It's always fascinating seeing how comms challenges stack up for other people. Take colleges. Not just colleges but specialist colleges...
by Dan Slee
I recently found myself delivering a couple of sessions on effective use of social media for the Association of National Specialist Colleges (or Natspec).
What are specialist colleges? They're colleges across the country that help students with specific special needs. The Royal National College for the Blind - or RNC - for example, in Hereford is a residential college for young people who are visually impaired. They can get an education with far greater levels of support than they would in what's called 'mainstream' education.
A friend’s wife works at the RNC in Hereford so I had a vague idea that specialist colleges existed, but it wasn’t until I went to RNC and National Star College in Cheltenham that I started to understand more about their work.
A college like RNC is a unique resource for young people with a visual impairment. Staff are experts in their field which means they can focus on empowering the students to overcome barriers to succeeding in a sighted world. Specialist subjects such as assistive technology and mobility are taught alongside academic and vocational courses, giving students the full portfolio of skills they need to achieve their ambitions. Given that two thirds of adults with a visual impairment are out of work, this is important
So I was surprised to learn that getting into a specialist college is actually really difficult. Young people are rarely told of specialist options. When they find one for themselves they are often told that they must attend a college in their home area, even if it has no experience in their particular disability or learning needs.
This problem does seem to have been recognised and a new piece of legislation, the Children and Families Act, includes measures which are designed to give these young people a real choice in their education.
However many fear that too much has been left for interpretation by individual local authorities, and that a postcode lottery is already emerging.
Some of the students affected by the system have now formed their own campaign.
They have called it A Right not a Fight to flag up the hurdles they have to overcome to get to the college of their choice, and the delays and emotional stress this subjects them to.
The first stage of their campaign takes place in London on 17 June, when the new Natspec Directory is launched. Students hope to draw attention to how hard it is for those with special educational needs to access the information they need and make informed choices about their future.
This is what they are looking to do:
- campaign launch at Old Palace Yard opposite Parliament in London 17 June
- second event for the north at Bridge College in Manchester on 17 June
- protest hashtag #rightnotafight
- case studies of students telling the story of their own personal fight to
get a choice in education
- student ambassadors encouraging others to get involved
- prospective students and their families writing to their own MPs and
- reaching out to charities and community groups working within the sector
These are the audiences:
- local authorities
- young people and their families who are not sure of their rights or who feel isolated in their fight
- Parents of children with specialist needs
- councillors in local government.
More information on the campaign is available at www.rnc.ac.uk and www.natspec.org.uk and a social media campaign based around #rightnotafight is soon to be launched.
Dan Slee is co-creator of comms2point0.
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