CfESEND blog: events and Communities of Practice at Weston College

Blog by Jacqui Ford, Deputy Principal Curriculum Innovation and SEND at Weston College, for the Centres for Excellence in SEND programme.

The end of February and beginning of March saw us welcome over 300 FE colleges and providers, businesses, strategic partners and stakeholders through our doors for two CfESEND events (detailed below). These events ran alongside several webinars ensuring that we provided a range of ‘people’ focused events, sessions, briefings and presentations.

Developing an Inclusive Organisation and Becoming Disability Confident: 27 February event

Over 60 organisations attended the event with over 89% stating it exceeded or met expectations. The event outlined and shared best practice in:

  • the benefits of creating an inclusive organisation;
  • becoming Disability Confident;
  • creating a motivational model of training to support staff in their retention;
  • provision of a toolkit of resources to support organisations in creating a culture of inclusivity.

The speakers covered a range of topics, organisational approaches and personal experiences:

  • Dr Paul Phillips (CEO, Weston College): outlined the college’s 10-year journey of developing an ethos of inclusive practice.
  • Jo Walker (CEO, North Somerset Council): discussed the council’s approach to becoming one of the first local authorities to gain ‘Disability Confident Leader’ status and the impact of ‘hidden’ disabilities on the workforce.
  • John Turner (CEO, Visit Somerset): power and impact of the Purple Pound and the systematic change required by businesses in the visitor economy to become fully inclusive.
  • Ben Mager (learner at Weston College, pictured): gave an impactful speech about his educational journey through Weston College and the adjustments and support that were put in place to support his individual needs. Ben was the star of the evening, talking so honestly and openly about his own experiences. As the event feedback demonstrates, Ben made a very clear impact on the audience, with many stating that he had made them reflect on their own organisations and what adjustments they could be making in order to attract and retain talent like Ben’s.
  • Dave Slack (Manager of the High Impact Families Programme): an employee of North Somerset Council, Dave has hidden disabilities which have been recognised and addressed by the authority. Again, he provided a very impactful insight into his own needs and what employers like the council could be doing to support employees.   
  • Nick Youde (prior learner and current employee at Weston College): attendees watched a film about Nick’s journey from a learner with autism (who was supported by the Inclusive Practice team and individualised programme), to an employee of Weston College who now supports learners at the South West Skills Campus. Nick’s inspirational film can be viewed on YouTube

The CfESEND team have been following up on various requests for information, suggestions of collaboration and pledges of support. In terms of feedback, here are some highlights from the audience:

“One of the most memorable events I’ve ever attended at Weston College.  Relaxed, informative and inspirational.”

“Excellent balance of personal stories and organisational approaches.”

“Excellent event highlighting hidden disabilities and how, with the right support, everyone and anyone can succeed.”

Mental Health: Challenging Perceptions, Changing the Narrative: 5 March event

200 delegates joined the Weston College Centre for Excellence team for the ‘Mental Health’ conference on 5 March. 

The event took attendees on a journey from childhood through to adulthood, looking at how childhood traumas, life events and stresses can trigger ill mental health and anxiety.

Keynote and guest speakers were:

  • Anna Williamson: TV presenter, radio host and author of ‘How Not to Lose It’ discussed childhood traumas and the mental health impact;
  • ‘The Big House’ 45min expert performance from the hard hitting ‘Bullet Tongue’ production;
  • Mike Armiger: presentation on humanising the narrative and changing the language around mental health with practical advice about techniques and tools available to support services;
  • YoungMinds national charity: focused on young people’s wellbeing and mental health, this session focused on a model of building resilience;
  • Demonstration of BigWhiteWall: an online self-help community providing judgement-free spaces to talk about anxiety, depression and mental health. Offering signposting services and community forums, this portal is also supported by a 24-hour clinical team:
  • Nick Elson: #TalkingAnxiety and #ForgingPeople, an inspirational speaker who ended the day with a session about personal development in the workplace, covering tools, techniques to help with engagement around mental health in the workplace.

Comments from delegates: 

“Excellent event highlighting hidden disabilities and how with the right support everyone and anyone can succeed.”

“Wow – blown away.”

“Outstanding, moving, emotional, relevant, reflective and time for change.”

Every key speaker exceeded my expectation. The talks inspired me to think about my own organisation and our approach to mental health.”

“Totally inspired by The Big House performance, discussion and their responses to questions.”

Would like more events like this. More networking between organisations helps us to signpost.”

Impact of the Event – Sharing Best Practice:

  • A South West based FE college who attended would like to arrange a follow up visit to Weston to discuss our pastoral approach.
  • North East based FE college would like to work with Weston College (WC) to develop their own SEND provision and inclusive practice.
  • A local housing association is going to take the information back to its young carers especially ‘Big White Wall.’
  • A SME would like the support the Fresh Start campaign and roll our the MHFA course within the organisation.
  • Pledge of support to mentor ex-services students.
  • South West based FE college would like to liaise with WC on staff wellbeing.
  • An FE college is going to reflect on the Body and Mind (BAM) model at WC and implement.
  • An FE college would like to learn more from WC re: links between staff and student wellbeing/mental health and would also like to explore funding and collaborative opportunities.

We’re keen to hear from anyone who would like to work collaboratively with us and the ‘People’ themed CfESEND.  Please do get in touch with your suggestions and ideas at:
































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