Natspec Highlights March 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.”

Natspec Highlights February 2020

Welcome to February’s edition of the Natspec Highlights! Bringing you news and great stories from across our membership, we’re delighted to share just some of what they’ve been up to with you!

This month features news about a smashing fundraising event, multiple successes with supported internships, and a focus on careers – just in time for National Careers Week! Read on for all this and more.


  1. Rising stars at Derwen College
  2. Landmarks film highlights supported internships
  3. Local partnership grants opportunities to scores of Portland College students
  4. New College Worcester focuses on careers
  5. Emily’s story: from college to paid employment
  6. ‘Food for Thought’ Event Highlights Disability Employment and Raises Over £14k
  7. Student brings history to life for museum visitors
  8. Fairfield Farm College Students Work With University Of West Of England On Robotics Project
  9. Student shines at Newfriars
  10. Crafting Connections

Rising stars at Derwen College

There was no loafing about for industrious students at Derwen College as Real Bread Week arrived.

Two students in the kitchen with their loaves of uncooked bread

They were busier than ever kneading, proving and baking home-made bread to support the week. For students on Hospitality and Housekeeping programmes, bread making is one of the catering skills they learn in preparation for employment.

Fresh loaves and rolls are also sold by Retail students at the college’s on-site Garden Centre Shop. Every Wednesday, they also sell them on a weekly market stall at Bailey Head, in Oswestry. From producing and baking bread, to labelling up and selling, the story of Derwen’s bread is an ideal example of how the college brings learning to life.

Teacher Paula Hampson supports students through their catering and bakery skills. She emphasises that there is a lot for students to learn on many different levels. As a teacher, Paula likes to get creative with bread. She experiments with different grains and shapes to support students’ learning.

She says: “The bread-making process is adapted for a range of students with different learning difficulties and disabilities. All can benefit from the process in some way, whether for their independence skills or for future employment.

“It is a pleasure to see students’ progress and link their learning to baking for a commercial setting. Students can take pride in their produce being sold to customers in our shop or at the local market.”

Hospitality student Carys Williams said: “I really enjoy bread baking, especially the kneading, you have to put a lot of effort into it. I like the shaping as well, as you can be creative. Today is the first time I have tried to make a plaited loaf, and it’s turned out quite well.”

Volunteer Week

Community-spirited Derwen students have also been doing their bit for national Student Volunteering Week. Learners have packed shopping bags, taken part in garden maintenance and raised funds for Derwen College Charity.

Sioned Davies, pathway lead for retail and horticulture, said that students and staff were pleased to take part in Student Volunteering Week.

A derwen student helping pack bags in Morrisons

She said: “Community is vital for us at Derwen College. We rely on the local community to support Derwen in offering valuable work placements and work experience to our students. People from the community also visit our on-site restaurant, cafe, Garden Centre and Shop, print shop and Hotel 751, and it’s important that we give back to the community that supports us.

She continued: “Volunteering helps students to develop their employability skills, contributes to the wider and local community life and increases students’ self-confidence and wellbeing. Volunteering is a big part of all our students’ learning every week, so it’s been great to be a part of national Student Volunteering Week.”

Landmarks film highlights supported internships

Landmarks have worked with over 30 Interns since 2016. During this time, they have supported many to achieve their dream of employment. Below is a short video about Internships at Landmarks. It highlights some particular learners who have achieved their goals, including Lewis, previously featured as a success story on the Natspec site, and Ryan, who turned his mechanical interest into employment.

Local partnership grants opportunities to scores of Portland College students

A student using a pitchfork to turn soil

Two Portland College learners undertook a Supported Internship with local company Matrix Properties last year. Both of them achieved paid employment at the end of it. This academic year, two more learners are currently undertaking a Supported Internship with the same company. In addition, Matrix Properties have also given several learners access to short term placements. All the staff at Matrix Properties have been welcoming and accommodating, and have made the process very easy.

The learners are having a great time working with Matrix Properties. They’ve helped the team to keep the grounds neat and tidy and made it a healthy habitat for the plants and wildlife. They have learnt how to perform various gardening and grounds maintenance task and can now confidently use many hand tools independently. The garden is evolving as the seasons change, and the learners all enjoy watching it. Their contributions have made a big difference to the lovely space!

Matrix Properties enthuse about how these placements have benefitted them as a company. “Students with learning difficulties have proven to us to make excellent employees. At Matrix Properties, we couldn’t have been happier with the results. What started out for us as an opportunity to benefit from additional resource from students, as well as provide them with a platform to develop skills, build confidence and enhance their employability, has actually resulted in a successful recruitment process for us, saving us time and money finding and trialling the right people.”

New College Worcester focuses on careers

In December, New College Worcester held its first ever Success in Employment event. A whole school day focussed on just careers!

Fortis Living, HOW College, Fujitsu and The Herefordshire and Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce were some of employers who took part in the day. As part of it, they offered invaluable advice and information to NCW students.

A student talks to a man who is explaining something as part of the careers fair

The day was packed full of opportunities for students of all ages. It began with an inspiring welcome speech from vision impaired careers expert Seema Flower, Founder and Managing Director of Blind Ambition. Seema is someone who has overcome much adversity in her life whilst launching her own successful consultancy business.

Students split off into groups to experience a variety of careers and work-based activities throughout the day. These included:

  • CV writing workshops
  • mock interviews
  • accessing support
  • how to dress for work
  • the opportunity to talk to a number of former students who have gone on to achieve successful professions.

A big hit with many students was the Careers Fair which took place in the morning. It allowed them to meet with a variety of employers to gather information, advice and guidance on what to do after leaving school.

Describing his experience of the day, Year 13 student Alex said: “I really enjoyed having the chance to speak to so many different businesses and organisations. I’m hoping to go in to IT after leaving NCW, so making contact with companies such as Dolphin Interconnect Solutions and Fujitsu was really motivating for me and has made me think more about what I’d like to do within the IT sector.”

Emily’s story: from college to paid employment

Emily holding a drink behind the bar and smiling

There’s a new student story up on the blog! Emily really enjoyed her time at QAC and successfully completed a Hospitality programme. The College provided the support that she needed and offered her the opportunity to complete an external work placement with The Birmingham Repertory Theatre as part of her course.

Read more about how Emily’s getting on.

‘Food for Thought’ Event Highlights Disability Employment and Raises Over £14k

In February, a spectacular event for over 100 guests took place at stunning Clevedon Hall near Bristol. The hospitality students of Foxes Academy teamed up with top chefs to highlight the benefits of employing young people with learning disabilities in the industry. The evening raised over £14,000 for The Springboard Charity, who help unemployed people of all abilities and backgrounds to find employment in the Hospitality Industry.

Tom makes cocktails behind the barGuests enjoyed cocktails made by former Foxes student Tom Hawkins, who worked alongside Massimiliano Terrile from The Waldorf Hilton. Julie Baker from the Hilton gave a speech sharing the inspiring stories of Foxes students now employed in their hotels. Foxes students worked with special guest chefs including Briony May, Josh Eggleton, Liam Finnegan, Dez Turland, Jamie Coleman, Alex Thompson, and Chris Cleghorn. Clevedon Hall’s talented team supported the students serving five courses to the highest standards.

The dinner was hosted by Foxes Academy, The Springboard Charity and Clevedon Hall. Chefs and the three organisers generously donated their time, resources and talent free of charge. The overall sponsor of the event was, and food sponsors included The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, Arthur David, Martin Frobisher’s, Kingfisher Brixham, Step and Stone, Town and Country Fine Foods and Wickwar Wessex Brewery.

Minister for Disabled People Justin Tomlinson said: “Foxes Academy is leading the way in supporting young people with learning disabilities to gain the necessary skills and confidence to secure paid work. I am especially impressed to see that 85 per cent of their 2019 graduates have gone on to enter employment.”

“Our Disability Confident scheme, which Foxes Academy is signed up, helps employers to recruit and retain disabled people in the workplace. And I’d encourage other employers to join and realise the benefits of having a diverse workforce.”

Student brings history to life for museum visitors

National Star student Piyush is impressing people with his history knowledge after landing his dream work experience placement at the National Museum Cardiff.

Piyush, or Mr P as he is affectionately known by the team at National Star in Wales, uses his communication device to share interesting facts about a range of artefacts when he works as a gallery assistant at the museum.

He spends time at college each week undertaking his own research about the items on display. He then prepares a short presentation for visitors, which is programmed into his communication device.

Sharing a passion for history

National Star Teaching Assistant Hannah Bernard said: “Mr P was really keen to learn about local Welsh history which motivated him to work with his tutor to secure a work placement at the National Museum Cardiff.”

“He’s so passionate about this opportunity that he’ll conduct research at home to extend his learning and then input what he has prepared into his AAC device.”

“Not only is Mr P using his voice to share his passion for history, but he is also becoming much stronger and more confident about controlling his communication device with his feet. He knows that the information he is delivering will be heard by a range of visitors, from primary school children to adults and foreign tourists, and so what he says is clear, informative and full of fun facts.”

“I’m really enjoying my role of speaking to children and interacting with groups of people during my placement role at the National Museum Cardiff,” said Mr P.

“I enjoy working alongside Dave and I love to learn from him! My favourite exhibit is the volcano exhibit and I have learnt a lot about volcanoes from the experience of being on my placement. I’m excited that I have helped groups of school children learn whilst being able to have fun!”

An Ambassador for the college and museum

David Enright, from the National Museum Cardiff, said Mr P has had a hugely positive impact at the museum. He’s helped to bring exhibits to life with his presentations, and has also improved awareness about the talents of disabled people.

“Our skills development placements at the National Museum Cardiff are designed to help people like Mr P develop a range of transferable skills that will make them more employable,” said David. “He is already having a positive impact on our visitor experience.”

“Mr P is not fazed by talking to large groups of schoolchildren or family groups. He is a fantastic ambassador for National Star and the National Museum Cardiff, challenging any preconceptions that our visitors may have about the abilities of people with disabilities.”

“In the short time that he has been sharing his knowledge of our artefacts using his communication device, he has become more fluid and needs less help. The gaps between his talks are shorter and he is growing in confidence.”

There are plans to take Mr P behind the scenes at the museum for an exclusive look at some of their lesser known exhibits, including a Sumatran tiger.

Mr P’s work placement is the start of a growing partnership between National Star and the National Museum Cardiff. In time, more National Star students will work with the museum to gain valuable experience to help them improve their communication, teamwork and employability skills.

Fairfield Farm College Students Work With University Of West Of England On Robotics Project

a group of students interacting with peppa the robot

Five students at Fairfield Farm College recently visited the University of West of England to take part in an exciting robotics project nicknamed “Peppa”. The aim of the project is to look at the future of technology. How could it support children and adults with disabilities now, and will that change in the future?

Students joined the co-production research team to explore available technology. The aim was to understand how technology can impact on the lives of people with disabilities. Society is changing quickly and the students were quick to seize on the opportunities they might have because of it.

Students experienced some of the technology available, including an interactive robot, to see how it could help with the future needs of children and adults with disabilities. They also spent time in the robotics lab, which they all enjoyed.

Student shines at Newfriars

Marshall assembling camera equipmentSince joining Newfriars College, Marshall has gone from strength to strength. He has experienced some hard times but has come out of the other side a bright, sharp, well focussed student.

Marshall is one of their highest achieving students, achieving his BTEC Level 2 in performing arts & Level 2 distinction following the English Speaking Board qualification.

As a media student, Marshall continues to wow audiences with his fantastic artwork, props, scenery and theatrical make up. Back in September 2019 Newfriars offered Marshall an internal supported internship to work alongside the three departments he enjoys the most. Marshall now has a day working in performing and visual arts, a day supporting the ICT manager and a day supporting the arts department.

Crafting Connections

‘Crafting Connections’ is the third annual collaboration between Ruskin Mill Trust and Hay Festival exploring neurodiversity in an atmosphere of creativity, social inclusion, research and cultural exchange. Speakers at this year’s event include:

  • the brilliant and charismatic Steve Silberman, award-winning author of NeuroTribes
  • performer and writer Kate Fox
  • Dara McAnulty, the 16-year old activist and author of Diary of a Young Naturalist’.

Participants can book on to one or both days of the conference at £35 per day which includes all refreshments, lunch, and the evening event, as well as the opportunity to take part in craft workshops.

This year’s event takes place at Ruskin Mill College in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire. Full details and tickets are available on the Ruskin Mill Land Trust website.

Natspec Highlights January 2020

A new year brings exciting new times for our members! In this month’s highlights, we round up some news from before the Christmas break, as well as exciting new things that have happened since.

At Natspec we’re busy preparing for the National Conference, which is approaching fast. There’s also only two weeks left to submit applications for the Natspec Awards!

Read on for stories about a tennis festival, outstanding colleges, musical performances at colleges and how one exceptional student has been offered a place at the University of Oxford.


  1. Setting students up for life at CSCD
  2. Colleges continue to be outstanding
  3. University of Oxford beckons for exceptional Royal National College for the Blind student
  4. Learners Deliver Outstanding Musical Performance at Google UK in London
  5. Students rally together at college’s first tennis festival
  6. A big move for HBVC
  7. Christmas competition all wrapped up
  8. New College Worcester students thriving in new environment
  9. Being guided to success
  10. Introducing Student Ambassadors

Setting students up for life at CSCD

Our latest student story is now up on the blog! Hear from Corey (18) from Communication Specialist College Doncaster. Corey has autism and communication difficulties including a stutter. In his own words, Corey explains how the college has exceeded all his expectations with the support it has provided to him as he strives to achieve his career goals.

You can also watch a video of him speaking about his experiences at CSCD:

Our students have great things to say about being at Communication Specialist College Doncaster.Thank you Corey for sharing your story.

Posted by Communication Specialist College Doncaster on Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Colleges continue to be outstanding

Orchard Hill receives another ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted grade

Students and staff at Orchard Hill celebrate their outstanding resultOrchard Hill College has maintained its Outstanding Ofsted rating, first granted in 2013, at a recent inspection.

The report stated; “Since the previous inspection governors, leaders, managers and staff have maintained their exceptional standards to provide an outstanding experience for their students. They hold extremely high aspirations for students.”

The report went on to praise the curriculum, which is carefully designed and bespoke to individual students. It ensures they are successful and independent in their lives after college. Students receive excellent support and a “high proportion of students….gain employment or move into voluntary work.” The report also acknowledged the “robust safeguarding processes in place that ensure students are safe in and out of college.”

Commenting on the inspection, Kelly Phillips, College Principal, stated: “I am so proud of all our students and staff who have worked so hard to maintain an ‘Outstanding’ judgement. Our students truly deserve this and it represents the continued dedication of the entire college community.”

Aurora Boveridge excels in monitoring visit

A recent monitoring visit to Aurora Boveridge College, part of Ofsted’s visits to newly-funded specialist colleges, revealed that the College is making ‘significant progress’ across the board. Ofsted praised the high quality of students’ work, the flexible curriculum, and the individualised support each student receives. Boveridge is the first newly funded provider to be inspected without any areas of weakness identified in the report.

Coleg Elidyr graded ‘excellent’

Estyn recently inspected Coleg Elidyr and graded them as ‘excellent’ across the board. The report praised the teaching at the college for “[providing] learners with highly stimulating experiences that help them to engage fully in their learning and make exceptional progress.” Estyn made note of the creative, well-planned curriculum and purposeful, strategic planning for individual skill progress as particular strengths.

The excellent qualities of Coleg Elidyr’s leadership can be seen in the recent, thoughtful piece Vice-Principal Kirsten Jones wrote for Quality Times: Where does ALN reform in Wales leave specialist colleges?

University of Oxford beckons for exceptional Royal National College for the Blind student

Kelsey smiling at RNC with his guide dogKelsey, a student at the Royal National College for the Blind, has been offered a conditional place at Trinity College, Oxford to read Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE).

The news has come during a busy and exciting year for Kelsey. Alongside studying for A Levels in English Literature, French and History, Level 3 Braille and AS Mathematics, Kelsey is Chair of the College’s Student Representative Group, a Student Ambassador and a member of the College’s Eco Committee. He also plays Goalball, representing RNC in the domestic intermediate league.

In November, Kelsey also managed to fit in a trip around the country on a rickshaw as part of the BBC Children in Need’s Rickshaw Challenge. All of this whilst preparing for the University of Oxford’s entrance exam.

Kelsey was thrilled to receive his offer and said: “I was completely shocked when I received the offer from Oxford. I am absolutely over the moon, and can’t wait to see what the future brings. For now, it’s time to work hard, and to enjoy the best of everything RNC has to offer – it has already given me so much, in preparation for university life, and there is no way I could have got even this far without the fantastic, unique support and provision which has been offered to me here.”

Kelsey’s English Literature teacher, Libby Hudson said: “Kelsey has a great deal of drive, but he is also a very modest and unassuming character, and a great pleasure to teach. Obviously, I’m delighted that he did so well in the entrance exam, and I never really had any doubts that he would do well at the interview.”

Kelsey has always been politically motivated and, ultimately, hopes to pursue a career in politics or political journalism.

Learners Deliver Outstanding Musical Performance at Google UK in London

Jess and Fletch from Portland College were special guests at AbilityNet’s TechShare Pro Conference at the end of last year. The Conference promotes the impact digital technology has in changing the lives of disabled people. Jess and Fletch attended alongside Digit Music and students from another college.

The two day event was held at Google’s London office. It commenced with a Gala Dinner on Tuesday, followed by the TechShare Pro Conference on Wednesday.

In preparation for their performance in front of 200 professionals, Jess and Fletch composed a 10 minute piece utilising the innovative Control One technology. This new musical interface removes restrictions from music creation, by adapting everyday technology. Control One works by taking a regular wheelchair controller and adapting it to enable its user to compose music.

Si Tew, Creative Director and Founder of Control One commented: “It was an honour to be able to present Control One and the work that Portland College students have been involved in at such a prestigious event, with accessibility professionals from across the world.”

“Digit Music aims to remove restrictions from music creation and TechShare Pro 2019 has taken us one step closer. It has been wonderful working with Jess and Fletch over the last few months. We have known Jess for a number of years through work with The Able Orchestra but Fletch is a new recruit and we are so happy to have him on board.”

“That was his first gig with us and it happened to be at Google’s UK headquarters for some very influential people. Not a bad start! The two wonderful musicians were also supported by an excellent care team who made the trip possible. Thanks to everyone who was involved. Roll on the next show.”

Impressed by the stunning performance, staff from Apple, Sony and Google congratulated the students and talked to them about the new technology.

You can watch the performance below:

Students rally together at college’s first tennis festival

Two students showing off their tennis rackets

A smashing time was had by all when Derwen College hosted its inaugural tennis festival. The college welcomed more than 20 students from Severndale Specialist Academy and Coleg Cambria to the Derwen College Disability Tennis Festival.

The festival’s aim was to make tennis accessible to all using tennis skills in fun games and challenges, engaging all students of all abilities. Tennis Shropshire representative and former chairman Bob Kerr was in attendance. He brought along Tennis Factory equipment – fun and colourful equipment to play tennis-themed games.

LTA coach Thierry Piangnee, who runs weekly coaching sessions at Derwen College, also shared his skills and expertise with students.

Sports co-ordinator Steve Evans praised everyone who took part and helped make the college’s first festival such a success.

He said: “We ran a range of tennis-related activities, turning traditional tennis on its head to find ways to engage all the students. Everyone enjoyed taking part in activities and having a go, playing together supported by professional tennis coaches. It was lovely to see everyone of all abilities pick up a racket and play. We are proud to have organised such a fun event promoting fitness, social skills, self-confidence, team-building and fun through tennis.

“Derwen College is all about inclusivity and our sports and leisure activities are no exception.”

This was the college’s first tennis festival and is part of Derwen’s commitment to tennis as part of the college’s packed sports and leisure programme.

A big move for HBVC

Students and staff at Heart of Birmingham Vocational College have finally moved into their new building. Settling in to the new classrooms, everyone is excited for what the new space can offer.

Nothing has stopped for the move, though. One learner from the supported internships program provided the “wow” moment this month. He overcame his initial nervousness and lack of self-confidence at his placement in the restaurant at Edgbaston Priory Tennis Club to speak to club members when clearing their tables. Usually, he’s happy in the kitchen with his dishwashing duties. But he’s been coaxed away to spend some time in the restaurant. He said he felt calm and relaxed in the environment and proved he was ready for the next step in his own development and in his overall employability. He won everyone over with his smile, friendly manner and professionalism – the only way is up!

A group of students in the kitchen with the ingredients and tools for breakfast

Other students are continuing to develop their independent living skills within the new facilities including the Independent Living Skills Flat. Students are visiting Tesco or Aldi and using the sunflower lanyards. They have learnt about how wearing them can help them when out and about shopping for themselves. The students are starting off the term by making toast. This builds on their independence to be able to do this at home before coming to college. By the end of the term, all of the students will have gained the knowledge and experience of how to make themselves breakfast.

Christmas competition all wrapped up

Amy with her christmas card. The card is colourful and shaped like a heartAmy from Derwen College won the Christmas card design competition organised by the Association of Colleges. As the winner, her vibrant design features on the association’s official Christmas greetings card for 2019 – both card and electronic GIF versions.

Amy, from Hereford, was awarded with a voucher for her hard work. She said she was happy but surprised to have won the competition with her heart-shaped creation which features iconic Christmas images such as stars, stockings, holly and a Christmas pudding.

She said: “I was really shocked when I was told I’d won. I phoned my Mum straightaway and she was shocked too. I like art and design, and enjoy using bright colours and strong shapes. For this design, I drew a Christmas pudding, stocking, holly, parcels, baubles and stars. I used marker pens to make the colours stand out.”

Association of Colleges Chief Executive David Hughes picked the winner of the competition.

He said: “We are delighted to be using Amy’s fantastic design on our Christmas cards. It’s great to have talented students designing cards for us and this year the standard of entries was extremely high as always. Amy’s stood out through her use of such vibrant colours and the spirit of giving and a time to celebrate was clear. We’re very proud to be circulating it far and wide this festive season and I am sure everyone will love it!”

AoC christmas card. There are colourful stars and other shapes arranged in the shape of a heart. The text reads 'Merry Christmas and Happy New Year From the Association of Colleges'

New College Worcester students thriving in new environment.

The students look over pieces of wood to choose the ones they wantLearning Support Assistants at New College Worcester have been taking students Corey, Toby and DJ to Bonterre every Wednesday. Bonterre, a 15 acre farm just outside Worcester, provides a unique and expertly delivered experience to help children with Autism, ADHD and other issues affecting school engagement. They centre their educational services around ‘Care Farming’ – using the land as a medium to stimulate and engage.

As Winter descends, the layers have increased, but the zeal for offering our fabulous three this wonderful opportunity has not. The students have enjoyed activities that range from making planters using carpentry skills, animal care, planting seeds, transplanting seedlings, mowing the field and planning the sensory garden as well as eating lots of cake!

Being guided to success

Fadzie and guide dog, Terbie, during a mobility session with Tony Hodgson, Teacher of Mobility and Independent Living SkillsFadzie, a student at RNC, is planning for work and life as an independent young adult, all with her first Guide Dog, Terbie.

In year 4 Fadzie started to notice her eye sight deteriorating and thought she might need glasses. A year and further investigation later, she was diagnosed with glaucoma and registered as visually impaired.

Throughout the rest of school Fadzie had learning support assistants in her lessons and achieved excellent grades at GCSE. Going on to study for A Levels, she was predicted high grades and worked extremely hard. Unfortunately, she did not achieve what she wanted.

Looking back at her year 12 and 13 Fadzie recalls the struggle she had with the workload. “School was fast paced and I was struggling to keep up in the lessons, I had to take work home and catch up in my own time. It made me think that I might not cope with university, that’s when I decided that I needed to go to RNC.”

In year 13 Fadzie was matched with Guide Dog Terbie. “Moving away to a residential college can be scary but she made me more confident about going. Terbie learns routes quicker than I do and she is so chilled out in busy areas and it helps make me be more relaxed.”

Fadzie started at RNC in September. Since then, she has been undertaking mobility training to learn routes into town, including public transport. “The mobility training at RNC is really good. The teacher doing my training is also a Guide Dog user so he really understands our needs. There are also a lot of other students and staff with Guide Dogs at college, they have given me help and advice and we even go for walks together.”

So, what does the future the hold for Fadzie and Terbie? “I would like to go to University College London to study Psychology. I’ve done some work experience and volunteer mentoring with young people and I really enjoy it. I want to be in a position where I can help people, and I love London.”

Life in the city might be daunting for some, but Fadzie is not fazed; “Terbie has made things so much easier and more relaxing. With a long cane it was hard to concentrate all the time, but now I can trust Terbie to spot things. I am able to relax and I don’t need to worry.”

“Coming to RNC with Terbie is a great stepping stone. We are able to experience living independently but with support from people that understand visual impairment, it’s really changed my life.”

Photo caption: Fadzie and guide dog, Terbie, during a mobility session with Tony Hodgson, Teacher of Mobility and Independent Living Skills

Introducing Student Ambassadors

QAC's new student ambassadors in red QAC hoodies

Joe, Dan, Kieran, Nakeisha and Aisha have been selected as QAC’s Student Ambassadors for 2020!

Acting as a role model for both prospective and current students, duties include meeting and greeting QAC visitors, guiding visitors on campus tours. Occasionally, they even represent the College at external events.

The student ambassadors play a key role in a variety of College events. They offer a students’ point of view to visitors and share their opinions and experiences about College life.

Derwen's student board in their blue derwen college jackets

Student Ambassadors at Derwen College were also recently seen on social media showing off their new jackets!

We hope to see some of the Student Ambassadors at our upcoming Student Voice Parliament.

Natspec Highlights November 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.”

Natspec Highlights October 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.


Natspec Highlights September 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!

Celebrating success: Natspec Highlights July 2019

It’s the end of the academic year for our colleges! As staff and students hopefully have a chance to catch their breath and enjoy the summer, we’re here to round up the highlights from the specialist sector.

Students have been celebrating their achievements, winning awards and fundraising for their colleges – a perfect way to top an incredible year of achievements.

Congratulations to all students who have graduated and are moving on to pastures new. From all of us here at Natspec, we wish you luck in the next stage of your lives.

  1. RNIB College recognises outstanding local employers
  2. Fairfield Farm College student Harry wins sporting award
  3. Homefield college celebrates learning disability week with inclusive sports event
  4. Derwen College students complete Mack’s Challenge
  5. Lost Boy and the Canterbury Tales performances at Orpheus
  6. Catcote Academy features on ITV’s This Morning
  7. QAC welcomed Paul Faulkner and Alison Hammond to open its annual Summer Games!
  8. Student Success Stories
  9. Derwen Skills Competition
  10. Natspec welcomes new ministers

RNIB College recognises outstanding local employers

Staff at Fearon celebrate being awarded their certificateStudents at RNIB College Loughborough spent the last few weeks of term thanking the supportive local businesses that the college has partnered with over the last academic year.

64 RNIB College students have undertaken an external work placement or internship since September 2018. These are an excellent opportunity for them to continue to develop the key skills they learn while at college. This year’s work placements have varied from catering in Loughborough University’s Halls of Residence, to local community projects and work experience in charity shops.

To say thank you to all of the employers who have supported them each year, RNIB College Loughborough run the Employer Recognition Awards at the end of the summer term. During this time, students hand-deliver certificates to employers, while a few receive a special award for their support.

This year, Tesco (The Rushes) received the Debut Award for an excellent first year of partnering with the college. The Outstanding Employer Award has been awarded to Loughborough University, who provided a number of opportunities for students this year. The college hopes to progress the relationship with them further in the year to come.

And finally the most prestigious Award, The Special Recognition Award, was handed to Fearon Community Association for their continued support of RNIB students in the community.

Fairfield Farm College student Harry wins sporting award

Harry smiling with his awardHarry Humphries, a student at Fairfield Farm College, is celebrating a massive achievement as he achieves the accolade of Young Individual Sportsperson from the 2019 Westbury Young People Awards. Harry started his swimming success story in April 2017 where he was spotted at a gala in Southampton specifically for people with Downs Syndrome. From that point, he has been travelling across the world from Canada to Kosovo, taking part in competitions and also representing Team GB.

The award was presented at the awards ceremony at Matravers School on Wednesday 19 June, where the prize was jointly awarded. This was the first time there were 2 winners of this category, due to the phenomenal talent of the 7 young people nominated. Harry was extremely pleased to receive his trophy, with students and parents all in attendance for support and to celebrate his achievement.

Harry joined Fairfield Farm College, Dilton Marsh in September 2018 as a residential student. Harry joined Warminster Swimming Club, near the College, so that he could increase his training to include an early swim and a one to one evening session with his coach.

As well as attending college full-time, undertaking training for work and independence as a young adult, he is also swimming 5-days per week and competing in various competitions and galas across the globe. He continues to beat his personal best records, regularly winning gold, silver and bronze medals. Harry is focusing on his future and is currently training to qualify for the next Downs Syndrome European Championships in Sardinia in September this year.

Homefield college celebrates learning disability week with inclusive sports event

Students from Homefield College took part in an inclusive sporting event organised by Mencap and Leicester City Football Club Community Trust exclusively for the College as part of Learning Disability Week 2019.

On Friday 21 June, students spent the day at Sileby Town Football Club to learn about Mencap’s ‘Round The World Challenge’, a programme to help people with learning disabilities get involved in sport supported by Sport England and the National Lottery, and practice their football skills with Inclusion Coach Sarah Jones from Leicester City Football Club.

Students celebrating on a field in football kit
Homefield College students celebrate LD week with Mencap – Eliot Owens

This year’s Learning Disability Week focused on the theme of sports and inclusion; taking part in a sport can be a great way to tackle isolation that people with learning disabilities experience, as well as helping them keep an active lifestyle and improving communication and team-working skills.

Jon Stonebridge, Mencap’s Round the World Challenge Project Manager for Loughborough, said: “We know that people with a learning disability can face barriers to getting involved in sport, this project is helping to break down the barriers and empower people with a learning disability to lead a healthy and active life.

“We also know that taking part in sport helps people with a learning disability feel more confident, healthy and a part of their community. We hope that all of the students at Homefield College had fun, developed their football skills and now feel more confident in accessing local sports facilities to make taking part in sport a key part of their life.”

Overall, students and staff had a great day, learning new football skills and keeping active for the afternoon.

Abstract art on display at a gallery

Students at Homefield College also held an art exhibition at Loughborough University. Work included woodwork, floristry, jewellery and mixed media, showcasing the wide range of student talent. The event was a great success, raising £286 to support the College’s Creative Arts and Design programme.

Derwen College students complete Mack’s Challenge

A large group of students with their bicycles

Staff and students from Derwen College have successfully completed a cycle challenge around Lake Vyrnwy to raise funds for the college. The challenge, led by college student Mackenzie Beeson saw students take on the full distance of the Mid Wales beauty spot – a distance of 14 miles.

Steve tries out an adapted bicycleMack and his friend Joe Simpson cycled the lake in adapted bikes and their fellow cyclists used traditional mountain bikes. Derwen College Sports Co-ordinator Steve Evans also cycled the distance in an adapted bike to highlight how tough the challenge was for students with disabilities. Training for the challenge, he said: “These students’ commitment to cycling Lake Vyrnwy has been inspirational. I wanted to understand and highlight the challenge of riding an adapted bike on a long-distance route by trying one out myself. It has taken me out of my comfort zone and given me more of an understanding of how hard Mack is pushing himself for this challenge.”

This is the first time that Derwen College has embarked on a charity event like this – but, spurred on by Mack’s determination to cycle around the lake, the idea soon took flight and eight other students wanted to join. They threw themselves into training and ensuring they had the equipment needed to complete the challenge – bikes, adapted and conventional, supplied by the generous team at Pedal Power in Alyn Waters – as well as fundraising efforts. All in all, they managed to raise £1500 for the college!

Lost Boy and the Canterbury Tales performances at Orpheus

The Orpheus dancers were invited to perform ‘Lost Boy’ at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the Southbank at this year’s U.Dance 2019. The Orpheus dance group created this piece for an inclusive dance research seminar in February 2019 with the ISTD and the University of Bedfordshire (as previously featured in the Natspec Highlights!).

Orpheus’s end of term student production was The Canterbury Tales. Rachel Martin, Curriculum Manager for Performance and Outreach, said: “Geoffrey Chaucer, known as the Father of English Literature, has given us so many laughs and moments of poignancy this year, and has been a font of inspiration for stories, giving us this year’s Summer Production! Always wanting to challenge and stretch ourselves, we decided to stage this production site-specifically, all around the college. This required our audience to be more active, but allowed them in turn to fully immerse themselves in the Middle Ages.

We produced 11 of the 24 stories Chaucer wrote, and worked in varied art forms including tapestry, dance, devised theatre, installation, song and film. The students researched and reinterpreted each story and were able to retell Chaucer’s work in their own way.”

Students and staff in medieval costumes

Catcote Academy features on ITV’s This Morning

Students at Catcote Academy produced a lip dub video to Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’. Produced to raise money for their performing arts department, lead roles were taken by performing arts students across the school and college. The aim of the performing arts programme is to give students opportunities to express themselves and break down the barriers that hold them back.

The video was shared widely and caught the attention of the team at ITV’s This Morning. The school and college was featured live on the show on the 12 July, showcasing the best of specialist provision and how everyone can get involved in performing arts. Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield even had a special surprise for the staff and students as they revealed that the show had put in the money for the funding goal to be met. Currently, they’ve raised over £12,000 to put towards performing arts!

QAC welcomed Paul Faulkner and Alison Hammond to open its annual Summer Games!

QAC were delighted to welcome two very special visitors to open this year’s Summer Games. TV presenter and resident Brummie Alison Hammond along with Chief Executive of the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce Paul Faulkner, joined staff and students to say a few words before officially declaring the games open!

Paul Faulkner, Alison Hammond and Bev Jessop
Paul and Alison with QAC principal Bev Jessop

The Summer Games are a brilliant time of the year for all at QAC, bringing everyone together and providing a fun and competitive end to the academic year. This year’s Summer Games theme was ‘Inventors and Inventions’, with each student group picking a famous inventor or invention to research and base their performance/presentation on – some brilliant choices were included, ranging from Nikola Tesla to the vacuum cleaner!

The collaborative effort of everyone at QAC to make the games what they are created a brilliant atmosphere around the College campus which was thoroughly enjoyed by all involved.

Student Success Stories

We’ve been adding to our collection of student success stories! If you’ve got some time, why not read about Tom, who’s secured paid employment as a barman in London following work experience, or Mitchel, who’s combining work with Paralympic training, or the success of three Lukes from Hereward College who have all secured paid employment at Holiday Inn.

Derwen Skills Competition

A student practising cake decoratingDerwen College opens its first series of Skills Live competitions with competitions running between 21-25 October at the college. The competitions are open to young people aged 16-25 years old with SEND who are currently in mainstream or specialist colleges or schools.

The deadline for competition entries is Friday 13 September. Art competition deadlines from 2 August.

The competitions provide an opportunity for young people with SEND to showcase their work skills to a wider audience. It is also a useful introduction to competition and form good preparation for any student to enter the national World Skills UK competition in 2020.

Natspec welcomes new ministers

Natspec has released statements welcoming Gavin Williamson as the new Secretary of State for Education, and Kemi Badenoch as the new Minister for Children and Families. Both face immediate challenges in their new roles.

Natspec Highlights June 2019

It’s been another busy month at Natspec. We hosted another successful Student Parliament on the 11 June, and the last of our Natspec Games was held at Young Epilepsy in the South East – which luckily the weather held for!

Our Colleges have also been very busy as they move into summer. Arts and sports have been a particular focus, with art exhibitions and musical performances taking place alongside sport competitions. The launch of a mini Premier Inn at Hereward College is particularly exciting as it will provide excellent work experience opportunities for students, improving work outcomes.

Read on for a host of stories from across the specialist sector highlighting just some of the incredible things happening at our colleges.

  1. Another incredible Student Parliament
  2. Hereward College partners with Premier Inn for on-site work experience opportunities
  3. Successful work outcomes for students at The Hive College
  4. Visiting Buckingham Palace to receive the Duke of Edinburgh Award
  5. Dorton College student wins South London Learner Award
  6. Rooftop Bee Garden at Argent College
  7. Leading inclusive sport in the local community
  8. New campus for HBVC
  9. RNC student Chris targets strongman competition
  10. Landmarks opens new provision in Rotherham
  11. QAC student band perform at Birmingham town hall
  12. Orpheus centre students launch art exhibition

Another incredible Student Parliament

Student sticks post-it note to 'what are you good at?' wallNatspec hosted its fifth student voice parliament at Seashell Trust on the 11 June. With representatives of nine colleges in attendance, it was a very busy day, with a host of thoughts and ideas being exchanged.

The theme of this parliament was ‘It’s okay to be different, be yourself’. Ben Kinross from NUS said ‘The event showed how Student Unions can look different and work differently but can change education and empower students just the same.’ Throughout the day, students were invited to contribute their thoughts on a number of topics.

Sarah Laszlo, Natspec’s Learner Voice Coordinator, said: “It is my absolute privilege to be able to gather and work with learners from specialist colleges across the country. This event brought forward some huge thinking on important issues for students with learning difficulties and disabilities and I was delighted at the level of engagement throughout the day. I’m excited to take the Student Voice Parliament and its members to further empowerment in the future.”

Read more about the student’s ideas and thoughts here.

Hereward College partners with Premier Inn for on-site work experience opportunities

Hereward College Principal opens the Premier Inn training centre

A ground breaking three-bedroom Premier Inn training centre has launched at Hereward College in Coventry with the aim of helping young people with additional needs get into work. The new mini-hotel, which will not take paying guests, is a state-of-the-art training facility and will be used for young people to learn skills in the hospitality industry.

The new facility was opened on 17 June with former Derwen College student Mary Woodall as the guest of honour. Derwen College led an industry-first partnership with Premier Inn to train students, and as a result of that programme Mary now works at Premier Inn in Greenwich, welcoming thousands of guests every year.

Paul Cook, Principal at Hereward College said: “We are delighted to be working with Premier Inn, who support our ambition to become a centre of excellence in hospitality training and get more people with disabilities into meaningful employment.

“The new training facility will mean that students will be able to gain work experience, learn specific job roles and gain confidence before stepping into the workplace.”

You can read more about the facility on Hereward College’s website.

Successful work outcomes for students at The Hive College

Student from The Hive College on work placement in supermarketFive students on the employability programme at The Hive College in Birmingham are preparing to leave college in July 2019 and move into paid employment. They have all been on supported internships and are going into a variety of employment sectors such as catering, administration and engineering.

The college’s Work Placement Co-ordinator, Julie Pallister has also secured a partnership with KPMG based in Birmingham City Centre going forward into September 2019. They are a very large prestigious accountancy company and are offering internships to three students in their post room, catering and administration.

Julie said they are very excited to be able to offer our students the possibility of gaining employment at KPMG and building a strong relationship with the employers based there, so that they can offer opportunities like this to other students in the future.

Visiting Buckingham Palace to receive the Duke of Edinburgh Award

Students and family members outside Buckingham PalaceFour students from Hedleys College visited Buckingham Palace in May to be presented with their Gold Duke of Edinburgh award. They were greeted and spoken to by Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and presented with their certificate by Tom Chambers who gave an outstanding motivational speech.

The students have worked immensely hard to achieve this award. To achieve the Gold Award they had to complete three separate stages. The first, voluntary work, was completed by helping out in Age UK, keeping a local park tidy by litter picking, completing a crisis collection during the Christmas period and arranging a Culture Shock awards evening for the college. The second involved them enhancing their skills / physical ability, which they did by holding Boccia competitions and created a stop motion film by using still frames. Finally, they took part in expeditions, completing a range of walks and travelling to Fife, Scotland for a week. When they were there they stayed at various places to look at how accessible they were and then gave feedback about their experiences and the accessibility.

Students went all out to visit the Palace and all looked very smart. This was an amazing experience and a great day was had by all who attended.

Dorton College student wins South London Learner Award

Sami receiving her awardSami Begum, a student at the Royal Society for Blind Children’s Dorton College, has won a South London Learner Award. The annual South London Learner Awards are presented on behalf of the Committee of South London Principals (COSLP) and celebrate some of the brilliant achievements made by further education students in the region. Sami has a severe visual impairment but is determined to become a physiotherapist in spite of the condition and is described as a ‘source of inspiration’ to both staff and other students. Sami was honoured with the award in a special event held at the House of Lords, and all at Dorton College and Royal Society for Blind Children (RSBC) are incredibly proud of her achievement.

Rooftop Bee Garden at Argent College

Argent College are raising money to fund modification works to the rooftop garden at Argent College so they can create a safe environment for their new bees and their students. The new beehives will be placed on the rooftop of the New Standard Works in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter and will be the first urban beehives in the Jewellery Quarter.

50,000 bees arrived on site on the 20 June. To help the campaign, visit here. The aim is that the students will be able to harvest organic honey and beeswax from the bees to use within their programmes, creating sweet treats and candles.

Leading inclusive sport in the local community

Tennis CoachingSports leaders working towards their Sports Leaders UK Level 1 accreditation at Fairfield Farm College have been working hard at planning and delivering events for their local community. One event they held, the Rainbow Shower Event, aimed at pupils with additional needs, saw almost 400 pupils from local schools and colleges attend.

They have also been participating in a Youth Sports Trust initiative called ‘Beyond the Baseline’. Paralympic tennis player Louise Hunt has been helping them to prepare for an event in July. They will welcome two local primary schools to Fairfield Farm College & introduce their pupils with additional needs to some inclusive tennis activities – hopefully it will go well!

New campus for HBVC

HBVC students outside the new campusHeart of Birmingham Vocational College opened the doors of their new campus on Friday 14 June – the new campus will be fully operational from the start of September 2019, ready for the new academic year.

The celebrations were kicked off by Chicken George of Genesis Radio, with students and guests dancing the day away to a disco – with a few karaoke numbers thrown in too! The students and staff were also joined by celebrity chef Glynn Purnell of Purnell’s Restaurant and Saturday Kitchen fame, and Michael Stevenson of BBC Casualty fame.

Glynn commented on the day “I have never seen so many people on a dance floor enjoying themselves at 3 o’clock in the afternoon”

HBVC have also recently set up an inclusive mixed college football team where students are also in charge of running the team. They’ve received a Grow the Game grant from the FA to help them get more players from underrepresented groups playing football.

RNC student Chris targets strongman competition

Chris lifting a heavy weightChris, a student at the Royal National College for the Blind, is the first visually impaired competitor to take part in the Doncaster strongman. RNC Sports and Fitness tutor Aaron Reece initially introduced Chris to strongman when displaying new training methods in a group fitness session. Chris said, “Aaron showed me deadlift techniques and said I had a natural ability for it, in just 4 months of training I’ve increased my maximum lift by over 50kg.”

Of the competition, Chris said the organisers had been excellent in accommodating him. “It’s a learning curve for both parties. I’ve never competed before and they haven’t had anyone with my impairment. They have been so accommodating, it’s been great, and they have offered any support I need on the day.”

Even though he hasn’t yet competed in his first event, Chris is already planning on competing again and participating in more strongman competitions.

Landmarks opens new provision in Rotherham

Landmarks have opened a brand new site; Milestone House, based in the centre of Rotherham City. From Milestone House, they will be running our regular programmes of both college and Day Services. The staff will work within the local community to ensure practical activities permeate the curriculum, linking to the farm at Apperknowle, for those who like animals and hospitality and catering in one of their many kitchen suites.

Arts, Craft and ICT, not to mention functional skills, Personal and Social Development and many more subjects will all operate from Milestone House with the offer being developed further with time.

QAC student band perform at Birmingham town hall

QAC student band performingQueen Alexandra College (QAC) were delighted to have its student band ‘QAC Collective’ invited to deliver a ‘close of show’ performance at Birmingham Town Hall to celebrate 70 years of Midland Mencap.

On the evening of Friday 14 June, for one night only, Midland Mencap’s ‘Birmingham’s Big Noise’ event witnessed QAC students take to the stage and perform a set of four songs including their very own original song ‘Never Look Back’, doing themselves and QAC proud.

The evening was in two parts, a range of amazing live act performances from the main stage before the venue transformed into a nightclub with DJ’s and a bar.

Midland Mencap is a charity which works and campaigns for accessible and inclusive services and a better quality of life for everyone with experience of learning disabilities and additional needs. This inclusive celebration was enjoyed by all involved and provided an amazing experience for members of QAC Collective.

Orpheus centre students launch art exhibition

a colourful 3D art pieceThe Orpheus Centre launched its first ever Student Art Exhibition which was met with great success. The theme was identity. Testing the boundaries of our identity is the key factor that dominates actions of young people and so it felt a rich topic to explore in the visual arts. It has been a three-fold project for our students, exploring the artistic materials, gaining the qualifications and learning to draw from themselves for subject matter. All three aspects have been run concurrently. At the end of their time at the Orpheus Centre, our students will launch into the most independent stages of their lives so far. The students are positively supported to get to this point by all staff in respect of their academic, independence and practical skills as well as developing their emotional wellbeing and resilience. This enables them to prepare effectively for adulthood and continued success.