Natspec Highlights November 2019

A monthly roundup of stories from the specialist sector

Natspec Highlights November 2019

4th December 2019

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

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

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


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

Valuing Specialism; realising potential

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

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

A student practising hospitality skills in a hotel room

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

Natspec National Conference: A Question of Quality

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

Four people share ideas in one of the breakout rooms

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

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

Student Parliament 12 November

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

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

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

Hereward college provides outstanding care for young people

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

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

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

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

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

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

Derwen College ace it at county tennis awards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fairfield Farm College students enjoy work placements at Center Parcs Longleat

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

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

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

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

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

Phoenix College students shine on Supported Internship programme

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

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

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

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

QAC students assist Aston University research into Autism

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

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

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

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

The Mayor of Trafford Visits Bridge College

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

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

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

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

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

Portland College wins awards and grants

Portland College has two exciting pieces of news this month!

Portland Pathways receives generous grant to fund pathways programme

four members of staff outside Portland Pathways

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

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

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

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

Portland College Crowned Autism Hero Awards Winners

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

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

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

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

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

Supported Internship gets Doncaster student Robyn ready for work

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

Robyn and the team at the chamber of commerce

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

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

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

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

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