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Derby-based chief executive awarded OBE after 25 years’ work in education

Derby-based chief executive awarded OBE after 25 years’ work in education

Clare Howard, the Derby-based chief executive of a national organisation supporting further education for young people with special educational needs and disabilities, has been awarded an OBE in the King’s inaugural Birthday Honours, it was announced this weekend. 

Clare’s award follows over 25 years’ distinguished service in the public, private and voluntary sectors. Since 2016, Clare has led Natspec, which represents specialist further education colleges across England and Wales. She has overseen significant membership growth from 75 to 122 colleges and has grown Natspec’s staff count from just one, part-time member to ten people.

King’s honour will fuel specialist colleges’ calls for funding to repair dilapidated buildings 

Natspec is hoping Howard’s OBE will help turn the media spotlight on to their campaign for fair capital funding between specialist schools and FE colleges. Shortcomings in funding allocation mean that in many cases funding ear-marked for specialist colleges is not reaching them.As a result, many specialist colleges are having to deliver to vulnerable learners under leaky rooves, with broken boilers and in inadequate teaching spaces.  

Research by Special Needs Jungle has found that less than one per cent of recent funding for SEND schools and colleges, to repair and invest in buildings has gone to the FE level – with no specific investment since 2013-15. 

A 2021 poll of specialist colleges by Natspec revealed that over half (53 per cent) of college buildings need repair, either urgently (18 per cent) or within the next two years (35 per cent). Just four per cent reported not needing repairs within 10 years. 

Howard has supported over 200 projects helping young people 

Clare Howard previously worked at the Association of Colleges for six years and her career has included posts in local authorities, funding agencies, schools, and colleges. As a consultant in the 2000s, Clare worked on more than 200 projects and took interim posts across the education, sport, and health sectors, developing a passion for further education and a particular interest in services and education for people with learning difficulties and disabilities.  

She also worked with special schools, specialist colleges and national disability organisations, with her expertise including organisational development, funding bids, training, change management and governance projects. 

More recently, Clare led Natspec’s response during the Covid pandemic. This included setting up a Home Learning website, running online sessions, and working to improve Department for Education guidance and sending daily emails to colleges to help them support their vulnerable learners.This was while Clare was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. 

Commenting on the honour – for services to Children and Young People with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities – Clare paid tribute to the thousands of people working in specialist FE, saying:  

“I am speechless and a bit stunned about receiving the honour. The only way I can understand it is to see it as recognition for all those thousands of dedicated people who work in specialist colleges or with students with SEND across the FE sector. 

“FE is often forgotten within education as a whole; and specialist FE is sometimes the forgotten part of FE, so it is wonderful to receive this on behalf of all those people who work so hard every day to support students with complex needs. 

“This also wouldn’t have happened without all the people at work and home that have supported me; the credit and my thanks go to my colleagues in the Natspec team, my board, students and staff of every college, and my family. 

“If anything can come from this award, I hope I can use it to raise awareness of the needs of specialist colleges who are crying out for fair funding for their estates so they can support some of society’s most vulnerable young people to thrive.” 

Commenting on the King’s Birthday Honours List, David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), praised Clare: 

“Further education is a sector of passionate, committed, and hardworking people who change lives, and build communities day in and day out. It is great to see so many leaders and staff celebrated in the King’s Honours List.  

“I’d like to say a personal congratulations to Clare Howard, a tireless champion for those with complex learning needs.” 

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