Natspec Highlights January 2020

A monthly roundup of stories from the specialist sector

Natspec Highlights January 2020

6th February 2020

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

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

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


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

Setting students up for life at CSCD

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

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

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

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

Colleges continue to be outstanding

Orchard Hill receives another ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted grade

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

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

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

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

Aurora Boveridge excels in monitoring visit

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

Coleg Elidyr graded ‘excellent’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learners Deliver Outstanding Musical Performance at Google UK in London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can watch the performance below:

Students rally together at college’s first tennis festival

Two students showing off their tennis rackets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A big move for HBVC

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

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

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

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

Christmas competition all wrapped up

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

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

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

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

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

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

New College Worcester students thriving in new environment.

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

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

Being guided to success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introducing Student Ambassadors

QAC's new student ambassadors in red QAC hoodies

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

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

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

Derwen's student board in their blue derwen college jackets

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

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