CfESEND blog: City College Norwich reflect on what is positive and possible during the pandemic

Blog by Elaine Dale, Director of SEND at City College Norwich, for the Centres for Excellence in SEND programme.

At City College Norwich we are better prepared and able to turn our approaches to online more quickly as a result of this recent lockdown. We take the entrepreneurial thought and action approach to support for disabled learners and is no different to any situation we are presented with. We look to the individual needs and the environment and adjust practice. To help us, we use the national support standards to guide and modify effective practice strategies. For example, when on site we use social distancing to explore ‘what’s positive and what’s possible’ solutions. As a result of this practice, many of our learners have quickly become independent and will try to problem solve themselves before asking for help. We encourage learners to mind map to capture instructions and ideas with simple words. We encourage our learning support staff to step back and keep a safe distance and if they sit alongside a learner, this should be for short bursts and no longer than 15 minutes.

To support learners online during lockdown, we look to effective methods and approaches to suit individuals. This is obviously difficult for some of our more complex learners we have individual work and learning strategies set out. The majority of our learners have thrived with our focused approach and engage well. The teams note how resilient the learners are, focusing on their education and getting on with learning. We encourage support staff to share their effective practice and to reflect on the current challenges and how they can utilise social distancing and online learning, to the learners’ advantage. We use support staff standards to add examples of safe working practice examples and ask support staff to create their own and share. Some examples can be found on the SEND site.

We have also been focusing on rebuilding ourselves and adapting the way we work to create a ‘new normal’. In practice we are still working hard with our employer engagement through our supported employment agency MINT. The team’s approach is always ‘business as normal’ and create positive image and approach with employers and or our MINT learners, who continue learning and preparing for work with job searching, supporting applications, pre-employment skills and preparing for interview. This has continued remotely during lockdown with learners gaining sustainable work.

An Inspirational Learner

Learner Lara painting on a canvasLara is studying at the college and is working towards achieving her aspiration. She hopes to successfully complete Painting and Decorating Diploma, Level 3 course to progress on to an Apprenticeship or paid employment. She is keen to undertake as much work experience as she can and notes, “I am hoping to work with company or live on site to complete my work experience at the Grand Hotel in Brighton.”

Lara is profoundly deaf and uses British Sign Language (BSL) to communicate. Her classmates wanted to understand to gain awareness of being deaf, so staff and learners wore noise cancelling head gear to get an insight into being deaf. At the end of the deaf awareness session, a learner suggested replacing a frequently used words with a sign. Every day the learners add a new word to their expanding sign vocabulary and to sign every time rather than say the word such as ‘wallpaper’. Lara tells us that the best word learners like to use is ‘break’. The BSL team have been promoting inclusion and deaf awareness to enable staff and learners to say short phrases using BSL creating a glossary on our virtual learning platform. You can see a sample of this on the SEND site.

Lara is passionate about her voluntary work, using her skills and qualifications to support the community and has volunteered abroad, putting put her skills to good use, noting: “I have also had two-weeks volunteering/work experience in France to transform a single abandoned damaged room to a room, which they named after me, for many other people who would want to book in that room.”

Previously, Lara worked in Sri Lanka as a volunteer repairing a children’s dormitory at a deaf school. “I truly enjoyed my time there so greatly and would love to do more of this.”

When you ask Lara about her thoughts on gaining work, she knows she has to work hard and look for opportunities. Lara notes, “apprenticeships are rare in the painting and decorating area. I am willing to grab many opportunities there to expand my knowledge and skills. I have been told that I have great skills and it would be amazing to share them in many ways.”

During the first lockdown, Lara struggled with working online initially but working with her BSL support they used a virtual learning platform to carry out learning. Lara noted at the time, “it was difficult because of being dyslexic and deaf. I am a visual learner but recording the sessions through sign allowed me to refer back for revision. This was really useful and as a result I passed all my exams.”

Lara is now on her Level 3. She was nervous about returning to face-to-face learning for the first term but actually loved being on site accessing the new large facilities. Now in this recent lockdown, her BSL support worker meets daily and records short film clips explaining the work. There are always positives and new learning to be gained from any situation. Lara notes: “this suits me better than the big chunks of information you get in class.”

Hear Lara speak about her recent experience at the SEND AoC conference (forward to 28:45 minutes).

Lara is such as positive and inspirational person and I am sure will go on to do great things.

Please also keep a watchful eye on the Centres for Excellence area of the SEND site of the Excellence Gateway for resources, webinars and updates.

I look forward to seeing in one of our upcoming webinars but for now, take care and see you soon.

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