A COLLEGE is helping students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) to continue their studies at home by offering tailored support and interactive activities during lockdown.

Knowing that many of their students would be vulnerable following the Government’ sdecision to suspend face to face learning, Northumberland College’s Inspire team responded quickly to introduce a clear link to life at college, teachers and support staff.

There are 10 students on the college’s Inspire programme with a wide range of needs, with eight learners and their families confidently using IT and actively engaging through online tools such as Microsoft Teams. The remaining learners are using physical packs, with all students being supported by telephone and email.

Tutorial Mentor Kim Brown, who is in regular contact with parents, carers and students to check on their emotional well-being and offering encouragement, said: “My role has evolved quickly over the past few weeks and I am supporting both students’ educational development and helping them to adjust to their new day to day lives during this difficult time.

“One of the greatest barriers students can face is a feeling of isolation from the outside world and this is where our roles become even more important.”

Teaching staff are also encouraging students, parents and carers to meet up in weekly virtual chat rooms using video conferencing software where they take part in quizzes and games, while also sharing concerns, social interests and discuss their class work.

Kevin Johnston, who is leading on student education and engagement, added: “All students should be supported whilst at home, so they continue to achieve their potential as well as with their feelings and emotional well-being during the current situation.

“We have some of the best technology available to keep in touch with our students and support their work and social needs. We have been focusing our learning on key skills development so having the ability to chat via video conferencing helps get my teaching over to the students as effectively as possible so they can practice and develop their skills.

“Our students and staff also enjoy taking part in the chat rooms; they are a fantastic way to engage everyone, help them feel less isolated, have a laugh and a welcome distraction during this difficult time.”

Parents and carers have praised the college’s response in providing positive educational activities and guidance through easily accessible channels to help their children stay focused and continue developing as students and young people.

Lindsay Donoghue, whose son Jack attends Northumberland College, said: “We are really pleased with the way the college and the team have supported Jack during the lockdown.

“Kevin is in regular contact with us and emails activities and materials which I think are set at the right level for Jack to work with and understand.”

Parent Mrs Smith, who the college is helping source a laptop to enhance their daughter’s learning, added: “Olivia has made so much progress since starting at Northumberland College. Kevin is still supporting her to learn although she is at home, with specific academic and practical tasks which are being recording as evidence of her progression and learning.

“This week Olivia has been helping her dad in the garden with practical tasks such as measuring, calculating amounts, area, perimeter and costing, all of which are very necessary independent living skills that will greatly benefit her in the years ahead.

“Kevin has made our daughter feel like she can accomplish so many more tasks in life and her confidence has grown so very much with him as the teacher. She really enjoys her time in class and working with him during her time at home.

“Both my husband and I are so very appreciative of the team's help during this time.”

Construction is underway to expand Northumberland College’s SEND provision which will include a bespoke learning environment for students aged 16 to 24, at the Kirkley Hall Campus.

The highly-specialised facilities and resources will create a safe and positive environment and are designed to engage and stimulate students, nurture their individual talents and skills and ensure they reach their full potential, whilst ensuring they are part of a wider college community to develop their independence and social and life skills.