Clare Howard

Across the country, there are over 100 specialist colleges which deliver further education and training for over 6,000 students with learning difficulties and / or disabilities.

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in specialist colleges making rapid changes to keep their learners and staff safe, whilst still providing high quality education for learners with a wide range of complex needs.

But what does “home learning” or “remote learning” or “blended learning” mean for our students? It’s one thing to ask non-disabled students to switch overnight from face-to-face to online learning, quite another if your students have sensory impairments, are non-verbal, or require intensive learning, medical or therapy support.

The nature of learning in specialist colleges is often highly experiential, sometimes with 1-1 teaching and support available. The work specialist colleges do cannot be fully replicated online. But specialist colleges have sought to provide continuity of provision where possible, through a variety of means.

Natspec, the membership body for specialist provision, is supporting colleges by collating and promoting the best practice, to help colleges provide a meaningful learning experience for learners who ordinarily depend on sensory and experiential teaching and learning approaches.

Natspec’s Home Learning website provides a framework, helping colleges to focus on the quality of the home learning and support they offer. The site is split into 6 sections of different resources: learning material, monitoring progress, families, wellbeing, therapy, transition in and out of college. You can also search by type of cohort: for learners with ASD, for learners with PMLD, for learners with sensory impairments, and for learners on work based learning programmes.

Natspec’s TechAbility service offers advice, technical guidance and webinars on ensuring learners and staff have the assistive technology in place to support remote learning. The immediate need was for an online place to share the best resources, so “Aiding learning from home” was quickly populated with information on AAC devices, sensory software, accessibility features in mainstream software and more.

TechAbility has also provided a series of webinars, including:

Colleges that would like to hear more about ensuring accessibility for learners who previously may have faced barriers in a physical classroom setting should attend the “TechAbility Conference 2020: Access to a digital future” on 3 November. The programme is dynamic and interactive, including 20-minute presentations providing practice based practical solutions, and 5-minute AT shorts, highlighting new AT projects, suppliers, and quick-fire hints.

The TechAbility Standards are also available, forming a “road map” of what good assistive technology looks like with resources and guides.

Here are some examples of what colleges did during the height of the pandemic in the Spring and Summer.

Physical/hard copy learning packs

Home learning does not always rely on technology or online learning. For students who are used to the predictable routine in college, adjusting to home learning was a huge transition and a challenge for many learners. Specialist colleges have set work within hard copy home learning packs, a method that enables greater opportunities for different formats. Often, they included materials that students have been working on, or are already familiar with from college.

Parents or carers got involved, for example, by recording the work achieved, and colleges collected examples of work sent into college and monitoring when targets are being met.

Leap College and Landmarks Specialist College are two of the many colleges that supported this transition by providing learning-from-home packs for their students. At Leap, staff sent out hard copy work packs including daily activities, structured routines, targets, visuals, Preparation for Adulthood resources and functional skills activities adapted to be transferable in the home.

At Landmarks, packs contained a variety of information and ideas for parents and carers. There was information on how targets and functional skills development can be embedded into daily routines. For students taking recognised qualifications, the packs included practice qualification papers. There was also accessible and easy-read information about the coronavirus and why students are working at home.

The packs were supplemented with close contact and support from Learning Support Assistants. Phone, emails and Zoom meetings are being used by LSAs to support learners working through their packs. Tutors and LSAs at the college embraced Zoom to continue learning in the face-to-face format, providing art sessions and weekly tutorials.

Remote therapy

Colleges are also being inventive with their approaches in ensuring continuity of provision for therapy. A number of colleges provide speech and language therapy sessions using video conferencing software. Some send out exercises and programmes for learners to complete at home. Therapy staff are embracing a collaborative approach with parents and carers to make therapy work for young people.

Remote wellbeing support

In these challenging times, colleges also stepped up to provide pastoral support throughout the crisis. Perhaps the hardest challenge has been in communicating why everything is happening.

All colleges check in with students and their families regularly, by phone, email or video chat as appropriate. Counselling staff and tutors are available for students as needed. Chadsgrove Educational Trust sent students birthday and Easter cards to keep their spirits up.

Staff at Homefield College developed a programme called “Homefield from home” and have put together a range of resources including an accessible, easy-to-read video aimed at young people with learning disabilities.

Social media is being put to good use for keeping in touch with students. On Facebook, Communication Specialist College Doncaster is hosting daily mindfulness sessions. The sessions, signed in BSL, provide an opportunity for students to take a break from their day and recentre themselves.

Online learning

Colleges used a variety of means to help students access learning online, with some sending laptops or ipads home, as well as assistive technology equipment.

At Hereward College, a virtual college was set up at the beginning of the pandemic in April. Sitting within Hereward’s main website, the page is easy for anyone and everyone to access, providing support beyond Hereward’s own students. The Hub provides links to a variety of resources, with suggested timetables for the day as well as activities to fill it. Resources are organised handily into sections, making it easy to identify activities and tasks depending on learner skill and need.

Students at Foxes Academy took part in functional skills lessons at home by, for example, taking a virtual city break to Paris, visiting a museum and sending an e-postcard. Replicating the vocational, hotel-based training has required the education team to get creative – but students are now using their skills to wine and dine their families, instead.

It was easy to see that learners at Derwen College engaged with online learning, through the college’s multiple social media accounts. Students showed off their independent living skills by baking, cooking meals, and cleaning their homes. Tutors posted regularly to the accounts with task ideas for the students.

Clare Howard, NATSPEC's Chief Executive

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page