Natspec Games 2019 – North West

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

North West Games

The North West Natspec Games took place on the 16 May on a gorgeous sunny day at Sports City Manchester. The Seashell Trust has been running an inter-college sports day for nine years, and this year’s event saw 185 students from sixteen separate colleges compete in a wide range of inclusive sport.

Volunteers advising a studentThere were several activities on offer, each of which was adaptable to student’s ability levels. The bowling proved very popular, as did the hurdles – which could be set to different heights to give different students different levels of challenge. Javelin was done using foam rockets, providing a safe method to try and get the ‘javelin’ as far as they could – and students took to the challenge!

Fifty-six volunteers were on hand to make sure the day ran smoothly, and they did a fantastic job. The flagbearers rallied their teams throughout the day, keeping students on track and ensuring they got to sample a range of activities. The team from Lusu sports were there as well, encouraging students to participate.

Students smiling on a bench waiting their turn

In the afternoon the Games moved outside to the running track. Some chose to spectate and soak up the sunshine but a huge number of students threw themselves into the running races. Sprinting at flat out down the hundred metres track proved to be an effective way to burn off energy from the day. The races were staggered to all ability levels, and the crowd rapturously cheered every time a race completed!

Maureen Wilkins, teacher and curriculum area for sports at Seashell Trust’s Royal College Manchester, said: “It’s great to link up with Natspec again to bring people from across the North West together to participate in inclusive sport and feel part of something. The students engaged and interacted with each other, there was a student who learnt some sign language with staff supporting him so he could communicate to a student who is deaf. What makes it worth it is the young people’s faces and determination – there’s no doubt that this is a day that everyone loves and enjoys.”

Beaumont College students celebrate with their certificates

After everyone had exhausted themselves with the running races, they gathered inside for the medal ceremony, where certificates were awarded to the outstanding performers in the events of the morning.

The North West games were busy and bustling, full of students across a range of ability levels, all of whom had a fantastic day. The day showcased inclusion, mixing the students up together, and providing them with activities accessible to all.

Natspec Games 2019

Natspec Games 2019 – South West

Assistive Technology at Catcote Futures

Assistive technology has the power to transform students’ lives.

Below, we hear from one of our member colleges, Catcote Futures, about the way assistive technology is integrated into their provision.

Assistive Technology at Catcote Futures

At Catcote Futures in Hartlepool, a college for students with complex, severe and/or profound and multiple learning difficulties, assistive technology is embedded in everything we do. We truly believe in celebrating what our students can do, as opposed to focusing on what they cannot.

Graham making a smoothie

As it should be, assistive technology is a natural part of our students’ daily life. We offer a broad and exciting curriculum with a host of learning opportunities that are offered to all students, regardless of need. If a student has expressed a preference to join the Catcote Cooks Crew to help to make our weekly TV-style cooking show, then they are more than welcome to do so, no matter what their physical or cognitive limitations may be.

Our PMLD learners following the ‘Sensory Explorers’ pathway, and use assistive technology every morning as an integral part of their Senseology morning routine. This includes using single switch communicator devices such as BigMacks to greet peers and staff, or share exciting news of their adventures. They use specialist switches to mark themselves present in the register as well as ChooseIT Maker 3 to answer questions on things such as the weather. As part of their daily routine, our Sensory Explorers take part in a vibrant and technology-rich sensory story. Here, the students use switches to allow them to tell a multimedia version of the story, with assistive technology forming the basis of many of the sensory props and cues. Examples include using a switch linked to an Inclusive Click-On 2 to power a hairdryer with voile attached to simulate a dragon’s fiery breath, using the Snapchat app on an iPad to turn the students into hideous witches or interacting with the ‘Fluid Simulation’ app to give the illusion of a bubbling cauldron!

Enterprise skills are a key feature at Catcote Futures and all students are given the opportunity to create and sell variety of items. This year our Sensory Explorers used the food mixer and microwave linked to a PowerLink 4 to create a range of animal treats such as dog and cat biscuits and bird feeders. The money raised from the venture paid for the class to visit Hartlepool’s Special Needs Support Group’s Sensory Room for an amazing day.

Catcote Futures has a vibrant media department, with assistive technology giving all students the opportunity to create a range of multimedia products. James is one of the top presenters of our Catcote Cooks TV show and has Duchenne muscular dystrophy. This means his movement is limited to his head and his thumbs. Using micro switches linked to his Mac, James was able to use the Mac’s scanning feature with GarageBand to compose the catchy theme tune for the show. James has also used a variety of kitchen appliances linked to his switches to make everything from pancakes to toasties to scrambled eggs.

Daniel is a lifelong learner at Catcote Futures who has cerebral palsy which profoundly impedes both his movement and speech. Dan is very sociable and thoroughly enjoys working on reception and in the Bistro, our vibrant café. Dan uses an iTalk2 to both greet customers and thank them for their service. He can also use switches with the toaster and microwave to help prepare arrange meals and snacks for customers.

Dan presenting the news using a switch
Dan presenting the Catcote News

Daniel is also part of the Catcote News team, and has presented several episodes of the programme, using a BigMack Step by Step to deliver both the headlines and conduct interviews with staff and peers. When Daniel got a new personal assistant, he was part of the interview process, again, using a single switch communicator to ask questions and give feedback about the candidates.

Dylan has complex autism and follows our ‘Aiming High’ pathway, our semi-formal curriculum. Dylan has recently undertaken a weekly enterprise and ICT skills session called ‘Sweet Summer Treats.’ During this lesson, Dylan has used a blender and an ice cream maker linked to a switch to make the most marvellous banana ice cream. Dylan is pre-verbal but has been able to advertise his wares by visiting classes and delivering his sales pitch using a single switch communicator. Sales have been excellent and Dylan, who has always been a popular student, has seen his popularity rise yet further!

Chloe keeping cool

Photography is a popular lesson at Catcote Futures and students with physical difficulties are a valued member of the team. Students from across the college were able to use a Blue2 Switch, linked to an iPad Pro to take a range of beautiful photographs of several picturesque sites in Hartlepool. The photographs were then used by students in the reprographics department to create stunning A3 calendars, which have been sold for a tidy profit in our Catcote Metro shop in the town centre. Students were also able to use apps such as ‘Oil Painter’ and ‘Waterlogue’ to create realistic looking digital paintings from the photographs they had taken, to make arty variant versions of the calendars.

Of course, this is just the very tip of the iceberg. Every day Catcote Futures students are using assistive technology to take control, to make meaningful choices, to entertain, to communicate and interact in many ways, using a range of VOCAs, apps and devices, in an ever more natural way. Assistive technology truly enables our students to show the world just what they can do, and we couldn’t ask for more than that!

The author:

This piece was written for us by Pete Wells, Curriculum Manager at Catcote Futures. You may be interested in checking out Pete’s Sensory Stories podcast and his other interactive story-telling resources.

Assistive Technology:

Are you interested in learning more about how to use assistive technology effectively in your provision? Our TechAbility Conference – Raising Standards in Birmingham on the 21 November is aimed at doing exactly that and we are taking bookings now. You might also be interested in checking out our TechAbility resources, or watching one of our webinars.

Mitchel’s Story: Combining Work with Paralympic Training

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

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

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

Mitchel working in a hi-vis vest

Natspec Highlights June 2019

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

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

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

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

Another incredible Student Parliament

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

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

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

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


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

Hereward College Principal opens the Premier Inn training centre

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

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

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

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

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


Successful work outcomes for students at The Hive College

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

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

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


Visiting Buckingham Palace to receive the Duke of Edinburgh Award

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

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

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


Dorton College student wins South London Learner Award

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


Rooftop Bee Garden at Argent College

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

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


Leading inclusive sport in the local community

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

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


New campus for HBVC

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

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

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

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


RNC student Chris targets strongman competition

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

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

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


Landmarks opens new provision in Rotherham

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

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


QAC student band perform at Birmingham town hall

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

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

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

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


Orpheus centre students launch art exhibition

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

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

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

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

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

Tom mixing a cocktail

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

Meet Tom

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

Tom concentrating hard

Work Placement Success in Triplicate!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Natspec Games 2019 – South West

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

South West Games

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

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

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

Students playing with parachute

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

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

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

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

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

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

Student Voice Parliament – 11 June

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

Students having a discussion

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

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

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

Student adding post-it note to busy wall

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

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

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

student adds first post-it note to wall

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

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

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

Deaf Academy Students give a presentation

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

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

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

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

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