Politicians, principals and experts gathered in Westminster to hear how a Gloucestershire college helped to transform the life of a student with autism.

Charlie Avent, 24, told the audience how no one seemed to understand his autism at school, but when he joined Ruskin Mill College a teacher introduced him to her horse, sparking a love of horsemanship that has helped him to manage his behaviour.

“I don’t have learning difficulties, I had teaching difficulties,” said Charlie.

Skills Minister Matthew Hancock, who joined shadow minister Gordon Marsden for the 157 Group reception, tweeted that Charlie’s speech had been “brilliant”.

From left: Liz Shannon UCU,  Charlie Avent, Lynne Sedgmore 157 Group, Helen Casey Institute of Education

The 157 Group launched its Finding My Voice report at the event — a collection of stories on how colleges have supported students with learning difficulties and disabilities.

Matthew Hancock, further education minister and Gordon Marsden, shadow further education minister

Alison Boulton, chief executive of Natspec, an association for independent specialist colleges for students with disabilities, and Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group, write in the forward that the voices of learners are key to understanding how colleges can offer the best support.

“The traditional wisdom says that policymakers make policy and practitioners implement it. We believe that it does not have to be that way and seek, through publications like this, to allow the real experiences of learners to influence those who make policy decisions,” they said.

The group, which represents the top colleges in the country, also launched a review of its impact over the past year.

“We are delighted that nearly 200 people joined us to celebrate the achievements of the 157 Group,” said Ms Sedgmore.

“It was especially good to hear from one of the learners featured in Finding My Voice, Charlie Avent, who spoke passionately about his work with horses and the way his college experience had helped him to be successful.

“We are building a reputation for sound and innovative thought leadership, and we continue to contribute to the raising of the reputation of FE as a whole.”

You can read Charlie’s story here.

From left: Sally Ross, Jade Cassidy, Ruth Gilbert, Janet Murray, Beatrix Groves and Sue Crowley


Maggie Galliers, President of the AoC and Melanie Hunt, Principal of Sussex Downs College


Christine Doubleday, 157 Group, and Andy Gannon, 157 Group

Baroness Margaret Wall of High Barnet and Peter Roberts, Principal Leeds City College and newly elected chairperson of 157 Group