Natspec Highlights March 2020

A monthly roundup of stories from the specialist sector

Natspec Highlights March 2020

2nd April 2020

We end March in a very different position from where we started it.

The COVID-19 crisis has placed new pressures on specialist colleges, and they have risen to the challenge in ensuring the young people they care for are kept safe – whether this is within college or at home. We are continuing to keep our guidance about the pandemic for specialist colleges up-to-date with new information as we have it. Natspec remains open to support our members through this time.

As these stories cover the period of the entirety of March – and some from before – they cover a time when learners were still able to go out safely into their local communities. Right now, specialist colleges are focussed on keeping students safe, whether by remaining open for vulnerable young people or by providing the means for them to continue their education at home.

Read on for stories about how colleges got involved in National Careers Week, get involved with developing local and national policy, and success at a dance competition! Plus, this month’s announcement of the Natspec Award’s shortlist.


  1. Announcing the shortlist for the 2020 Natspec Awards
  2. National Careers Week
  3. Basic Skills award for Homefield students
  4. Queen Alexandra College students attend the Midlands Colleges Parliamentary Reception
  5. Learners Become Inspectors!
  6. Work placement success for Trinity Specialist College students
  7. All the right moves for Derwen Dance Crew
  8. A specialist team that helps children and young people to communicate has grown
  9. New College Worcester hosts Dine in the Dark

Announcing the shortlist for the 2020 Natspec Awards

The Natspec Awards aim to recognise and celebrate excellent practice in the specialist further education sector. We want to promote innovation, continuous improvement, and raise standards across the sector. As specialist colleges strive to carry on supporting their learners despite the uncertainties and challenges presented by COVID-19, we hope to celebrate the hard work they do.

On Monday, we were very happy to announce the 18 shortlisted entries.

The winners will now be announced at Natspec’s Principals Forum on the 8 October.

National Careers Week

A number of Natspec colleges got involved in National Careers Week, demonstrating everything they do to help learners move into employment. Here are stories from just some of the colleges who participated.

Portland College

At Portland College, learners took part in Application and Interview Day which were organised by the college’s Information, Advice, Guidance and Transition team.

On Monday they created application forms. Then, on Thursday they took part in practice job interviews with external employers from Cerealto, Creswell Crags, Nottinghamshire County Council and Your Space Health and Fitness Club. The employers gave positive feedback to the learners and tips on areas to develop.

Derwen College

Students at Derwen College took on work-related tasks and challenges in Horticulture, Retail, Hospitality and Housekeeping, and Performing Arts.

A number of 'i couldn't but I can now' posters, with things such as 'learn my lines' 'make ceramic bowls' and 'do karate' listedStudents were invited to take part in a poster competition highlighting the work and independence skills they had learnt whilst at College. The ‘I couldn’t, but now I can …” competition received 47 entries which demonstrated a huge variety of skills. Themes varied across employment, independence and social skills and included skills such as using a till in the Orangery Restaurant, learning lines for a performance, making sandwiches, using kitchen knife skills, folding clothes and going out to work in the community.

Of the competition, Derwen College Governor Barbara Court said: “It was inspiring to see such a large number of entries covering a diverse range of skills and knowledge that students recognised they had acquired whilst at College. These were transferable skills that will serve students in their work and independence skills at College, and in the future.”

The week also offered the opportunity for businesses and employers to visit to see how Derwen College supports students into work, and to view a demonstration of the College’s newly developed CV Builder app.

Derwen has created and developed innovative new apps to further support students into work. The College has developed a suite of apps as part of a ‘Support Work’ project, funded via the Marches LEP Growth Deal with Government for capital skills projects.

Derwen College Quality Manager Samantha Brown said that the College is constantly supporting students in the pursuit of suitable employment, and they were pleased to focus on National Careers Week.

She said, “Careers Week provides a platform to celebrate the wider world of work. By embracing an across-college approach to career guidance and providing an insight into future work or learning possibilities through positive and fun exploration, we hope to empower students to develop and express their own aspirations.”

Basic Skills award for Homefield students

Students from Homefield College with their certificatesSix students from Homefield College successfully completed the Basic Skills course at Giving World, a charity that redistributes end-of-the-line and surplus products to communities in need. Each week a different student took on the role of group leader, demonstrating the task for that session and assigning duties to each team member. Over the course of eight weeks, the team quality-checked and packaged 5000 toothbrushes, 3000 pencils and hundreds of school jumpers. It was a great experience enjoyed by all the group, who developed their communication, team-working and leadership skills.

Queen Alexandra College students attend the Midlands Colleges Parliamentary Reception

Two students from QAC attending the parliamentary receptionQueen Alexandra College (QAC) were recently invited to attend the annual ‘Celebrating Midlands Colleges’ Parliamentary reception in London. The event, organised by the Association of Colleges (AoC), provided a great opportunity to celebrate the significant contribution colleges make to communities and local economies in the East and West Midlands.

QAC sent two of their Student Council Reps, Connor and Adam, as well as Deputy Principal Jan Gormley and Curriculum Area Manager Andy Ainsworth to represent QAC!

They all had a brilliant time and were able to take away some useful information from the various speakers and guests, such as the Secretary of State for Education and a number of MPs.

Learners Become Inspectors!

Learners from portland college contribute to a table discussionIn March, four learners from Portland College – Ryan and Tyler from the Demonstrate learner journey and Matthew and Chelsea from the Progress journey – attended a Young Inspectors co-production event that was held in Leicester.

The East Midlands is looking at reforming their SEND policy and has representation from professionals and families, but currently they have no input from children and young people.

This event trained young people as young inspectors who can go into services across the county. There, they can provide feedback based on their own experiences and make recommendations for improvements across the service.

The learners had a great day and represented themselves and Portland College very well. They all hope to be inspecting their first service very soon!

Work placement success for Trinity Specialist College students

Jack gives a thumbs up in his Asda uniformJack, from Trinity Specialist College, secured a week placement at ASDA Minworth after being successful at interview. He worked 9.00 until 3.00 on Monday 9th until Friday 13th of March with support from key staff.

Jack developed excellent speaking and listening skills by communicating with a range of customers and co-workers, he followed direction and exceeded expectations. Jack’s responsibilities included replenishing stock, checking for out of date items, supporting customers to find what they want and rumbling where you have to put all the things back people leave around the store. By the end of the week he was restocking twelve trollies of items in only a few hours.

Jack learnt a lot about the history of ASDA and delivered a short presentation to his peers at Trinity Specialist College.

Jack stated “it was hard work and the days where long, but I made new friends, learnt lots of new skills and even accepted banter from some members of the public. I found it a rewarding experience and it made me realise I would like to work in this area when I leave college”.

Hanniel secured a voluntary role at The National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas after a successful interview. He attended his first meet and greet session, meeting other volunteers new and old. He was a little nervous at first but did brilliantly standing up in front of a room full of people with no support. He introduced himself, talked about interests and was confident to answer questions put to him. It was a great opportunity to engage in conversations around the table throughout the day.

Hanniel has since started to volunteer on a weekly basis at the Arboretum. He wears his volunteers uniform with pride and works hard throughout his four hour shift. He helps within the food services department clearing and cleaning the tables, helping with drinks and condiments and is becoming confident in answering questions from visitors about the Arboretum. He is building good relationships with other volunteers who enjoy his company and have been extremely helpful in making Hanniel feel part of the team. The Arboretum has over 300,000 visitors a year and gets extremely busy during peak hours, Hanniel has successfully adapted to the fast pace of the catering department.

Hanniel will have the opportunity to complete training at the Arboretum and is already booked to go on a first aid course. The Arboretum staff have organised a trip to The Back to Back Houses in Birmingham as a thankyou to the volunteers and Hanniel is looking forward to attending.

Hanniel stated “I really like going to the Arboretum especially seeing lots of new people. I really like helping the people there. It is busy, but have lots of tasks to do and this keeps me occupied…you also get lunch and the food is amazing!”.

All the right moves for Derwen Dance Crew

A group shot of the Derwen Dance Crew in their matching red jacketsDerwen Dance Crew (DDC), made up of talented students from Derwen College entered Nexstar dance competition in Wolverhampton. The team performed as a group and with individual performances, receiving standing ovations from the audience and professional judges.

The team of 10 students were thrilled to win first prize in the over 16s SEN Street Crew category.

Students Ben and Billie-Jo also wowed judges when competing against mainstream dance schools. Ben was awarded second place in the over-16s mainstream Street solo, and Billie-Jo achieved fifth place in the over-16s mainstream contemporary solo.

The judges were impressed by the high standard of DDC, with two handing out the highest possible marks for the group’s performance. The achievement was made especially incredible as DDC was only launched in January, giving students just six weeks of rehearsal time to learn four group dances.

Student Ben was delighted to receive a trophy for his performance in the mainstream street dance competition. The Performing Arts student, whose speciality is the ‘freeze frame’ move, said he was very happy with DDC’s success.

“I was emotional and cried happy tears. I was very proud to dance in front of my parents and in memory of my grandma who recently passed away,” he said.

“It felt like I was a professional dancer. I have been dancing a long time and would like to do it as a career. Carrying on my Street Dancing at Derwen College has made me more confident.

Ben has been performing street dance since he was at school and said he was pleased to be able to share his skills with Derwen College students.

A specialist team that helps children and young people to communicate has grown

A specialist speech and language therapy team at Doncaster Deaf Trust that helps children and young people to communicate has grown.

The Speech and Language Therapy Team works with children and young people who are deaf, hard of hearing or have communication needs including autism at Doncaster School for the Deaf and Communication Specialist College Doncaster, both under the Doncaster Deaf Trust management.

Emma Robinson and Lauren Woodcock, who have been delivering the specialist support for almost five years are looking forward to welcoming a new member Emma to the team.

Emma said: “We are really excited to be growing the Speech and Language Therapy team based onsite at Doncaster Deaf Trust. We are looking forward to Emma Taylor joining us in February and helping us to provide the support the children and young people at school and college need. We get involved in all aspects of the pupils and students’ educational journey, right from the initial assessments to working out individual plans to meet their communication needs.”

Alexis Johnson, executive principal said: “We are pleased to be expanding this vital service for our children and young people. Along with our onsite audiologist, the Speech and Language team are a real part and parcel of the fabric of our organisation.

“Our pupils, students and their parents have the support they need from the team to ensure that individual needs are met via this specialist one to one and group service.

“Lauren and Emma both go above and beyond what is expected of them to ensure that our young people build their communication confidence and we are sure that with the extra resource we are investing in the team will have even more impact.”

Helping others learn British Sign Language

Doncaster Deaf Trust have also launched a new online course allowing anyone to sign up and learn British Sign Language up to level one. This is a great opportunity to learn some basic sign language – you never know when it might become useful!

New College Worcester hosts Dine in the Dark

Learner and Felice Tocchini in the kitchen preparing foodA charity event that has been in the planning for two years finally came to fruition in March and what an impressive event it was! With the support of top local Chef, Felice Tocchini, NCW held its first ever blindfold dinner at Feli’s Bar and Restaurant in Worcestershire. Guests wore a blindfold and enjoyed a four course meal, which was a truly sensational sensory experience. Each course was attractively presented and was a gastronomic treat. Diners were encouraged to wear their blindfolds throughout the meal but found it really difficult. It was a real insight into some of challenges faced daily by people who are vision impaired.

NCW students Andrew and Stuart worked alongside Felice Tocchini in preparing for the event. Both are studying Level 3 Food Science and Nutrition. He explained how to make sauces and mousses as well as demonstrated the skills of smoking ingredients and rolling pastry properly. These dishes were then incorporated into the exciting menu that Felice had devised.

During the event Andrew and Stuart helped host the evening, answering questions to enable diners to explore the world of vision impairment. They were confident and articulate and explained that although they have a vision impairment they have learnt to accept and manage it in order to achieve success.

Ms Emanuel, Head of Independent Living Skills said: “As a teacher you can inspire and have belief, and students here need to trust you and have the confidence to take risks. It is an absolute honour to have taught Stuart and Andrew since year 8 and to have seen them grow, learn and believe in themselves.”