From education to employment

Specialist colleges commended for challenging barriers and stereotypes at inaugural Natspec Innovation Awards

Specialist colleges across England have been recognised for challenging barriers and stereotypes in post-16 special educational needs and disabilities provision at the Natspec Innovation Awards.

Award judges – including social entrepreneurs, former Ofsted inspectors, teachers, and campaigners – honoured six specialist providers, with the winners announced during a virtual ceremony on Thursday 25 May.

Colleges which have broken new ground with their curriculum, student voice, and their approach to mental health and wellbeing are among the winners and will be presented with trophies at the Natspec National Conference on Tuesday 13 June.

Specialist colleges’ innovative projects recognised

Natspec, which represents specialist colleges across England and Wales, this year decided to revamp their awards to focus on initiatives that have demonstrated innovation and resulted in improved outcomes for students with learning difficulties and disabilities.

For instance, Hedleys College in Newcastle, which has won the curriculum innovation award, worked with its local constabulary to introduce a more accessible police cadet programme.

Learners, one of whom said they had “always wanted to be in the police and everyone told me I couldn’t,” have experienced what it is like to be a police officer: being sworn in, going on the beat, and learning what goes on behind the scenes with the mounted division.

Chadsgrove Educational Trust was given the innovation in student voice award for its student ambassador programme. Here, learners organised projects to support local organisations such as food banks, which was commended by judge Alex Johnson as “outstanding work in giving back to the community.”

Although Chadsgrove already supplied non-perishable goods to the foodbank, the student ambassadors decided to donate fresh produce they grew in the college’s garden.

The innovative routes into employment award went to The Hive College’s traineeship programme, which combined English, maths and ICT with occupational studies tuition and a work placement. Hive took home the award after judges said the programme “provides an ideal pathway into apprenticeships.”

Derwen College was awarded for its innovative partnership working, after it cooperated with film-making company Rocking Horse Media to produce media on the college campus with the involvement of the students.

Thanks to the partnership between Derwen and Rocking Horse, students from the college have been involved in projects with the likes of former Blue Peter presenter Peter Purves, Doctor Who actor Simon Becker-Fisher, and Bergerac and Outlander actress Annette Badland.

A sensory forest bathing project, where students planned trails to walk where they could immerse themselves in the trees and nature around them, earned Catcote Futures the innovation in mental health award.

Judge Liz Maudslay remarked that Catcote’s project: “Made me realise how much we as teachers are concerned to ensure our students are continually learning and ‘doing’ and can sometimes forget that it is also important that they are supported in simply ‘being’.”

Portland College, through its SMARTHome project, sought to remove the barriers preventing their students from independent living through an innovative use of technology.

An on-campus bungalow has been redeveloped into an accessible technology-controlled home where learners can use Amazon’s Alexa and Samsung Bixby’s to help them with tasks as varied as heating, blinds, lights, and the weekly shopping.

Winners, in addition to being able to the Natspec award winners’ logo on their promotional material, will also receive a £250 CPD bursary.

Natspec chief executive Clare Howard commented:

“The level of innovation and commitment to delivering the very best for learners that has been demonstrated by our award winners makes me truly proud to be a part of the specialist college sector.

“During such straightened times, after the specialist post-16 sector has already faced years of underfunding, it is inspiring that our member colleges are not just making do but are brimming with new ideas and practices.

“We decided to revamp the Natspec Awards this year to highlight and encourage innovative practice. Staff taking that extra step and having that moment of inspiration can have a life-changing effect on the most vulnerable learners.

“We look forward to seeing what other brilliant ideas colleges put forward for next year’s awards.”

Chair of the judging panel for the Natspec Innovation Awards Nigel Evans commented:

“We received a huge range of applications. It was great to see the expertise that we know is out there in the sector.

“We did have some really difficult decisions to make. There was a huge diversity of projects this year which covered all aspects of provision.

“Without exception, the projects will make a huge difference, not just to the young people but across the country.”

List of award winners

  • Curriculum innovation: Hedleys College – Police Cadet programme
  • Innovation in student voice (sponsored by Peridot Partners): Chadsgrove Educational Trust Specialist College – Self-advocacy, active citizenship and community inclusion for independence in adulthood
  • Innovative approach to mental health and wellbeing (sponsored by AssuredPartners Hettle Andrews): Catcote Futures – Sensory Forest Bathing
  • Innovative partnership working (sponsored by Innovation Broking): Derwen College – Focus on Rocking Horse Media partnership
  • Innovative routes into employment: The Hive College – Traineeships At The Hive
  • Innovative use of technology (sponsored by teamSOS): Portland College – Developing Independence through Maples SMARTHome

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