Six specialist colleges honoured at Natspec Innovation Awards 2023

Forest bathing and foodbank donations among the initiatives awarded

Forest bathing and foodbank donations among the initiatives awarded

Six specialist colleges have been awarded for initiatives that help students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities to live independently, support their community, and forest bathe.

Natspec, which represents specialist colleges across England and Wales, announced the winners of the Natspec Innovation Awards during a virtual ceremony today.

Among the winners were Chadsgrove Educational Trust Specialist College, which won the student voice award for its student ambassador programme that led projects to support local organisations such as foodbanks.

Student ambassadors donated fresh produce grown in the college’s garden as well as non-perishable goods to the local foodbank. Awards judge and disabled rights campaigner Alex Johnson said learners conducted “outstanding work in giving back to the community”.

Hedleys College in Newcastle won the curriculum innovation award for its work with its local police force to introduce a more accessible police cadet programme.

Learners experienced what it is like to be a police officer, such as taking part in a swearing in ceremony and went behind the scenes with patrollers.

Derwen College was awarded for its innovative partnership working for its partnership with video production company Rocking Horse Media to produce content on the college campus with students.

Meanwhile, Hartlepool specialist college Catcote Futures, won the mental health and wellbeing award for its project to immerse learners in sensory forest bathing, an initiative where students planned trails to walk among trees and nature.

Former SEND Policy Lead at the Association of Colleges and awards judge Liz Maudslay praised the project.

She said it “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’”.

A redeveloped on-campus bungalow at Portland College kitted-out with accessible technology control such as Amazon’s Alexa and Samsung Bixby won the innovative use of technology award. The Mansfield-based college taught learners how to use to technology for tasks like heating, blinds, lights, and the weekly shopping as part of its SMARTHome project, to promote and eliminate barriers preventing their students from living independently.

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

Natspec chief executive Clare Howard said: “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.”

The eight-strong judging panel included: former Ofsted inspector Nigel Evans; Jeff Greenidge, director for Diversity for Association of Colleges; Rohan Slaughter, senior lecturer in Assistive Technology at the University of Dundee; Jane Hatton, Founder and CEO of Evenbreak, a social enterprise run by and for disabled people; and Yolande Burgess, Strategy Director for London’s Communities at London Councils.

The winners will be presented with trophies at the Natspec National Conference on Tuesday 13 June. They also will receive a £250 CPD bursary.

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