Education leaders from around the country attended a best practice workshop on 26 September at Activate Learning’s Reading College.
Activate Learning hosted the event as winners of the Support for Students’ prize at the 2019 Association of Colleges’ Beacon Awards. The award recognises our innovative partnership programme for young people with SEND (special educational needs and disabilities).
Attendees learned how Activate Learning colleges in Reading, Oxford and Banbury work with partners to improve life chances and create sustainable job opportunities for students with learning difficulties or disabilities.
A direct sight line to work for every student
Since launching in 2013, the programme has supported over 1500 Berkshire and Oxfordshire SEND learners with work experience.
Activate Learning’s SEND students gain real life work experience either on campus at a college-run learning company, at an off-site work placement or on an external supported internship programme working towards a paid position.
And at a time when local authorities, the NHS, and social care providers are facing increased demand and funding pressures, the programme helps SEND learners with the skills they need to live independently and gain paid employment.
Innovative library partnership leads the way
A trailblazing partnership with Reading Borough Council has resulted in SEND learners providing a part-time (supervised) staff service at the small but much-loved library Palmer Park library, reducing running costs for the service. It is believed to be one of first projects of its kind in the country.
Recrutiment and staff development benefits for business partners
Industry partners, who shape and co-deliver learning programmes, benefit through better recruitment and staff development opportunities. Organisations that take on a supported intern often report decreased absenteeism and greater job satisfaction among employees who work with SEND learners.
Sharing best practice and inspiring other colleges
Cheri Ashby, Activate Learning Group Executive Director said about the event: It’s a fantastic opportunity to share with colleagues in our sector. It’s great to able to learn from them as well, so it’s a two-way exchange of professional dialogue and ideas.
“Without a doubt, from the feedback we’ve had from colleagues from this morning, the library programme is seen as the most innovative (part of the programme), and the fact that you can do good for the community at times when community services are shrinking. It’s a win-win for the community and for our students.
“In terms of looking forward, it’s all about developing an employer-led curriculum. Our vision for the future is to set up an innovation hub where students can be supported and funded through the profits that are being made by the learning companies to set up their own businesses. They have the most amazing, unique talents in such a wide range of areas.”
Irene Farragher travelled several hundred miles from the Lakes College in West Cumbria to attend the Activate Learning event. She said: “I was intrigued by the project and the whole thing is quite inspirational. It has given me the faith for own project and made me think “you know what, you can do that.””
Steve McLinden from Shrewsbury Colleges Group said: “The innovative nature of what’s been done here has inspired me. The way that the provision is integrated into the rest of the college and the community; how its seen as a normal thing for students to do rather than a bolt-on, and the way the learning companies link into real employment opportunities. I would like to see our students in support services in my college, like the café and being responsible for reception.”