His mother Rebecca Marshall recalls: "I was worried about the
change for him as he had been attending the Percy Hedley School
since he was tiny, but he was looking forward to working with the
animals at Northumberland College.''
The Inspire course at Northumberland College's Foundation
Academy is designed with young people like Lewis in mind.
It is for students who have an EHCP (Education Health and Care
Plan), ASC (Autistic Spectrum Condition), moderate and or mild
learning difficulties. It provides them with teachers and support
staff who can work with them in safe and practical environments to
build and develop personal and social skills.
Northumberland Collage has
invested in a specially-built classroom at its Kirkley Hall Campus
- where there is already horticulture, a farm, equine and outdoor
pursuit centres - and has employed a dedicated course team leader
for the new Inspire courses.
The programme was introduced
in response to requests by parents to help their sons and daughters
make the transition into the world of work and independent
Lewis is one of nine students
- seven boys and two girls - on the initial first year of the
Inspire entry level and level 1 courses, which concentrate on
horticulture in Kirkley Hall's gardens and on animal care at the
centre's zoo. The students, aged 16 to 20, come from all over
Northumberland, with one learner from Berwick who stays in halls of
residence. A 16-year-old could be on Inspire for two years, which
would prepare them for progression to a Level 1 course at 18.
As part of the programmes,
students learn key softer employability skills, including team
work, how to travel, handle money, and communicate with members of
"We will be developing solving
problems, healthy living, effective communication, independent
living skills, personal presentation and travel training,''
explains specialist lead Karl Rathmell. "All those skills that
local employers want out of someone, particularly with our learners
with moderate learning difficulties who need to develop
The learners are set personal
and academic targets and maths and English are also embedded into
each Inspire course, which still remains flexible and tailored to
meet the needs of the individual student.
"It's very much a course
that's cut to fit the learner, so we are not setting a learner up
to fail,'' adds Karl. "We have a dedicated support team that
nurtures and supports in the classroom and during practical and
academic activities. So, someone with an EHCP, for example, will
have a support worker that is designated to work with them, either
on a one-to-one basis or a one-to-two basis. We also work closely
with external professional agencies.''
The college has always offered
entry level and level 1 courses, but this is the first time they
have been available over five days a week - a crucial difference
for learners and their parents.
"It's a brand, spanking new
course and it's five days a week, which is a magnificent bonus
because most college courses are only three days,'' says Karl.
For Rebecca Marshall the fact
that inspire provides education for five days a week was
She says: "Lewis is so hard to
stimulate. If he was just doing three days a week, he'd just be
sitting around doing nothing.''
Now, Lewis is taking Inspire
in his stride.
"He seems to have settled in really well,'' says Rebecca. "He's
adapted well because of the support he's had and he loves working
with animals and he gets on well with his peers.''
After just six months the
Inspire course is also making a difference to the other
"It's been very successful,''
says Karl. "One of the things we do with the Inspire group is to
enable the learner to build in their own coping mechanisms and
strategies and we've made some massive progression with our
learners with their confidence and self-esteem.
"We've seen massive changes in
our learners academically and we've seen some incredible changes in
individuals. We've got students who weren't keen to present
information in front of even a small class who are now quite happy
to read out the work they've completed and join group discussions
and that's an enormous move forwards for some of our learners.
"We also have individuals who
struggled with working together with others but are now happy to
work as part of a team. Socially, they are making friends, not just
within their peer but also with other students at the
This, he adds, is improving
their employability skills and preparing them to go on to do other
courses at Kirkley Hall.
Northumberland College intends
to build on the success of Inspire with additional courses in the
core vocational areas of hair & beauty, catering, sport, travel
and tourism to be added to the curriculum in 2017/18. Karl believes
that Inspire could be expanded to take between 25 and 30
He says: "Hopefully, we will
be an inspiration for other colleges to go forward with this