Weston College’s shining light

Weston College recognised for developing staff to support people with learning difficulties

05 March 2013 / Be the first to comment

An innovative scheme that enables teaching and support staff at Weston College to better support people with learning difficulties and disabilities (LDD) was awarded top honours at a national education conference late last year.

The Weston College/University of the West of England foundation degree in Inclusive Practice, which trains staff to work with people with learning difficulties, won the prestigious Beacon Award in Staff Development, presented by the Association of Colleges. Sponsored by City & Guilds, the Beacon Award – now in its nineteenth year – recognises outstanding practice in staff development at further education level, rewarding innovation that delivers identifiable results and benefits.

Dr Paul Phillips, Principal and Chief Executive of Weston College, says of winning the award: ‘We have long understood the importance of meeting the needs of learners with learning difficulties and disabilities and this award shows how seriously we take staff development in this field.’

Pathway to success

Almost 50 staff members at the college have taken the qualification, with a 100 per cent pass rate. They learn about the history of disability legislation and are given a grounding in cognitive thinking, as well as being taught practical modules in dyslexia and sensory impairment. They are also taught to respond effectively to a wide range of students by assisting learners to manage learning barriers. Weston College staff say that completing the qualification has increased their confidence in working with learners and promoting inclusive education and opportunities.

The degree course includes two years' study at Weston, followed by an optional third year at the University of the West of England in Bristol to complete the BA Honours Degree in Education in Professional Practice. More than 80 per cent of students go on to complete the BA degree, which is offered on a part- or full-time basis so students can remain at work. The college has also launched a new Masters degree programme in Inclusive Practice.

Jacqui Ford, Assistant Principal Curriculum and Partnership at Weston College, who co-founded the degree programme, says the course is very much ‘work-based’: students are already working in the LDD field and their modules are assessed in the workplace.

‘The course began following a call from staff for a qualification with clemency,’ says Jacqui, ‘Many people who work in the field have good qualities, but we needed to create a qualification that supplemented these qualities and recognised that working with LDD people is a professional and challenging ambition.’

Looking to the future

The Inclusive Practice degree was launched in 2007 and is the first qualification of its kind in England. The college has since become a beacon of learning for other colleges and organisations working in the same field. Weston College is now a national centre of excellence for autism, and plans to expand on its reputation by opening a dedicated site in 2013 that will specialise in support for learners with autism.

‘More and more LDD learners are hearing about us and are coming to study here. When our students leave us they are much more confident to go into further education,’ says Jacqui.

City & Guilds knows that the expertise, commitment and confidence of staff are crucial to the success of all learners. Tony Forster, Lead Portfolio Manager at City & Guilds, says: ‘No other provider has developed or offered the opportunity for staff in this field to specialise and link it to career advancement and increased pay structure.’

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