Courses for special needs students offered by Northumberland College

Northumberland College has opened a Foundation Academy providing five day a week courses for young people with special education needs or disabilities, to help them make the best transition from school to the world of work.

Saturday, 3rd December 2016, 07:32 am
Updated Tuesday, 6th December 2016, 11:41 am
Kirkley Hall students

The college has invested in a specially-built classroom and has employed a dedicated course team leader for the new Inspire courses at its Kirkley Hall campus. The programme has been introduced in response to requests by parents of 16 to 18-year-old school leavers to help ease teenagers into the next phase of their lives.

During its first year, which is still open for enrolment, the Inspire entry level and level 1 courses will concentrate on horticulture in Kirkley Hall’s gardens and animal care at the centre’s zoo.

As part of the programmes, students will learn softer skills including team work, how to travel, handle money, and communicate with members of the public, which are all key to employability. Maths and English is also embedded into each Inspire course.

Although the college has always offered entry level and level 1 courses, this is the first time they have been available over five days a week.

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Barry Fenn, Northumberland College’s head of learning support, said: “The Inspire courses are designed for students with special education needs or disabilities who are unsure what they want to do as part of the transition to adulthood.

“Importantly, the courses are five days a week. We took on board what parents said about being reluctant to send students to further education colleges because the courses were only run over three days. The Inspire courses are five days a week in a safe environment.

“Students will receive an understanding of college life that sets them up for the following year to study specialist courses if they want to.”

Horticulture and animal care are being offered during the first year of the Foundation Academy and additional courses in the core vocational areas of catering, sport, travel and tourism will be added to the curriculum in 2017/18. The two initial subjects were selected because of their therapeutic properties.

David Wear, head of the Land and Environment Academy at Northumberland College, said: “The surroundings at Kirkley Hall are unique. It’s set in a rural environment with a sense of tranquillity that inner city colleges may not have.

“There is an element of caring in both courses, making sure that the plants or animals are healthy, well-looked after and content.

“Over the year, horticultural students grow shrubs and plants for the college gardens and take part in specialist projects such as willow sculpture. They’ll be encouraged to grow things to sell, which is a fantastic way to improve their maths and English through pricing up, working out profit margins and seeing the money come in.

“Students on the animal care course will be working within our commercial zoo where we have more than 200 exotic species such as reindeers, lemurs and capybaras – the biggest rodents in the world - plus various fish and reptiles.”

David said: “All the Inspire tutors have an interest in helping and enjoy working with this type of learner. The tutors are all experts in their own vocational fields and this shows in the results they have.

“It all goes towards helping students to grow in self-confidence and improve their self-esteem.”

The Foundation Academy Inspire courses are aimed at 16 to 18-year-old school leavers, although older students who are able to obtain educational funding are also welcome. Free travel for 16 to 18-year-old learners is available throughout Northumberland.

Enrolment takes place through to Easter for the one-year courses, which can be tailored to the individual students’ needs with constant supervision available if required.

To apply, please go to