Specialist colleges honoured in inaugural Natspec awards

Leading post-16 providers that teach students with special educational needs and disabilities have been recognised for excellence in the sector at the inaugural awards of specialist further education organisation Natspec.

There were over 50 entries to the six categories, which included partnership working and innovative use of technology – the winners of which were announced at a virtual ceremony held over Zoom this morning.

Natspec chair Bernie White said the organisation had seen throughout the Covid-19 crisis that staff have been adapting practice, refining expertise and learning new skills to support students.

“I’m sure all the work we’re celebrating today will continue to be relevant as more students return to college.”

Chair of the judging panel, former Her Majesty’s inspector for FE and skills Nigel Evans, said it was a “privilege” to judge the awards, as the standard of the submissions was “very high and demonstrates the innovation, expertise and creativity within the specialist further education sector”.

The innovative use of technology award was given to Derwen College in Shropshire for its ‘support work apps’, a series of unique apps for tablets and mobile phones which support students with special educational needs and disabilities into work.

Winners of the pathways to employment award Camphill Wakefield celebrating on the awards Zoom call

Evans, who judged this category, said Derwen’s work “showed a strong use of partnerships resulting in products that are easy to use, professional in appearance and will be easy to transfer to other employment settings”.

The pathways to employment award went to Yorkshire provider Camphill Wakefield, for having an “aspirational” pathway into employment embedded into the curriculum, which included vocational profiling, job-matching, in-work support and careers guidance.

Former principal of specialist provider Foxes Academy, Tracey Clare-Grey, who judged this category, awarded it to Camphill because “expectations of employment are embedded into learning” so“students are supported into employment”.

Welsh provider Coleg Elidyr won the student voice award for its student forum, which was used to influence organisational quality improvement.

Natspec’s Sarah Lazlo, who judged this category, said she was “particularly impressed” with the provider’s commitment to engaging lower-level learners in decision-making.

“All learners have been placed firmly at the heart of decision making at the college,” she said.

The wellbeing and mental health award was won by Ambitious College in London for its work in occupational therapy. This included a dedicated TV channel, bespoke curriculum, and weekly yoga sessions.

The judge for this award Helen Brooks, who helped develop the SEND Code of Practice while working at the Department for Education, called it a “really innovative idea” which had an impact across the whole college.

In the inter-disciplinary working category, which recognises joint-working between different disciplines within an organisation, the award was given to National Star College in Gloucestershire for its “Right Time, Right Place” initiative, which introduced a personalised learning co-ordinated tutor role to improve consistency across the college, which judge Pete Vickers, who has spent 30 years working in FE and specialist provision, said had meant “great progress” for learners and staff.

Wargrave House LEAP College won the partnership working award for its ‘post-16 and friends of Lyme and Wood community’ project, a collaboration between college and community groups to provide a range of work experience opportunities, including setting up a community allotment and working in a pop-up café.

Judge Yolande Burgess, who leads on young people’s education and skills for London Councils, said the college’s students are “integral to the community benefit of maintenance and development of park land”, and skills development is “built into” opportunities linked to learning goals and outcomes.

The award ceremony was closed with a medley performed by Coleg Elidyr’s virtual choir (pictured), which included songs from Bob Marley, The Jungle Book and Mary Poppins.

The full list of winners:

  • Innovative Use of Technology – Derwen College
  • Pathways into Employment – Camphill Wakefield
  • Student Voice – Coleg Elidyr
  • Wellbeing and Mental Health – Ambitious College
  • Inter-disciplinary Working – National Star College
  • Partnership Working – Wargrave House LEAP College