Natspec Highlights September 2019

A monthly roundup of stories from the specialist sector

Natspec Highlights September 2019

3rd October 2019


The first month of a new academic year is always a busy one! That’s certainly been true at Natspec, where we’ve been busy responding to new funding and review announcements. There are three major items that are of interest to the specialist FE sector:

It’s also been busy at our colleges! New students have got started on their journeys and old students have been welcomed back. At Natspec we’ll continue to bring you exciting news updates from across our members. We’ve even got a host of them for you below. From exam success to workplace achievements, awards for college staff, and a few celebrity encounters, September was jam-packed. There’s even news about breaking a world record!


  1. Launching the Natspec Awards
  2. Record breaking success for student at Fairfield Farm College
  3. Stars of the show at Premier event
  4. Exam Success for RNC
  5. Miles Flies High at the Co-op!
  6. Growing confidence through work at Transition2
  7. National Star supports the launch of a new wheelchair lap belt
  8. Fortune Centre’s new IT facility opened by Martin Clunes
  9. College sweetshop receives a makeover thanks to local company
  10. Plas Dwbl receives visit from Kate Humble
  11. Landmarks offers unique Hospitality and Catering Training at The Archer
  12. RNIB Loughborough celebrates 30th anniversary
  13. Coleg Elidyr’s receives Advanced Accreditation from the National Autistic Society
  14. Condover College staff are finalists at the regional Great British Care Awards 2019
  15. Portland College are Proud Finalists for Prestigious Award

Launching the Natspec Awards

Natspec Awards Logo

On Monday 30 September Natspec launched the Natspec Awards. They’re open to any specialist FE provider that is a member of Natspec. We’re aiming to shine a light on innovative practice in the sector.

The awards focus on six specific areas of practice:

Applications are open now and will stay open until the 19 February.

Record breaking success for student at Fairfield Farm College

Harry Humphries stands with other GB team members on the podiumHarry Humphries is celebrating a massive achievement upon return from the European Down Syndrome Swimming championship in Olbia, Sardinia. There, he represented Team GB and competed against 19 countries from all over the world. Harry was on a winning streak, reaching four finals whilst at the competition.

Harry took home gold medals for the 200-metre freestyle relay with a world record for the race category! He also won two bronze medals in both the 100 and 50-metre freestyle relay. The college and supporters of Harry’s journey are incredibly proud of his achievements. Previously, he was awarded Young Individual Sportsperson at the 2019 Westbury Young People Awards earlier this year.

In 2017 Harry was spotted at a gala specifically for people with Downs Syndrome in Southampton. Fast forward several years and he travels the world, taking part in competitions and bringing home a variety of medals whilst representing Team GB. He joined Fairfield Farm College in September last year as a residential student, staying at the college mid-week. Harry does a fantastic job balancing his college life and training for his competitions. He joined Warminster Swimming Club, near to the college, so that he could increase his training to include an early swim and a one to one evening session with his coach. With lots more competitions on the horizon, there may be more medals and world records in store. We’ll keep you updated!

Stars of the show at Premier event

Derwen on Tour groupDerwen College sign, song and dance group Derwen on Tour (DOT) performed in front of their largest ever audience at a nationwide Premier Inn Celebration in Hampshire on the 19 September.

Students from the college took to the stage with an audience of 5,000 people at the hotel’s star-studded annual celebration. The same stage as singers Pixie Lott and Craig David! The students also had a chance to meet television personality Rylan Clark-Neal.

The Derwen on Tour group meet Rylan Clark-Neal

Experienced and newer DOT members comprised the performance group. Three Derwen College graduates returned as guests to join in the momentous occasion, whilst student Ben Moore-Hill only joined DOT this term.

Sara, one of the returning members said: “It’s weird to be back but when I had the email asking me, I immediately said; ‘Yes, yes, yes!’” Offering advice to newer members of the group, Sara said: “You have to be committed and have determination, and just enjoy yourself!”

DOT opened the party with choreographed sign and dance routines to Wham! classic ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go, Go’ and ‘This Is Me’ from The Greatest Showman.

Teacher and DOT choreographer Jessie Vaughan commented:

‘We felt honoured to be asked to perform by Premier Inn at such a high-profile event. It was an emotional and amazing experience. We have staged shows at many fabulous events including Llangollen International Eisteddfod and Christmas lights switch-ons, but this was by far our largest audience to date.

We were delighted that Sara, Amy and Thomas returned to make guest appearances, and thrilled to welcome newest DOT member Ben whose first ever performance will be in front of 5,000 people!’

Exam Success for RNC

Alicia holds her exam results envelopeStudents at The Royal National College for the Blind (RNC) achieved a 100% pass rate in their A Levels again this year for the third year in a row. A Levels at grades A-C accounted for 91% of the passes, an increase of 41% on last year. All students who applied through UCAS successfully got into their first choice universities.

Students who undertook NVQs also performed incredibly well with an 88% pass rate across all subjects. 27% achieving A grades.

Amongst some notable performances was Alicia Jackson, who travelled from Cumbria to study at RNC. Alicia achieved grade C in A Level Psychology and A Level Sociology and a Distinction in the OCR Level 3 Cambridge Technical Extended Certificate in Health and Social Care. Delighted with her results, she said:

‘I am so happy to achieve these grades, it’s been hard work but I can honestly say hand on heart that without coming to RNC I don’t think I would have achieved this.’

Alicia is going on to Northumbria University to study a BSc (Hons) in Occupational Therapy.

Professor Tamar Thompson, Chair of the Board of Governors, was extremely proud of the Class of 2019. She said:

‘Yet again our students have done so well with another outstanding year of A Level results and will go on to build great futures for themselves. A huge thanks also to our incredible team of teachers and support staff who are all part of this success story. Congratulations!’

Miles Flies High at the Co-op!

Miles unpacking a trolley of soft drinksPortland College learner Miles completed a Supported Internship placement at the Co-op at the end of the last academic year. He made a lot of progress during his time there, learning everything other staff members were taught.

Miles price checks the items, checks off the delivery and signs it off with the driver, stock rotates and puts the delivery away. He also knows how to serve customers by using the till.

Miles is beginning to work more independently each time he attends. His support staff said:

‘Miles is a local celebrity at the Co-op, everyone knows him and speaks to him when they come in.’

The staff at the Co-op supported Miles from the moment the placement was set up. In the last few weeks Portland has learned that Miles has gained paid employment at the Co-op! He’s going to begin working one day per week with a view to progressing on to two days as he develops his skills and settles in with the team.

Growing confidence through work at Transition2

Cora helps clean up plants in a parkCora, a learner at Transition2, works once a week with Derby Parks Volunteers since April 2019. During that time, Cora has improved her communication skills, her employability skills and has shown remarkable resilience – often going out in all weathers. She relishes the enjoyment of being outdoors, the increased physical exercise and, importantly, the social aspects of being together with others working together to realise a common goal. Cora has participated in hedge laying, coppicing, limestone path laying and woodland management tasks across different green spaces in Derby. She continues to make friends and develop in her placement each week.

National Star supports the launch of a new wheelchair lap belt

National StarThe soloc wheelchair lap belt has provided expert support and guidance to SoLoc Ltd so the company can launch an innovative one-handed wheelchair lap belt.

SoLoc enables users to fasten and release the lap belt using one hand, promoting the independence of wheelchair users with a range of functional impairments. It can be attached for right-handed or left-handed users. The design supports people with hand tremors, visual impairments, and limited strength and manual dexterity.

David Finch, directed of Technology Innovation at National Star, said:

‘National Star is thrilled to have played a part in creating a unique product that will change the lives of people with disabilities in both enhancing safety whilst improving independence.’

Find out more about Soloc, the innovative one-handed wheelchair lap belt, by visiting the product’s website.

Fortune Centre’s new IT facility opened by Martin Clunes

Martin Clunes (on horseback) with learners from FCRT

Martin Clunes, the Patron of the Fortune Centre of Riding Therapy, delighted students by arriving early for the official opening of ‘Peter’s Box’, their new IT suite. A yard-based IT suite was a long-term plan for the college. Its creation became possible following a donation from the Sir Peter O’Sullevan Charitable Trust.

Martin’s early arrival meant that was able to join the students in an educational vaulting (mounted gymnastics) session.

The designers and builders, Tuakana Ltd, discussed the needs of Peter’s Box with FCRT staff. An essential part of equine facilitated education is for the students to still be within an equine environment. The site allows them to be close to the FCRT horses. The design then incorporated large windows to enable students to see the horses in their stables and on the yard whilst using the IT facilities and computers.Martin Clunes and others cut the ribbon on the new IT centre

Martin Clunes cut the ribbon and officially opened Peter’ Box, alongside Lord Manners, Chairman of the Trustees, Nigel Payne from the Sir Peter O’Sullevan Trust, Gillian Lady Howard de Walden and Jane Delves, Director of the FCRT.

FCRT's new IT centreJane said:

“It will give us the opportunity to use the computers in an environment where the students primarily learn with the horses. The students are thrilled with the whole experience.”

Fundraising coordinator Paola King added:

‘The amount of support we have had is super, but it is surprising how many people are unaware about how successful Equine Facilitated Education can be. The students are just over the moon and cannot wait to get started with learning new skills within Peter’s Box’.

College sweet shop receives a makeover thanks to local company

Barrow of Treats, the café and sweet shop run by Homefield College, recently underwent a freshen-up. The café received a new look with redesigned layout, new furnishings and a lick of paint. Loughborough’s DIAM, meanwhile, generously lent their support to transform the sweet shop.

Students Ashley & Sean outside newly refurbished Barrow of Treats sweetshop

At the café, students develop their cookery skills whilst routinely interacting with customers, learning the importance of food hygiene, stock rotation and timely service. Over the road at the sweet shop students make orders for parties, weddings and events. They also take orders, weigh sweets and handle money as they sell the sweets.

Traditional sweetshop style cabinets inside Barrow of Treats sweetshopTracey Forman, Principal of Homefield College, said:

‘Achievement through experience is Homefield’s motto, and without students experiencing a real workplace it is harder for them to achieve their goals by entering into employment. Many workplaces have misperceptions of young people with learning disabilities and so for many of our students, working in our enterprises gives them a boost onto the career ladder with experience and qualifications, to prove that actually they’re just as capable, if not more so with their determined attitudes and great focus.’

DIAM LTD, a global company who create, develop and install retail & merchandising solutions with a local base in Loughborough, provided free labour as part of their social inclusion and charitable acts programme. They fitted out the sweet shop with cabinets and bespoke shelving to achieve the traditional sweetshop look. Students now have a chance to practice their employment skills in an organised and practical space.

Plas Dwbl receives visit from Kate Humble

TV presenter Kate Humble visited Ruskin Mill Trust’s Coleg Plas Dwbl, at the foot of the Preselli hills in Pembrokeshire this March. Filming as part of her BBC Wales ‘Off the Beaten Track’ series, Kate spoke to some of the students and tutors at the college about the relationship between the College and its surrounding landscape. The segment explores how Ruskin Mill’s unique craft and land based approach to education continues to help young people overcome their barriers to learning, become skilled and contribute towards community.

You can watch episode four of ‘Off the Beaten Track’ on BBC iplayer.

Landmarks offers unique Hospitality and Catering Training at The Archer.

The Archer, run by Landmarks College, is a fully operational public house in Rainworth, Mansfield. The Archer is a unique training environment enabling learners to gain the experience and qualifications needed to enter the bar and restaurant trade.

Learners fulfil many of the operational roles, acquiring first-hand experience of:

  • serving customers
  • preparing drinks
  • making meals
  • maintaining the environment to a high standard

It places learners in the real working world from day one. Learners prepare to work in an industry where job opportunities are good. It has also challenged a local community to accept this diversity into their community tapestry. Over time, support has increased. The experience learners now receive benefits them in many incidental and personal ways, not just linked to work.

Students at the Archer directed, filmed and produced a video to explain how this offer has made a difference to their lives.

RNIB Loughborough celebrates 30th anniversary

Principal, June Murray, and Chair of RNIB, Ellie Southwood cut the cake at 30th Anniversary CelebrationOn Wednesday 18 September, the RNIB College celebrated their 30th Anniversary. Staff, students and friends of the College listened to stories from current and former principals as well as Chair of RNIB, Ellie Southwood. They raised a toast to the College and sampled a selection of cakes.

Current staff and students heard how the RNIB College relocated from London to a specially designed college building next to Loughborough College. RNIB conducted a UK search for a mainstream college partner. Following this, Loughborough College was the final choice. It was pioneering at the time as it was the first blind college to be so closely linked to a mainstream college. There was a display of old college articles and memorabilia, all of which was kindly loaned to the College by former and current staff and Loughborough Library Local Studies Volunteers who searched their archives to find news articles.

Today the College is very different. But it still has the same friendliness, warmth and ‘can do’ attitude to support its students. A small, friendly Further Education College taking students with a wide range of disabilities, many of whom have autism and learning difficulties. Students can learn in the enterprises, such as the Bell Bar, eBay, College Office and the Media Hub, as well as accessing mainstream courses at Loughborough College with the support of RNIB College.  There is also a Supported Internship programme for individuals wanting to improve their employability skills on a work based education programme.

Coleg Elidyr’s receives Advanced Accreditation from the National Autistic Society

Autism Accreditation logoIn 2016, Coleg Elidyr became the only Further Education College in Wales to be accredited by the National Autistic Society. A subsequent Review in July 2019 resulted in the achievement of ‘Advanced Accreditation’ Status.

Key aspects the Reviewer’s considered Coleg Elidyr does particularly well included:

  • Self-advocacy planning
  • student consultation
  • Total Communication environment
  • Staff development and training
  • increasing students’ independence
  • its breadth of vocational qualifications
  • engagement with the wider community.

The Award committee informed the college that they were particularly impressed with the strong focus on encouraging and supporting students to express opinions and make informed decisions. They also said:

‘Coleg Elidyr is increasingly seen as a centre of excellence in the field of autism in particular, in relationship to the work it has done on measuring outcomes in skills for life and work. Feedback from parents is very positive’.

Condover College staff are finalists at the regional Great British Care Awards 2019

Condover College staff members Jessica Hammond and Katy Russell are both finalists at the West Midlands Great British Care Awards. Jessica is a finalist for the Housing With Care Award and Katy is a finalist for the Care Home Activity Organiser Award.

Jessica is the registered manager of Condover College’s high quality scheme Hall Bank Mews. She and the staff team provide excellent person-centred care. It’s her job to ensure residents have enjoyable and fulfilled lives. Staff and residents also have an amazing relationship with the local community, with residents attending local activities and the community attending events at the home. Staff are incredibly supportive of residents gaining independence. Residents are also actively encouraged to achieve their goals.

Katy is the manager of CCL’s Opportunities Programme in Shrewsbury. Katy and the staff team provide a range of activities for learners that are tailored to individual needs and preferences. There are regular meetings with learners, family and friends to explore activities that are enjoyable and engaging for everyone. With a strong focus on community engagement, communication, learning new skills and gaining independence, The Opportunities Programme is supportive of learners achieving their dreams and aspirations.

Portland College are Proud Finalists for Prestigious Award

Portland College's care teamPortland College are finalists for a prestigious national award. The Caring UK Awards are now in their third year. Portland College has beaten competition from hundreds of other nominations across the UK to be shortlisted for the Quality in Housekeeping Award.

Ike Onwukwe, Assistant Principal – Care commented:

‘We are extremely proud of our Housekeeping Teams who work tirelessly to ensure that our facilities look their absolute best at all times.

With a small team, focussed on enhancing the experience of our learners and residents, the high standards that our Housekeeping Staff deliver is fundamental to their safety, health, wellbeing and happiness. The team takes immense pride in the work that they do and it is fantastic that they are being formally recognised for their commitment.’

Script Events organise the awards in conjunction with leading care industry magazine Caring UK, with support from headline sponsor Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank. In each category there are up to seven finalists. Each of the finalists will now go through to the next stage of the judging process where they will be out to impress by showcasing first hand the great work going on in their homes.

We’ll have to wait until November to hear if Portland win this prestigious award – watch this space!