Welcome to November’s edition of the Natspec Highlights. Despite the chilly end to the month colleges have been as busy as ever! This month has seen several colleges and their staff recognised and rewarded for their hard work. We’re delighted to share news about how one learner reached the final of a national competition, and how others have been participating in unique arts projects.
At Natspec it’s been a busy month, with us hosting our 2021 TechAbility Conference as well as our Student Parliament. We were delighted to have so many young people engage with both events and offer their opinions on how things could be improved, and look forward to working with them further.
- Deaf Academy teachers win national teaching award
- Skills That Are World Class from Coleg Elidyr: Elin reaches the UK final of the Worldskills competition
- HBVC’s No Pens Wednesday Participation
- Wargrave House Winners at the 2021 Educate Awards
- St. John’s students take part in unique theatre production
- Supporting Children in Need at Condover College
- Robots boosting young people’s life chances
- Golden Celebrations at Henshaws Specialist College
- Portland College Principal wins Lifetime Achievement Award
Deaf Academy teachers win national teaching award
The pioneering work of the Deaf Academy has been recognised with a prestigious national award this week.
Two members of staff at the Exmouth-based Academy have won the esteemed Pearson golden national teaching award category Lockdown Hero – Learner and Community Support which was a special award created for 2021. The award was for the innovative work in setting up online teaching and support during the height of the pandemic for the Academy students. And the announcement of the awards was made live on BBC’s The One Show.
Teachers Matt Jenkins and Joanna Fison were presented with the gold awards by former Casualty actress Gabriella Leon, who is Deaf herself. She surprised the pair by turning up at the Academy after pretending she was in a studio in London. The awards were then presented to the stunned teachers in front of students and colleagues at the Academy.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said:
“I would like to congratulate Matt Jenkins and Jo Fison for this recognition of their amazing work and dedication to their students. Winning one of these awards is a terrific achievement and is testament to Matt and Jo’s skill, commitment and passion for teaching.
“We are lucky enough to have some of the best teachers in the world and I would like to thank every single one of our education staff for their hard work supporting children and young people, especially during the pandemic.”
During the national lockdown there was an increase in anxiety levels amongst the Deaf community due to the lack of access to key coronavirus information at government briefings. The Deaf Academy team created an Online Academy, Spring Camp and developed a platform “Ask Deaf Teachers” to ensure information about the pandemic was clear and easily accessible for Deaf young people in particular those with additional needs.
Teacher Joanna Fison said: To win a national award like this, felt absolutely amazing. Matt and I were very emotional – there were tears and laughter, it didn’t feel real at all. We’re so glad we got to share that moment with all our colleagues, and of course our amazing students. I look back at our time in lockdown with mixed feelings. To quote Dickens (badly!) …it was the best of times, it was the worst of times! None of the team had ever worked so hard, but all the struggles and challenges were undoubtedly worth it in the end. We created something really valuable for our young people in an unprecedented crisis and we’re really grateful we’ve been able to share our experiences with the wider deaf community and others. However, the Online Academy and ‘Ask a Deaf Teacher’ were just a natural progression of the magic that happens every day here at the Deaf Academy.
“If you would have told me 10 years ago when I first started losing my hearing that I would go on to win a national teaching award, I would have never believed it. I have learned very quickly that #DeafCan.”
Joanna continued: “For us it was always about the learners. They deserved the best we could give them – and we were ready to take a leap of faith educationally and to do something radical to make sure everyone had access to learning and to the Deaf community which is so important to all of us.”
Matt Jenkins, who is the Deaf Academy’s lead BSL teacher, set up a YouTube channel during lockdown which clearly outlined the important information children needed to know to ensure they knew what coronavirus was and how to keep safe. Called ’Ask a Deaf Teachers’, it was a resource not only for Deaf Academy students, but was used by hundreds of Deaf children around the UK.
He said: “During the announcement I couldn’t quite believe it. It didn’t register at first. I was lip-reading Gabriella and she signed ‘gold’. I thought I had misunderstood her or made a processing error. In my mind I thought we were talking about the silver award, it wasn’t until the students handed me the gold award that it finally sank in. What a whirlwind of emotions! I couldn’t stop crying. Everyone was crying, students and staff. It was a very special moment for us. These were the students who had experienced the online academy and the lockdown first-hand, so it was great for us as an Academy and as our own Deaf community to all be there together to experience winning the national teaching award”.
He added: “This is a huge achievement not just for me but the entire Deaf Community. We’ve come a long way in Deaf education. If you look back to the 1880 Milan Conference which introduced a ban on signing within schools for the Deaf, my job would, at the time, be totally prohibited. Back then, so many Deaf people lost not only their jobs but their lives from depression and loss of culture.
“I grew up in an era where Deaf people were forced to learn orally. Because of this, I lost out on so much information and so many opportunities. I’ve come such a long way and that’s because I was brought up by strong Deaf role models in my Deaf community. When I think about winning the national teaching award, I think back on past generations and everything they’ve been through. This award isn’t about me. This award is for the generations of Deaf people that have been fighting for our culture and our rights.”
Sylvan Dewing, principal of the Deaf Academy, said: “It is amazing to reflect on the last year and very rewarding to have received both nominations and awards over this period. This really is down to the incredible team we have here at the Academy who always put the needs of our students first, so I would like to thank them for their dedication and commitment to always providing the best education and experience for our students.”
Skills That Are World Class from Coleg Elidyr: Elin reaches the UK final of the Worldskills competition
One of Coleg Elidyr’s learners, Elin, made it to the UK final of the Worldskills foundation skills – catering competition and was part of Team Wales. Like any serious competitor Elin trained hard for many months preparing herself for each stage of the competition.
To be a foundation skills catering competitor you need to demonstrate all sort of skills, it’s not just about cooking. Working closely with her tutor Jenni, Elin built experience on campus and out in the wider community by working with the chef in a local 4 star hotel, The Plough in Rhosmaen.
To build experience onsite, each Thursday Elin has been cooking for Coleg Elidyr’s staff. She has a jacket potato menu and visits team members in the morning, with a clipboard, asking them for their order. She then prepares the food and delivers it back to them later in the day. Initially she was nervous taking orders, but as time progressed she could talk to staff confidently about the menu and what they might like.
Having built up knowledge and experience internally, it was decided that to prepare for the next round of the competition it was time to make things a bit more challenging! Elin and Jenni had a few sessions in The Plough hotel, where Elin was able to experience working in a busy kitchen. She was fantastic and got a lot out of being in a real working environment.
The Skills for Life programme was already covering much of what was needed for the foundation catering competition. By aligning with the internationally recognised Worldskills tournament, Elin got to experience being part of something much bigger than Coleg Elidyr, she was part of Team Wales and had the hoodie to prove it!
At the end of November Elin took part in the final, she had to prepare 3 courses in a 90 minute recorded test of health and safety, hygiene, knife skills, use of equipment, presentation skills and knowledge of flavour combinations.
Elin achieved a highly commended award and everyone at Coleg Elidyr couldn’t have been prouder. Her progress through the competition was phenomenal and undoubtedly gave her a newfound confidence. Coleg looking forward to encouraging more learners on their own Worldskills journey next year. Watch this space!
HBVC’s No Pens Wednesday Participation
On 24 November, HBVC took part in ICAN’s initiative which has a focus on supporting individuals’ communication skills. The aim of the No Pens Wednesday initiative is to promote speaking and understanding of language. This national initiative takes place annually; and educational settings can sign up to show their dedication to supporting children and young people’s in developing their communication skills. HBVC have learners of varying communication abilities and they recognise the importance of developing their learners’ communication skills. This is incorporated into targets and communication / social skills sessions. But on No Pens Wednesday, the pens were left in pencil cases; and staff and learners focused on our speaking and listening skills across the day in our different sessions. Some of the examples that occurred across the day were:
- An activities morning whereby learners had a range of social games to choose from to engage with their peers. In these activities, the learners were interacting with each other. Learners explained the rules to each other, directed questions at and answered questions from their peers, asked each other for help when they found something difficult or didn’t understand; or asking for clarification. Witnessing the pride in learners when they were able to explain their peers; the joy between the laughter and the healthy competition was great to see.
- A sensory community walk where a group of learners went for a walk in the local community and spent time looking for and identifying vocabulary they could spot. They shared this with their peers and used symbol-supported sheets to communicate this.
- Learners took on tutor role and directed questions at their peers to discuss their feelings and the learner tutor asked them to expand on this by sharing the reasons. During this session, learners were encouraged to remember to practice their non-verbal social skills such as body positioning, eye contact, waiting turns and listening to each other. It was lovely to see the learners in tutor role taking pride in their responsibility.
- Another group, used one of their sessions to discuss appropriate workwear clothing. They had a group discussion whereby learners identified items of clothing and discussed whether it would be appropriate to wear for specific jobs. The learners also reflected on the clothes they were wearing themselves and if it would be suitable for specific jobs; and considered our work placement roles. The group had a vote using yes/no symbol cards.
- A session on health and well-being in which learners were put into paired groups and using a range of fruit were encouraged to label, taste and feel the fruit. Discussing the different aspects such as size, feel, smell and taste using a total communication approach – verbal, signing and symbols. They identified whether it was healthy or unhealthy. Learners pulled on all their senses and tried some new fruit they hadn’t before. Some fabulous reactions to fruit such as lemons. Learners’ facial expression were fabulous to see and their peers were encouraged to recognise if their peers liked or disliked the fruit. Really enjoyable session for all involved.
Wargrave House Winners at the 2021 Educate Awards
The Post 16 department at Wargrave House are thrilled and proud to announce they won the Community Partnership Award, at the largest education awards in the region, the prestigious Educate Awards 2021.
In partnership with Copyrite Systems and Ricoh, the awards showcase the work of schools and colleges which are delivering outstanding education and helping students achieve their full potential.
Kim O’Brien, founder of the Educate Awards, said: “A huge well done to all the winners at the schools and colleges. It is extremely important that we recognise the amazing schools and colleges which have supported students, families, staff and the wider communities during the pandemic. The Wargrave House School & College (Lakeside 16-19 and LEAP 19-25 college) post 16 students were fabulous and an amazing addition to have at the event this year. The contribution they made was invaluable and everything they did, they delivered exceptionally well. More than this though, they were wonderful ambassadors and they should each be incredibly proud”.
Wargrave House Lakeside & LEAP College were also runners up in the Most Inspirational 16-18 Education Provider and School Support Star of the Year categories.
Julliet Doherty, Head of Post 16 said, “I am so proud of all our students and staff. This is a remarkable achievement and all down to the incredible dedication of staff and unbeatable enthusiasm and determination from our students. Our Lakeside Cosy Corner Café students supported the event preparation, working alongside the Educate event team, greeting guests and managing the cloakroom. For me, seeing our young people confident and so resilient is the biggest win of the night! A huge thanks and our utmost appreciation to our community partner, Tony Costello from Galliford Try, Rachel Newman from Open Awards, who is one of our supportive accredited learning body, and to all our parents/carers and wider stakeholders who support us”.
The awards took place at the iconic Liverpool Cathedral on Friday 19 November 2021.
St. John’s students take part in unique theatre production
In November St. John’s College were delighted to host a two-week residency for the Flute Theatre who brought their unique production, Pericles for Autistic Individuals to the college.
Flute Theatre’s innovative productions of Shakespeare for autistic individuals use the Hunter Heartbeat method, a series of sensory drama games based on Shakespeare which allow autistic learners to share how it feels to be alive and celebrate their identity.
They had a performance for parents and families on 19 November and the feedback has been amazing. One parent said: “It was an absolute delight and privilege to watch Flute Theatre’s performance of Pericles with students from St John’s College. There was plenty of laughter, tears and drama – just what you want from a night at the theatre!
“I was moved and inspired by how everyone was fully included and how much they seemed to be enjoying themselves. I was also struck by how engaged everyone was throughout the performance which is a significant achievement in itself. Autistic people need to be seen and heard, just like everyone else in society, and, during this performance, they were seen and heard quite magnificently and it was a joy to behold.
“Flute Theatre’s work is so valuable as it gives these young people the chance to express themselves creatively and to connect with people in ways that are often hard to access for them.”
Supporting Children in Need at Condover College
This month, students, staff and parents at Condover College enjoyed supporting Children in Need. Students in CCL’s purple class utilised their arts and craft skills to design a poster advertising the event. During the week leading up to Children in Need on Friday 19 November, the students partook in Pudsey themed crafts, Attention Autism and baking.
On the day of Children in Need, the students and college team dressed up in pyjamas and spots. The students hosted learner café where they sold and bought refreshments that had been donated for fundraising. There were a delicious variety of cakes, which were generously donated by students, parents, and the team. It was a fantastic opportunity to support a worthy charity and enhance our student’s understanding of the importance of kindness and learn about ways to help others.
The highlight of the day was having a very special visit from the bear himself, Pudsey, who brought nothing but smiles to all learners!
Condover College would like to say a big thank you to the Community life champion at Asda Shrewsbury for supporting them with cake donations and supporting the visit from Pudsey. An incredible £125 was raised!
Robots boosting young people’s life chances
Robots are boosting the life chances of children and young adults with learning difficulties, disabilities and autism in the North West.
The small humanoid robots are designed to support therapists and educators and use facial expressions, gestures and games as part of specially designed educational modules. They are being used to teach children cognitive, language, social and emotional skills that encourage greater participation and interaction in the classroom.
An educator – a teacher, support worker or therapist – controls the robot which stands on a desk and interacts with the student, acting as a pivot point between the two. The aim is to improve the student’s capacity to communicate and understand emotions and social contexts.
The robots have been adopted by the Together Trust, one of the North West’s leading disability charities that delivers education and other services for children and young adults with learning difficulties, disabilities, complex health needs and autism.
Tom, a 24-year-old student from Stockport, said: “I really enjoy the robots because they help me concentrate and they’re fun. When I work hard it makes me happy, and the robots help me work harder.”
Tom’s mother Frances added: “We know Tom loves being with the robots and the staff tell us that his progress has been remarkable. He can be very focused and actively listen, and he can stay engaged for a long time.
“What we’re hoping to see is Tom actually transferring that ability to stay focused to the things he does when the robots aren’t there.”
Jeremy Swinn, Acting Head of Bridge College in Manchester, one of the trust’s education centres, said the robots were part of a trial involving a handful of students.
“They’ve have had a really positive impact. All the students involved in the trial have responded well and are very willing to take part in activities.
“Many learners have engaged with the robots for lengthy periods of time, longer than they would engage in face-to-face interactions. The robots have tended to act as a pivot of attention between the learner and the member of staff and that’s led to sustained interactions – which in turn means better learning outcomes.”
You can read more about the project on the Innovation Agency’s website. Bridge College also won the Natspec Award for Innovative use of technology in 2021 for their work with the QT Robot, which Assistive Technologist Jeremy Hoare demonstrated in a webinar for us:
Golden Celebrations at Henshaws Specialist College
Students at Henshaws Specialist College in Harrogate have been celebrating 50 years since the college was opened by the Duchess of Kent in 1971.
It was originally for visually impaired people but has extended its reach over the years and now works with young people aged from 16 to 25 with a range of sensory impairments, autistic spectrum conditions, physical disabilities, moderate to severe learning difficulties, healthcare needs and profound and multiple learning disabilities.
To mark the event, students have been learned to Makaton sign happy birthday and have been making words to summon up their feelings from natural materials found in the college’s forest school.
Principal Adrian Sugden said: “We would have loved to have had a big party but Covid unfortunately has restricted that. It is not going to stop us, however, and over the coming days and months we will be continuing to celebrate our fiftieth year, which is such a great achievement!”
Portland College Principal wins Lifetime Achievement Award
Portland College attended the prestigious Chad Business Excellence Awards on 11 November as finalists in both the Covid Response and Ashfield Business of the Year Awards.
Although Portland didn’t win in these two categories, they were absolutely delighted to see Dr Mark Dale, Principal and CEO of Portland College presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award for his long service to specialist education and adult social care.
Mark has committed over 35 years of his life and career to educating and empowering young people to strive for positive futures, and helped shape the landscape to increase opportunities for people with disabilities.
As Principal of Portland since 2006, Mark has led the College to become a leading national provider and Centre of Excellence for Autism, and successfully delivered many innovative projects, including Portland Pathways and our fully accessible Woodland Adventure Zone.
Tim Richmond, Chair of Governors at Portland College commented, “This recognition is truly deserved. We’re all very proud of Mark’s achievements over the last 15 years as the College’s Principal and Chief Executive, and of the impact he continues to have on people with disabilities, making the College the very happy and purposeful place it is.
Mark is an innovative leader and inspirational mentor who spends a great deal of time celebrating others’ achievements.”
Mark Dale commented, “Firstly, I want to congratulate everyone at Portland for being nominated for two awards. The last 18 months have been a real challenge, but one that our staff have tackled head on in the usual Portland spirit – I am so proud of what staff, learners and residents have achieved.
“I am honoured to have been presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Portland Charity has worked with people from all over the UK, but at its heart it is a local organisation, employing mostly local people who, along with all the other winners and finalists, are achieving extraordinary things every day of the week.
“Thank you to the Chad for continuing to support our mission and many other local organisations and businesses.”
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