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50 years of Inclusive Learning at our college - Part 2

28th February 2024 – Tags: Inclusive Learning

This article continues our look back at 50 Years of Inclusive Learning at the college. You can read the first part here.

Support for young people on the autistic spectrum 

It was during the 1990s that Dr Brannen secured funding from Norfolk County Council to help with the development of new provision to meet the needs of young people on the autistic spectrum. This led to the establishment of the Phoenix Purple course, which provided a curriculum, pathways and support designed specifically for young people with autism. Phoenix Purple has grown and developed and remains a key part of our Inclusive Learning offer more than 20 years on.    

As the Phoenix Purple course developed, it was felt that students with autism would benefit from having a dedicated space within the college. In 2007 a small group of Phoenix Purple students, who called themselves the Really Useful Group, were asked by the college to help design a social and study area for students with autism.   

Features of the RUGROOM – which was officially opened in February 2008 – included comfortable pods providing somewhere students can escape into their own space if they need some downtime.  The RUGROOM also had social and study spaces, a quiet room, computing facilities, and a kitchen area. In addition to providing an autism-friendly space - a quiet haven in the midst of a large, bustling college - the RUGROOM provided opportunities for students with autism to come together as a community.   

The RUGROOM at City College Norwich.

The RUGROOM at City College Norwich.

The huge impact made by the RUGROOM was recognised through several awards, including a National Training Award, the Association of Colleges Beacon Award and the Learning and Skills Improvement Service Star Award for Response to Learners' Need.  Most notable was the presentation, in 2009, of the Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education, which involved a memorable day out at Buckingham Palace for Phoenix Purple students and staff. 

New facilities for young people with high needs 

There was a further significant investment in our Inclusive Learning facilities in 2015, with the opening of a new centre for learners with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD), built as an extension to the Norwich Building.   

The PMLD Building provided much-needed additional capacity within Norfolk for students aged 16 to 25 who require additional support because of medical needs, mobility issues or personal care requirements. Previously, some students with complex needs were having to travel outside the county to access learning provision with this level of support.   

Part of the new PMLD centre which was opened in 2015.

Part of the new PMLD centre which was opened in 2015.

The new facility provided three new classrooms, a medical needs base room, and a therapeutic suite which included a trampoline and other resources to help students with their movement, balance and co-ordination. It also included a new outdoor teaching space that was designed to offer a range of sensory-based learning opportunities and a social space for students. 

Developing our curriculum and staff 

Throughout the past 50 years, the Inclusive Learning offer at the college has steadily expanded with the curriculum being continuously developed. These changes reflect the developing pedagogy for supporting learners with LDD, the growing expertise and specialisms of our staff, and changing expectations of schools, parents/carers, employers, and young people themselves. 

Staff development has been key to the success of Inclusive Learning at the college. In the 1970s, when the provision was still in its infancy, this started out with Dr Brannen running courses for the teaching staff at weekends.  

As Dr Brannen and his colleagues developed their own knowledge and experience of teaching learners with LDD, so they were invited to contribute to the development of national staff development programmes. An early example of this was a programme called ‘From Coping to Confidence’. Staff from City College Norwich subsequently worked with City & Guilds on the development of a specialist course for staff in FE.  

By the 1990s, the college was developing its own training to provide a pathway into what was becoming a distinct specialism within further education teaching. The BSc (Hons) Care and Education in the Community was designed to do this and was among the first honours degrees developed by the college. 

Contributing to the development of the sector 

In recent years our Inclusive Learning staff have continued to contribute and share their expertise with the wider FE sector. Our staff’s expertise in working with students with autism led to the RUGROOM being designated as a Regional Centre for Students with Autistic Spectrum Disorders.  

Staff and students from the RUGROOM helped to raise awareness of autism, with autism awareness training being delivered to college staff and partner schools.  Working with the Autism Education Trust and Ambitious About Autism, RUGROOM staff and students also helped to develop and deliver training for staff in post-16 education from across the region.        

In 2019, the Education and Training Foundation named City College Norwich as one of three Centres for Excellence in SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) in England as part of a Department for Education funded programme. 

The Centre for Excellence work has centred on unlocking employment opportunities for young people with SEND by working with employers across the country, and developing the systems and culture needed for high-quality teaching for learners with SEND to ensure students get an even better experience at their local college.  

To date, the Centre for Excellence based at City College Norwich has engaged with 6,000 SEND educationalists and 405 education providers up and down the country, with over 1,000 SEND practitioners and leaders directly benefitting from this support. 

Inclusive Learning in 2024 

Following the college’s mergers with Paston College (in 2017) and Easton College (in 2020), our Inclusive Learning provision now offers courses on all three campuses. In total, there are around 260 learners on our Inclusive Learning courses, with a further 50-100 young people working with MINT at any one time. 

We offer 17 different Inclusive Learning courses, across three different pathways: Supported Living/Community Pathway, Employment Pathway, and Vocational Study. 

Inclusive Learning has been rated as 'outstanding' in each of our past 3 Ofsted inspections.

Inclusive Learning has been rated as 'outstanding' in each of our past 3 Ofsted inspections.

In each of the college’s past three full Ofsted inspections, this area of our provision has been rated as ‘Outstanding’.  

Students with high needs feel exceptionally well supported by their learning support assistants and teaching staff. They feel highly valued by staff who understand precisely what their needs, goals and aspirations are. As a result, students blossom and develop absolute confidence in achieving their ambitious targets.” - from our most recent Ofsted inspection report (2021). 

The story of the past 50 years of Inclusive Learning at City College Norwich is one in which students with LDD have consistently been encouraged and supported to have high aspirations – continuing Miss Browning’s ethos that the opportunities of Further Education are for everyone. 

Alongside the steady growth in the numbers of courses, of students, and in our specialist facilities, there has been an equally important growth in knowledge and expertise. Our staff have often been pioneers in the developing pedagogy of Inclusive Learning, with an openness to new ideas and to sharing their own expertise with the wider FE sector. 

The success of our Inclusive Learning provision has also been the result of successful partnerships – with parents and carers, with schools, with specialist support staff and the wider college community, and with employers. The quality of the learning and progression opportunities available to our Inclusive Learning students is a real team effort.  

With such an amazing team, the future for Inclusive Learning at our college looks very well set up for the next 50 years. 

Find out more about our Inclusive Learning courses