has grown in both confidence and independence. Initially he needed a lot of support and prompts; however through his hard work, great attitude and work ethos he has become very independent and capable at his carved job role. The staff are very supportive and it is evident Adam is a popular member of the team.”

Adam’s feedback is: “I enjoy going to work. I am a busy guy and the staff are always friendly and helpful. It’s great.”

Dionne Smith from Percy Hedley’s Employability says:

“My advice to employers is to have a diverse workforce that is representative of your community.”

Natspec Highlights September 2019


The first month of a new academic year is always a busy one! That’s certainly been true at Natspec, where we’ve been busy responding to new funding and review announcements. There are three major items that are of interest to the specialist FE sector:

It’s also been busy at our colleges! New students have got started on their journeys and old students have been welcomed back. At Natspec we’ll continue to bring you exciting news updates from across our members. We’ve even got a host of them for you below. From exam success to workplace achievements, awards for college staff, and a few celebrity encounters, September was jam-packed. There’s even news about breaking a world record!


  1. Launching the Natspec Awards
  2. Record breaking success for student at Fairfield Farm College
  3. Stars of the show at Premier event
  4. Exam Success for RNC
  5. Miles Flies High at the Co-op!
  6. Growing confidence through work at Transition2
  7. National Star supports the launch of a new wheelchair lap belt
  8. Fortune Centre’s new IT facility opened by Martin Clunes
  9. College sweetshop receives a makeover thanks to local company
  10. Plas Dwbl receives visit from Kate Humble
  11. Landmarks offers unique Hospitality and Catering Training at The Archer
  12. RNIB Loughborough celebrates 30th anniversary
  13. Coleg Elidyr’s receives Advanced Accreditation from the National Autistic Society
  14. Condover College staff are finalists at the regional Great British Care Awards 2019
  15. Portland College are Proud Finalists for Prestigious Award

Launching the Natspec Awards

Natspec Awards Logo

On Monday 30 September Natspec launched the Natspec Awards. They’re open to any specialist FE provider that is a member of Natspec. We’re aiming to shine a light on innovative practice in the sector.

The awards focus on six specific areas of practice:

Applications are open now and will stay open until the 19 February.

Record breaking success for student at Fairfield Farm College

Harry Humphries stands with other GB team members on the podiumHarry Humphries is celebrating a massive achievement upon return from the European Down Syndrome Swimming championship in Olbia, Sardinia. There, he represented Team GB and competed against 19 countries from all over the world. Harry was on a winning streak, reaching four finals whilst at the competition.

Harry took home gold medals for the 200-metre freestyle relay with a world record for the race category! He also won two bronze medals in both the 100 and 50-metre freestyle relay. The college and supporters of Harry’s journey are incredibly proud of his achievements. Previously, he was awarded Young Individual Sportsperson at the 2019 Westbury Young People Awards earlier this year.

In 2017 Harry was spotted at a gala specifically for people with Downs Syndrome in Southampton. Fast forward several years and he travels the world, taking part in competitions and bringing home a variety of medals whilst representing Team GB. He joined Fairfield Farm College in September last year as a residential student, staying at the college mid-week. Harry does a fantastic job balancing his college life and training for his competitions. He joined Warminster Swimming Club, near to the college, so that he could increase his training to include an early swim and a one to one evening session with his coach. With lots more competitions on the horizon, there may be more medals and world records in store. We’ll keep you updated!

Stars of the show at Premier event

Derwen on Tour groupDerwen College sign, song and dance group Derwen on Tour (DOT) performed in front of their largest ever audience at a nationwide Premier Inn Celebration in Hampshire on the 19 September.

Students from the college took to the stage with an audience of 5,000 people at the hotel’s star-studded annual celebration. The same stage as singers Pixie Lott and Craig David! The students also had a chance to meet television personality Rylan Clark-Neal.

The Derwen on Tour group meet Rylan Clark-Neal

Experienced and newer DOT members comprised the performance group. Three Derwen College graduates returned as guests to join in the momentous occasion, whilst student Ben Moore-Hill only joined DOT this term.

Sara, one of the returning members said: “It’s weird to be back but when I had the email asking me, I immediately said; ‘Yes, yes, yes!’” Offering advice to newer members of the group, Sara said: “You have to be committed and have determination, and just enjoy yourself!”

DOT opened the party with choreographed sign and dance routines to Wham! classic ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go, Go’ and ‘This Is Me’ from The Greatest Showman.

Teacher and DOT choreographer Jessie Vaughan commented:

‘We felt honoured to be asked to perform by Premier Inn at such a high-profile event. It was an emotional and amazing experience. We have staged shows at many fabulous events including Llangollen International Eisteddfod and Christmas lights switch-ons, but this was by far our largest audience to date.

We were delighted that Sara, Amy and Thomas returned to make guest appearances, and thrilled to welcome newest DOT member Ben whose first ever performance will be in front of 5,000 people!’

Exam Success for RNC

Alicia holds her exam results envelopeStudents at The Royal National College for the Blind (RNC) achieved a 100% pass rate in their A Levels again this year for the third year in a row. A Levels at grades A-C accounted for 91% of the passes, an increase of 41% on last year. All students who applied through UCAS successfully got into their first choice universities.

Students who undertook NVQs also performed incredibly well with an 88% pass rate across all subjects. 27% achieving A grades.

Amongst some notable performances was Alicia Jackson, who travelled from Cumbria to study at RNC. Alicia achieved grade C in A Level Psychology and A Level Sociology and a Distinction in the OCR Level 3 Cambridge Technical Extended Certificate in Health and Social Care. Delighted with her results, she said:

‘I am so happy to achieve these grades, it’s been hard work but I can honestly say hand on heart that without coming to RNC I don’t think I would have achieved this.’

Alicia is going on to Northumbria University to study a BSc (Hons) in Occupational Therapy.

Professor Tamar Thompson, Chair of the Board of Governors, was extremely proud of the Class of 2019. She said:

‘Yet again our students have done so well with another outstanding year of A Level results and will go on to build great futures for themselves. A huge thanks also to our incredible team of teachers and support staff who are all part of this success story. Congratulations!’

Miles Flies High at the Co-op!

Miles unpacking a trolley of soft drinksPortland College learner Miles completed a Supported Internship placement at the Co-op at the end of the last academic year. He made a lot of progress during his time there, learning everything other staff members were taught.

Miles price checks the items, checks off the delivery and signs it off with the driver, stock rotates and puts the delivery away. He also knows how to serve customers by using the till.

Miles is beginning to work more independently each time he attends. His support staff said:

‘Miles is a local celebrity at the Co-op, everyone knows him and speaks to him when they come in.’

The staff at the Co-op supported Miles from the moment the placement was set up. In the last few weeks Portland has learned that Miles has gained paid employment at the Co-op! He’s going to begin working one day per week with a view to progressing on to two days as he develops his skills and settles in with the team.

Growing confidence through work at Transition2

Cora helps clean up plants in a parkCora, a learner at Transition2, works once a week with Derby Parks Volunteers since April 2019. During that time, Cora has improved her communication skills, her employability skills and has shown remarkable resilience – often going out in all weathers. She relishes the enjoyment of being outdoors, the increased physical exercise and, importantly, the social aspects of being together with others working together to realise a common goal. Cora has participated in hedge laying, coppicing, limestone path laying and woodland management tasks across different green spaces in Derby. She continues to make friends and develop in her placement each week.

National Star supports the launch of a new wheelchair lap belt

National StarThe soloc wheelchair lap belt has provided expert support and guidance to SoLoc Ltd so the company can launch an innovative one-handed wheelchair lap belt.

SoLoc enables users to fasten and release the lap belt using one hand, promoting the independence of wheelchair users with a range of functional impairments. It can be attached for right-handed or left-handed users. The design supports people with hand tremors, visual impairments, and limited strength and manual dexterity.

David Finch, directed of Technology Innovation at National Star, said:

‘National Star is thrilled to have played a part in creating a unique product that will change the lives of people with disabilities in both enhancing safety whilst improving independence.’

Find out more about Soloc, the innovative one-handed wheelchair lap belt, by visiting the product’s website.

Fortune Centre’s new IT facility opened by Martin Clunes

Martin Clunes (on horseback) with learners from FCRT

Martin Clunes, the Patron of the Fortune Centre of Riding Therapy, delighted students by arriving early for the official opening of ‘Peter’s Box’, their new IT suite. A yard-based IT suite was a long-term plan for the college. Its creation became possible following a donation from the Sir Peter O’Sullevan Charitable Trust.

Martin’s early arrival meant that was able to join the students in an educational vaulting (mounted gymnastics) session.

The designers and builders, Tuakana Ltd, discussed the needs of Peter’s Box with FCRT staff. An essential part of equine facilitated education is for the students to still be within an equine environment. The site allows them to be close to the FCRT horses. The design then incorporated large windows to enable students to see the horses in their stables and on the yard whilst using the IT facilities and computers.Martin Clunes and others cut the ribbon on the new IT centre

Martin Clunes cut the ribbon and officially opened Peter’ Box, alongside Lord Manners, Chairman of the Trustees, Nigel Payne from the Sir Peter O’Sullevan Trust, Gillian Lady Howard de Walden and Jane Delves, Director of the FCRT.

FCRT's new IT centreJane said:

“It will give us the opportunity to use the computers in an environment where the students primarily learn with the horses. The students are thrilled with the whole experience.”

Fundraising coordinator Paola King added:

‘The amount of support we have had is super, but it is surprising how many people are unaware about how successful Equine Facilitated Education can be. The students are just over the moon and cannot wait to get started with learning new skills within Peter’s Box’.

College sweet shop receives a makeover thanks to local company

Barrow of Treats, the café and sweet shop run by Homefield College, recently underwent a freshen-up. The café received a new look with redesigned layout, new furnishings and a lick of paint. Loughborough’s DIAM, meanwhile, generously lent their support to transform the sweet shop.

Students Ashley & Sean outside newly refurbished Barrow of Treats sweetshop

At the café, students develop their cookery skills whilst routinely interacting with customers, learning the importance of food hygiene, stock rotation and timely service. Over the road at the sweet shop students make orders for parties, weddings and events. They also take orders, weigh sweets and handle money as they sell the sweets.

Traditional sweetshop style cabinets inside Barrow of Treats sweetshopTracey Forman, Principal of Homefield College, said:

‘Achievement through experience is Homefield’s motto, and without students experiencing a real workplace it is harder for them to achieve their goals by entering into employment. Many workplaces have misperceptions of young people with learning disabilities and so for many of our students, working in our enterprises gives them a boost onto the career ladder with experience and qualifications, to prove that actually they’re just as capable, if not more so with their determined attitudes and great focus.’

DIAM LTD, a global company who create, develop and install retail & merchandising solutions with a local base in Loughborough, provided free labour as part of their social inclusion and charitable acts programme. They fitted out the sweet shop with cabinets and bespoke shelving to achieve the traditional sweetshop look. Students now have a chance to practice their employment skills in an organised and practical space.

Plas Dwbl receives visit from Kate Humble

TV presenter Kate Humble visited Ruskin Mill Trust’s Coleg Plas Dwbl, at the foot of the Preselli hills in Pembrokeshire this March. Filming as part of her BBC Wales ‘Off the Beaten Track’ series, Kate spoke to some of the students and tutors at the college about the relationship between the College and its surrounding landscape. The segment explores how Ruskin Mill’s unique craft and land based approach to education continues to help young people overcome their barriers to learning, become skilled and contribute towards community.

You can watch episode four of ‘Off the Beaten Track’ on BBC iplayer.

Landmarks offers unique Hospitality and Catering Training at The Archer.

The Archer, run by Landmarks College, is a fully operational public house in Rainworth, Mansfield. The Archer is a unique training environment enabling learners to gain the experience and qualifications needed to enter the bar and restaurant trade.

Learners fulfil many of the operational roles, acquiring first-hand experience of:

  • serving customers
  • preparing drinks
  • making meals
  • maintaining the environment to a high standard

It places learners in the real working world from day one. Learners prepare to work in an industry where job opportunities are good. It has also challenged a local community to accept this diversity into their community tapestry. Over time, support has increased. The experience learners now receive benefits them in many incidental and personal ways, not just linked to work.

Students at the Archer directed, filmed and produced a video to explain how this offer has made a difference to their lives.

RNIB Loughborough celebrates 30th anniversary

Principal, June Murray, and Chair of RNIB, Ellie Southwood cut the cake at 30th Anniversary CelebrationOn Wednesday 18 September, the RNIB College celebrated their 30th Anniversary. Staff, students and friends of the College listened to stories from current and former principals as well as Chair of RNIB, Ellie Southwood. They raised a toast to the College and sampled a selection of cakes.

Current staff and students heard how the RNIB College relocated from London to a specially designed college building next to Loughborough College. RNIB conducted a UK search for a mainstream college partner. Following this, Loughborough College was the final choice. It was pioneering at the time as it was the first blind college to be so closely linked to a mainstream college. There was a display of old college articles and memorabilia, all of which was kindly loaned to the College by former and current staff and Loughborough Library Local Studies Volunteers who searched their archives to find news articles.

Today the College is very different. But it still has the same friendliness, warmth and ‘can do’ attitude to support its students. A small, friendly Further Education College taking students with a wide range of disabilities, many of whom have autism and learning difficulties. Students can learn in the enterprises, such as the Bell Bar, eBay, College Office and the Media Hub, as well as accessing mainstream courses at Loughborough College with the support of RNIB College.  There is also a Supported Internship programme for individuals wanting to improve their employability skills on a work based education programme.

Coleg Elidyr’s receives Advanced Accreditation from the National Autistic Society

Autism Accreditation logoIn 2016, Coleg Elidyr became the only Further Education College in Wales to be accredited by the National Autistic Society. A subsequent Review in July 2019 resulted in the achievement of ‘Advanced Accreditation’ Status.

Key aspects the Reviewer’s considered Coleg Elidyr does particularly well included:

  • Self-advocacy planning
  • student consultation
  • Total Communication environment
  • Staff development and training
  • increasing students’ independence
  • its breadth of vocational qualifications
  • engagement with the wider community.

The Award committee informed the college that they were particularly impressed with the strong focus on encouraging and supporting students to express opinions and make informed decisions. They also said:

‘Coleg Elidyr is increasingly seen as a centre of excellence in the field of autism in particular, in relationship to the work it has done on measuring outcomes in skills for life and work. Feedback from parents is very positive’.

Condover College staff are finalists at the regional Great British Care Awards 2019

Condover College staff members Jessica Hammond and Katy Russell are both finalists at the West Midlands Great British Care Awards. Jessica is a finalist for the Housing With Care Award and Katy is a finalist for the Care Home Activity Organiser Award.

Jessica is the registered manager of Condover College’s high quality scheme Hall Bank Mews. She and the staff team provide excellent person-centred care. It’s her job to ensure residents have enjoyable and fulfilled lives. Staff and residents also have an amazing relationship with the local community, with residents attending local activities and the community attending events at the home. Staff are incredibly supportive of residents gaining independence. Residents are also actively encouraged to achieve their goals.

Katy is the manager of CCL’s Opportunities Programme in Shrewsbury. Katy and the staff team provide a range of activities for learners that are tailored to individual needs and preferences. There are regular meetings with learners, family and friends to explore activities that are enjoyable and engaging for everyone. With a strong focus on community engagement, communication, learning new skills and gaining independence, The Opportunities Programme is supportive of learners achieving their dreams and aspirations.

Portland College are Proud Finalists for Prestigious Award

Portland College's care teamPortland College are finalists for a prestigious national award. The Caring UK Awards are now in their third year. Portland College has beaten competition from hundreds of other nominations across the UK to be shortlisted for the Quality in Housekeeping Award.

Ike Onwukwe, Assistant Principal – Care commented:

‘We are extremely proud of our Housekeeping Teams who work tirelessly to ensure that our facilities look their absolute best at all times.

With a small team, focussed on enhancing the experience of our learners and residents, the high standards that our Housekeeping Staff deliver is fundamental to their safety, health, wellbeing and happiness. The team takes immense pride in the work that they do and it is fantastic that they are being formally recognised for their commitment.’

Script Events organise the awards in conjunction with leading care industry magazine Caring UK, with support from headline sponsor Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank. In each category there are up to seven finalists. Each of the finalists will now go through to the next stage of the judging process where they will be out to impress by showcasing first hand the great work going on in their homes.

We’ll have to wait until November to hear if Portland win this prestigious award – watch this space!

The NAO report and the PAC Inquiry: how the headlines change for FE


The 2014 SEND reforms intended to create a new single system for all those aged 0-25.

Too often, policy and spending decisions are based on data taken only from schools.

The National Audit Office report, ‘Support for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities in England’, published on 11 September and the Public Accounts Committee Inquiry launched on 30 September refer only to ‘pupils’, ‘schools’ and ‘children’.

The omission of those aged 16 to 25 presents an incomplete and misleading picture which is unhelpful when looking to improve the system as a whole. There are significant differences in the post-16 SEND system – in terms of spending, patterns of provision and trends.

There is a danger that future policy developed to solve issues in schools will be applied to colleges, when different solutions are required.

For example:

  • Spending on school transport has increased significantly. But for post-16, councils are making cuts to transport spending.
  • The main reason for overspend relating to children is increased spending on special schools. But LAs report that a more significant budget pressure is the post-16 age group.
  • Spending on independent special schools is increasing. But LAs are reducing their overall spend on specialist colleges.
  • A growing proportion of children are being placed in specialist provision. But the proportion of students with SEND in specialist colleges has remained constant.
  • Exclusion of pupils with SEND is an issue in mainstream schools. But mainstream GFE colleges are including a rapidly increasing number of learners with SEND.

Natspec calls for an increased focus on FE and policy priorities for those aged 16 to 25.

Detailed research on post-16 commissioning is required. The Department for Education should do more to encourage councils to work together to take account of different travel patterns and catchment areas for further education.

Future budgets and spending decisions need to redress the balance between pre and post-16 and address the significant shortfall in post-16 LA and FE budgets.


The 2014 SEND reforms created a new single 0-25 system, but too often the focus of reports about its implementation is on school-aged children only. Early years and further education are hardly getting a look-in.

On 11 September, the National Audit Office published their report on Support for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities in England. In response to the report, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has opened an Inquiry to consider “whether children with SEND are being supported effectively and the outcomes of that support; and the funding, spending and financial sustainability of SEND support.”

Both the NAO report and the PAC Inquiry refer to the 0-25 SEND system but their focus is almost entirely on schools. The NAO report refers to pupils and schools throughout. Its conclusions are based on data from the Department for Education’s school census and data on school places from local authorities.

How can we review the effectiveness of the system as a whole and come up with fixes where thing are going wrong, if we only consider one section of the demographic?

As a Further Education organisation, we are particularly alarmed at the omission of mainstream and specialist colleges, work-based learning and other providers of FE. Not to mention the complete absence of adult provision or adult social care in any of these reports or reviews. After all, we know from the SEND Area Reviews undertaken by Ofsted and CQC that there is often a dearth of opportunities available to young people leaving education.

It is essential that future policy-making and decisions on spending are not based on such a partial picture. There must be separate, detailed consideration of what is happening post-16 because the issues and the solutions for young people with SEND are not the same as for children.

How the headlines change for post-16

Here is a selection of headlines from the NAO report, and how the picture changes for young people aged over 16 in further education:


Local authorities’ spending on school transport for pupils with SEND has also increased significantly and was £102 million (18.4%) over budget in 2017-18. — Paragraph 13, NAO Report

Spending on school transport has increased significantly. But for post-16, councils are making cuts to transport spending.

The planned expenditure for 2019-20 reported in S251 data shows a decrease in mainstream home to school post-16 transport of 16.4%.

LA budget pressures

The main reason why local authorities have overspent their high-needs budgets is that more pupils are attending special schools. — Paragraph 14, NAO Report

The main reason for overspend relating to children is increased spending on special schools. But LAs report that a more significant budget pressure is the post-16 age group.

The LGA report that “increased post-16 responsibilities was the single most commonly cited factor contributing to the growth in high needs spending by local authorities… this age group constitutes 17% of high needs expenditure.” LGA Dec 2018)

The cost of provision

Spending on independent special schools increased sharply – by 32.4% in real terms between 2013-14 and 2017‑18. We estimate that, in 2017-18, the cost per pupil in an independent special school was £50,000. — Paragraph 14, NAO Report

Spending on independent special schools is increasing. But LAs are reducing their overall spend on specialist colleges.

Neither mainstream GFE colleges nor specialist colleges are maintained by LAs, so there is no direct equivalent to independent special schools in FE.

However, post school top up funding for Special Post-16 colleges is projected to be £154m in 2019-20, a reduction of £11m from the previous year. (S251 data).

Specialist provision

A growing proportion of pupils with SEND are attending special schools and alternative provision. This includes a 4% rise in state special schools, a 7% rise in alternative provision and a 23.6% rise in independent special schools. — Figure 10, NAO Report

A growing proportion of children are being placed in specialist provision. But the proportion of students with SEND in specialist colleges has remained constant.

Young people placed in Special Post-16 Institutions represent about 9% of the total number of 16-25-year olds with EHCPs in Further Education. This percentage has not changed for the last 5 years. (SEN2 and ESFA data)


Pupils with SEND, particularly those without EHC plans, are more likely to be permanently excluded from school than pupils without SEND — Paragraph 19, NAO Report

Exclusion of pupils with SEND is an issue in mainstream schools. But mainstream GFE colleges are including a rapidly increasing number of learners with SEND.

The Education Select Committee Inquiry into school and college funding reported that “Twice as many disadvantaged 16 to 18 year-olds go to further education colleges than school sixth forms”.

The number and proportions of students with SEND in GFE colleges are increasing rapidly according to ESFA High Needs place number data. Numbers have doubled from 15,000 in 2013/14 to almost 30,000 in 2018/19.


The system for supporting pupils with SEND is not, on current trends, financially sustainable.

Many local authorities are failing to live within their high-needs budgets and meet the demand for support — Paragraph 23, NAO Report

The NAO report accurately highlights the funding crisis. But it does not report that cuts since 2010 have had a more lasting and deeper effect on FE.

The recent Education Select Committee Inquiry on school and college funding concluded:

“Post-16 education has been cut to the core. We note the Minister’s position about post-financial crash difficulties. Other sectors have however moved on. The continued underfunding of this pivotal stage in education is longer justifiable. These budget pressures are the result of political decisions that have had enormous impacts on young people’s educational opportunities and undermined attempts to tackle social justice. The Department must act urgently to address the damage that has been done.”

And in relation to SEND: “The post–16 sector in particular is having to deal with significant challenges in the context of enormous funding constraints. This is not sustainable.”

Conclusions and recommendations

Whilst some of the findings and recommendations of the NAO report are relevant across the whole of the SEND system, in other cases, the story for the post-16 age group and further education is very different.

There is a danger that unless these differences are studied more fully, policy making will be flawed, since it will be based on incomplete and incorrect data.

Policy makers need to understand the complete picture from 0-25 including early years and FE in particular. If they continue to rely only on data from schools, the ambition of the SEND reforms to create a single system from 0 to 25 will never be realised.

Natspec recommends that:

  1. The scope of the Public Accounts Committee Inquiry, the DfE’s proposed SEND review and all future reviews are widened. They should include the whole 0-25 SEND system, clearly stating which evidence and data sets relate separately to early years, schools and colleges.
  2. Detailed research is undertaken relating to the post-16 age group, in order to clarify:
    • how the definition of “local” should change in relation to young people aged 16 to 25 in the SEND system
    • what support should be universally available at mainstream colleges and training providers
    • what support requires more specialist expertise.

    The research should identify the specific demographic or cohorts of the small numbers of young people, particularly post-19, that require highly specialised and/or residential provision.

  3. DfE should do more to encourage councils to work together to take account of different travel patterns and catchment areas for further education. Guidance should be issued to LAs relating to which services for post-16 and post-19 students with SEND should be provided in every local area. They should also establish which more highly specialist services would be more cost-effective to secure at regional or national level.
  4. Future budgets and spending decisions should redress the balance between pre and post-16 and address the significant shortfall in LA and FE budgets.

Applications open for new Natspec Awards

Applications for the new Natspec Awards open today! Open to any specialist FE provider that is a member of Natspec, the awards will shine a light on innovative practice in the sector.

Announcing the launch of the Natspec Awards website, Clare Howard Natspec CEO said:

“The new Natspec Awards are a great opportunity to recognise the wealth of experience and expertise that exists in the specialist education sector. Natspec members work hard to provide education and training that enables young people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities achieve their goals.  As the membership body for specialist colleges, Natspec wants to recognise, celebrate and promote this important work.

I am delighted to announce that applications for the new Natspec Awards are now open and I encourage Natspec members to apply.”

The awards focus on six specific areas of practice:

  • Innovative use of technology
  • Creating successful pathways into employment
  • Effective capturing and use of student voice
  • Effective wellbeing support or mental health initiative
  • Effective inter-disciplinary working
  • Partnership-working to maximise opportunities/outcomes for students

The winners will be chosen by an independent panel of experts and announced at the Natspec National Conference in May 2020. Nigel Evans former lead HMI for high needs provision and chair of the judges panel commented:

“I am very excited about being involved in the Natspec awards; Natspec has always been at the forefront of encouraging and supporting the best educational practice for young people with learning difficulties and disabilities, and these awards are a fantastic way of celebrating innovation and excellence in specialist further education.”

Further information on the Natspec Awards can be found on the Natspec Awards website.

Applications are open until 19 February 2020.