GUEST COLUMN: Progress is rewarding, by Yvonne Jackson, curriculum manager at West Notts College

Yvonne Jackson, West Notts College
Yvonne Jackson, West Notts College

While starting college is an exciting time for many students, it can also be quite daunting for some – especially young people with additional needs.

Our foundation studies department supports students with learning difficulties or disabilities by providing a safe and inclusive learning environment that enables them to flourish.

Many join us having attended a small special school or a learning support department in a mainstream school.

Some may have had a challenging time and, for them, college is a fresh start – a time to make new friends and feel comfortable about being in education.

When young people and their parents or carers first come to look around the foundation studies department, staff go to great lengths to explain that we are a well-established and experienced team, and that the education and wellbeing of their son or daughter is extremely important to us.

We explain that most of our provision is delivered in one small area of the college, with small class sizes so that students feel comfortable.

Our provision ranges from promoting independence, employability skills, improving English and maths, work experience and a range of vocational ‘taster sessions’ in health and socialcare, early years, sport and public services.

We also have a popular animal care programme, where students experience a realistic and practical working opportunity at one of our local farms.

From September we will be introducing a new course, the Supported Internship, in partnership with MENCAP. Students will spend one day per week at college continuing to develop their English and maths skills and two days on a work placement.

They will have the opportunity to do placements with different employers, with a view to obtaining paid work at the end of their course. This is a really exciting project that will prepare students with learning difficulties for the workplace.

Supporting students is fundamental to their success, and learner support assistants are assigned to those requiring extra help.

Because the college’s canteens are often bustling with activity, we have our breaks and lunches at different times to ensure our students feel relaxed. A lunch club is also available for them to attend. Educationally, it is so rewarding to see students progress over the course of an academic year.

But what is equally satisfying is the development of their softer skills such as confidence, independence and self-worth, which are much harder to measure.

Comments from our students range from “foundation studies is like a family” to “staff are friendly and very helpful” and “I really enjoy college; I am made to feel like an adult” – and these are the messages we like to give to parents and young people.