Ever since the establishment of the first school for technical education in Norwich in 1891, inclusive learning has been at the heart of the colleges remit with principles of inclusion and of widening educational opportunity to all. In the first century of the college’s life, this could be seen most clearly in new opportunities that were created for young people from working class backgrounds, for women, and for adults looking to retrain and gain new skills in response to changing patterns of industry/employment and growing social mobility.
Reflecting wider trends and patterns in society, it was not until the latter part of the 20th Century that individuals with learning difficulties and/or disabilities (LDD) became part of this picture of inclusive education at the college. The 1970 Education (Handicapped Children) Act made education universal for all – but it wasn’t until 1981 that the Education Act stipulated that children with disabilities should be educated in mainstream schools or classes wherever possible.
This all seems a far cry from the diverse and inclusive learning environment at the college we take for granted today. Although it constitutes one of the more recent chapters in our history, we’re proud to say that CCN has frequently been a pioneer and a leader in our work with students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities.
From the early- to mid-1980s, the CCN prospectus advertised that students with disabilities “should not feel inhibited from approaching the College for help and advice” and that “Special assistance will be made available” to enable participation in further education courses. By the time of our 100th anniversary, in 1991, the CCN Centenary publication ‘The Tech’ by Alan Metters, reflected that special needs courses (as this provision was known at the time) was an area in which City College Norwich “continues to innovate”. We don’t have a lot of information on what this provision entailed, however, as it was not featured within the main college prospectus. We’d love to hear from any former or current staff members or students who were part of this provision at the time who may remember what learning opportunities were available for LDD students.
Learning with a purpose
As the rights and employment opportunities available to individuals with LDD expanded during the nineties and noughties, so the College’s provision developed an increasing focus on progression to employment. LDD students, like their counterparts on further education courses elsewhere in the college, work on general employability skills, whilst developing specific vocational skills and valuable experiences of work.
Some of this experience of work has been created within the college, with LDD students running a growing number of flourishing enterprises – encompassing everything from running the college shop (Scribbles), to deliveries of organic fruit and vegetables to staff, to deliveries of milk to college offices (“Amazing Crates”), fresh flowers (“Bloom Tubes”) as well as regular sales of delicious baked goods by students on the catering pathway.
Out of all of the courses across the whole college, our LDD students on the horticulture pathway can lay claim to having their work seen by the widest number of people in Norwich. This is because Foundation Learning Horticulture students grow and plant all of the flowers that become beautiful floral displays at locations across the city as part of Norwich in Bloom.
During the last decade, with the growing emphasis on progression to sustainable employment opportunities beyond college, the college has supported important new initiatives to support this objective. This has included Project SEARCH, which uses job coaches and an approach from the US known as Training In Systematic Instruction, to break down key job functions into their constituent parts so that they can be more easily learned by individuals with LDD. This very successful initiative has been well supported by a strong local partnership with employers including NORSE and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.
Another important initiative focussed on the progression of LDD students to sustainable employment outcomes has been the MINT employment service which launched in 2010. Although not limited to students with LDD, MINT has helped many of our LDD students to successfully move into employment.
Royal recognition for pioneering autism work
City College Norwich is a Regional Centre for learners with autism and autistic spectrum disorders. In 2008, the Centre opened the RUGroom on the C Floor of the Norwich Building as a dedicated area for use by students who are on the autistic spectrum. The RUGroom offers a safe haven and a social and study space for students with AS and other Autistic Spectrum Disorders.
The unique ingredient was the involvement of the College’s AS learners – who named themselves “The Really Useful Group” – in the design of an AS friendly physical environment which developed into the RUGroom. The RUGroom won a string of awards in recognition of the excellence of its cutting-edge work, the most high profile of which was the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education which was presented to the then college principal Dick Palmer by Her Majesty the Queen in February 2010.
The college’s work with LDD students has continued to develop in recent years. At the start of the 2015-16 college year, as part of the wider development of Broadland Drive, the college unveiled our new PMLD Building which is home to specific facilities for students with profound and multiple learning difficulties. As well as specialist equipment such as hoists and personal care suites, to enable specialist staff to support students with multiple and complex needs, the centre is also employing some of the latest approaches in working with profoundly disabled as well as highly autistic young people.
These include the use of an approach known as sensology, which involves work to stimulate all of the senses – touch, sight, sound, smell and taste – to help achieve learning objectives and give students new possibilities for exercising choice and decision-making. The new sensory area features colourful bubble tubes, fibre optics and other visual stimuli including mirrors, a kaleidoscope and a star gazer. This remarkable facility has resulted in huge steps forward being made by the students in terms of their communication, independence and learning.
For many who have learned or worked at the college in the area of supported/foundation learning, the true impact of this area is measured not in high profile awards, new buildings or progression statistics, but in the difference that has been made to individuals’ lives. This happens right across the college, of course, but some of the most dramatic and heart-warming stories can be found within the area of LDD. One among many memorable examples is recent CCN graduate Josh Southgate.
Last year Josh was a winner of one of our annual further education awards, in recognition of the huge progress he had made within Foundation Learning. Josh gave a highly moving speech at the Assembly Rooms in accepting the award, as he described how he overcame severe anxiety and other challenges linked to his autism and in adapting to life at college.
Many of the audience were moved to tears by Josh’s story, which he concluded by saying:
“I always think about what Grandma and Pop have told me, you can’t change the past but you can affect the future. I feel happy now and I have got so much to look forward to. I have started to realise that I do have a future and that being Autistic will not stop me having a good life. I want to have fun and make new friends. One day I want to have a job and live on my own in supported living. City College has made me think I can have all of these things. So thank you all so much.”
We are immensely proud of Josh and so many others who have moved on immeasurably in their lives thanks to the amazing support of our LDD staff over the years.