Natspec Highlights October 2019

A monthly roundup of stories from the specialist sector

Natspec Highlights October 2019

4th November 2019


The weather’s turning colder and the evenings are getting darker, but that hasn’t stopped any of our members! Things are as busy as ever. Staff and students participated in AoC’s #LoveOurColleges week, showing their appreciation for further education.

Natspec’s gearing up for a busy month in November, with the National Student Voice Parliament meeting for the sixth time and the TechAbility Conference highlight best practice in assistive technology provision for learners.

October also saw the release of the Education Select Committee’s report on SEND. Natspec’s chair and chief executive both responded to the report, supporting the conclusions made and calling for action to be taken. We also published a new student story about recent Transition2 graduate Jess, who’s progressed to independent living and paid work opportunities.


  1. The Ripple Effect
  2. Queen Alexandra College makes commitment to support students and staff with their mental health and wellbeing
  3. Langdon College develops new calendar in collaboration with care home
  4. Students from HBVC getting out into the community
  5. High Riggs Farm development
  6. Talent and tension at Skills Live @Derwen
  7. Award success for Homefield College students
  8. Linkage College is opening a new campus in East Riding
  9. Portland College is a finalist in Autism Hero Awards
  10. Upcoming events

The Ripple Effect

Pip, a student at Beaumont College, is featured in a new video from the Bendrigg Trust. The Bendrigg Trust specialises in providing outdoor activities for people with disabilities.

Pip was introduced to climbing at a young age. Her love of climbing has enabled her to take on challenges that previously seemed insurmountable. She now competes in para-climbing competitions across the UK.

She’s also helping organise a learning disability climbing festival, taking place in January 2020.

Queen Alexandra College makes commitment to support students and staff with their mental health and wellbeing

Bev Jessop with the AoC mental health and wellbeing charterQueen Alexandra College has reaffirmed their commitment to staff and students by signing up to a brand new national mental health and wellbeing charter created by the Association of Colleges in conjunction with mental health experts.

The 11-point document includes commitments to:

  • Promoting equality of opportunity and challenging mental health stigma
  • Providing appropriate mental health training for staff
  • Providing targeted individual mental health support where appropriate

Richard Caulfield, Mental Health lead at the Association of Colleges, said:

“Every single day colleges like Queen Alexandra College provide a world class education and transform the lives of millions of people. This includes providing support for both staff and student wellbeing at the right time, in the right place. This charter gives colleges the chance to publicly state their commitment to the mental health agenda.”

Bev Jessop, Queen Alexandra College Principal and Chief Executive reiterated the importance of supporting the mental health of staff and students. “Having and discussing mental health and wellbeing issues is sadly often seen as taboo, with too many people troubled about the stigma that is often associated with these frequently invisible conditions. At QAC, we want to work with staff proactively, promoting an open, honest and supportive culture and the AoC MH Charter is another way in which we can demonstrate our commitment to this.”

Langdon College develops new calendar in collaboration with care home

The Langdon College calendarLangdon College’s Karten Centre has been working on a multigenerational collaborative painting and photography project, bringing together two of Manchester’s key charities. This partnership working has resulted in the production of a Jewish calendar which launched on 22 September 2019.

Students at Langdon College, who work within the LC-Print enterprise business, took part in joint art sessions with residents of the Feds’s Heathlands Village care home. Together they created original artwork and imagery based on a monthly theme. Many of the themes reflect Jewish festivals and celebrations.

Langdon College tutor, Rebecca Holmes, said, “The students have worked incredibly hard behind the scenes. Through their teamwork and efforts, they also enhanced many of their interpersonal skills, such as communication and organisational ability.”

At a joyful launch event which took place at Heathlands Village, the calendars were presented for sale to the public for the first time. Trevor Holt, the Mayor of Bury, as well as students and residents involved in the project all attended the launch. Rebecca continued “from creating the artwork together to the students printing and binding the calendars – it has been a huge success.”

Langdon students show the new calendars to the Mayor of Bury

Students from HBVC getting out into the community

HBVC learners with staff at the Care HomeStudents from HBVC have been helping out at a local care home over September and October. The students planned, organised and conducted an activity with the residents.

Staff at HBVC contributed donations for a raffle that was held at the care home. The residents loved it. Afterwards, students also helped the residents plant flowers in plant pots.

Staff at the care home acknowledged the difference they have seen in the students from the first day going there. They said that students have become more confident since they started. Their body language and interaction with the residents became more assured over the course of their time there.

Another group of students from HBVC has recently supported the ‘Can Do Project’. Bearwick Partners invited learners in to deliver a Disability Awareness session. Staff at Bearwick Partners had got fully involved with the spirit of the project, having decorated their desks as specific countries for World Inclusion Day. The session led by the learners was an online, interactive presentation which posed questions to the audience about their knowledge on disabilities. The session proved to be informative and a great way for the learners to explain their experiences to the staff. The feedback proved very positive – success!

As a result of this work, work placements and office space to perform mock interviews are being explored.

HBVC students at Bearwick Partners

High Riggs Farm development

The new accessible toilet at High Riggs FarmRuskin Mill Trust is delighted to announce that their outdoor learning centre at High Riggs Farm, part of Freeman College in Sheffield, has been updated with new toilet facilities. This means the rural site now has accessible indoor toilets. The learning environment is now more inclusive and comfortable for our SEN students, staff and visitors alike. With our previous porta-loos in place, they sometimes created a barrier to learning for our students. Students were less likely to visit the site and access the craft and land based curriculum because of the facilities. So we knew we needed to make a change. That is why we think our new toilets are something to shout about! Ruskin Mill Trust thanks the generous funders on the project whose support enabled the completion of the project: the National Lottery, Newground Together, J G Graves Charitable Trust, Albert Hunt Trust and individual donors.

Ruskin Mill Trust is also delighted to announce that Freeman College has been awarded a ‘Good’ rating by Ofsted following a recent inspection. The award is a well-deserved recognition of the continuing work and dedication of the staff at Freeman.

Talent and tension at Skills Live @Derwen

Students held their nerve to showcase vocational and creative skills during a week-long series of competitions at Derwen College.

Students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) demonstrated their talents in

  • catering
  • table-laying
  • housekeeping
  • art
  • functional skills
  • IT
  • design

Two catering students with their certificates of recognitionSkills Live @Derwen is a new initiative which offers students vocational learning, work placements and independent living skills. The competitions were open to 16-25 year olds who are currently in education in mainstream or specialist colleges or schools and working at up to Level 1. Competing in the competitions were students from:

Competitions were held in industry-standard conditions. A panel of industry experts judged the participating students. Judges included Neil Bevan of branding, graphic design and marketing business Hunter Bevan; author and Wilfred Owen Festival co-ordinator Jan Hedger; library manager Siobhan Shaw; Dave Cank of Severndale Nurseries; and artist Liz Neal.

Demonstrating skills

Taking part in the competitions is a great way for students to demonstrate their skills and readiness for work and independence. The week ended with awards presentations where winners were presented with beautiful glass trophies created by Oswestry’s Designs in Mind.

Clare Howard, Chief Executive of Natspec, visited the college for the launch of the competitions.

She said: “Competitions are an effective method of stretching and challenging students. They help to measure and recognise achievement and show off the work-related skills of our learners. They drive confidence and self esteem, which are needed in the workplace, and the best competitions are based on industry standards to ensure that students are work-ready. Natspec is pleased to support the work of Derwen College and all other colleges who are using their relationships with employers to develop competitions which support students in the vocational curriculum and onto employment when they leave college.”

Derwen College ‘industry champion’ and competition judge Neil Bevan said: “These competitions really showcase the skills the students from Derwen and other Colleges have in many areas that relate directly to employment opportunities. The students demonstrate skill and mastery in many different tasks from bed making to badge making – showing their creative skills and also a high degree of attention to detail. These are all skills that can be transferred directly to the workplace, if employers will give them the opportunity to show what they are capable of. The students are also great to talk to and it’s obvious that they gain a great deal from the competitions and from interacting with people from outside the College environment.”

Horticulture students with the mayor and mayoress

Award success for Homefield College students

Students from Homefield attend the TeenTech Leicester eventTwo Homefield students won the ‘Digital Design Award’ at TeenTech’s Leicester event on Thursday 24 Oct. TeenTech run initiatives to inspire young people to gain skills and experience to become future innovators. As part of the event which displayed careers from the Science, Engineering and Technology industries, students were invited to take part in the Innovation Challenge. In pairs, they identified global and local issues in their everyday lives. Then, they created an idea for an app or other technology that could help. Homefield students AJ and Connor designed an app that could alert a driver of any approaching emergency service vehicles. The app would work with GPS systems to prevent accidents in the rush to make a clear path. The concept was highly commended and gained them the Digital Design Award.

Linkage College is opening a new campus in East Riding

Linkage College will be opening a new campus in the East Riding of Yorkshire in September 2020. Joining Linkage’s three existing bases in Lincolnshire, the new campus will meet the growing demand for specialist education north of the Humber.

It is expected that the education system will see a 56 per cent increase in school leavers with additional needs between 2019 and 2021. There is a further 19 per cent increase expected by 2022. The East Riding site will be the area’s only specialist further education college. The aim is to support young people with learning difficulties and disabilities from York, Wakefield, Rotherham, Doncaster and North Yorkshire, as well as East Riding.

Student Max at Linkage. Student artwork is on the walls

College Principal, Martin Shelton says:

“As with all our campuses, our East Riding site will deliver an individualised curriculum in facilities designed to support independence, vocational subjects, social interaction and key academic learning.

Over the years, we have seen Linkage learners with varying degrees of learning disabilities, from mild to severe, achieve academically and personally in ways they and their families could only previously have dreamed of. We are incredibly excited and proud to be bringing this experience to the East Riding area.”

Portland College is a finalist in Autism Hero Awards

Portland College main buildingPortland College is shortlisted for two prestigious national awards. The Autism Hero Awards are run by the Anna Kennedy Online Charity as an opportunity to showcase and celebrate the excellence taking place in the world of Autism. Portland College is shortlisted for both the Leading Business Award and the Lifetime Award.

The Leading Business Award is given to a business that is fully inclusive, provides opportunities to individuals and gives them a secure platform to excel. As a leading specialist college near Mansfield, Portland College has a strong history of supporting people with Autism and other disabilities to realise their full potential.

The Lifetime Award is for an individual who has worked with dedication and commitment for Autism for over 10 years. Mark Morton, Portland’s Behaviour Support Manager has made an incredible difference to the lives of our learners and citizens. He is a highly deserving finalist for this prestigious award.

Mark Dale, Principal and CEO commented:

“At Portland College we strive to continually develop our provision so we can make a real difference to the lives and futures of our learners and citizens.

We are extremely proud of the hard work and dedication our staff show every single day to make Portland College the provider of choice for people with disabilities. Being shortlisted for two prestigious awards is a great way to recognise and celebrate the tremendous impact our staff have on our learners, citizens and our wider communities.”

Upcoming events

November sees the sixth meeting of our National Student Voice Parliament. Taking place on the 12 November at QAC College, Birmingham, students from Natspec colleges across the country will gather to talk about the issues most important to them. The last parliament saw some amazing discussions about the challenges students face and what they want others to know. We’re hoping to build off last time’s discussions and will report back.

It’s also the TechAbility Conference on the 21 November. If you’re interested in how assistive technology could be used to aid learners in your provision, this is the event for you. With nine workshops on offer, there’s something for everyone.