• Mon. Jun 17th, 2024

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College expanding to meet demand for specialist autism education

A college that specialises in post-16 education for young people with autism and other learning needs is expanding in both space and numbers.

Harrison College opened in Doncaster in August 2019 and is already set to triple the size of its premises at Heavens Walk to accommodate more students.

Determined to cap class sizes at just 12, and with growing interest in its specialist provision, the college is creating three more classrooms and independent learning space.

Principal and chief executive officer Gemma Peebles said: “As people are finding out about us, our catchment is expanding because there is nowhere else like us in the region where students can thrive in a small, supportive academic environment.

“We are the only post-16 provider for young people with special needs where the emphasis is on internships, employment and work skills to ensure they have a bright future.

“As well as taking young people from Doncaster and South Yorkshire, we are getting enquiries from North Yorkshire and the North East, North Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire.”

Harrison College offers specialist post-16 education for young people aged 16-25 with ASD, SEMH and moderate SLCN needs. Students are referred by Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), NHS clinical teams, parents and schools.

The college is hosting an online open event on February 3 when parents and carers can find out more about its work, meet the principal, hear about a day in the life of a student and learn about its curriculum and focus on wellbeing and inclusion.

To meet the anticipated demand for places, the college is also recruiting more teachers with special needs experience, SEN mentors and support staff.

Gemma added: “We have already had 35 enquiries for places in September this year, so we are preparing by taking on the top floor of our building and seeking experienced teachers. The expansion will give us three new teaching spaces, a college library-style setting with resources for independent learning and will also free up space downstairs to expand our recreational and social spaces and to implement COVID-19 testing.”

Gemma, a former head of sixth form and school improvement consultant, established the college in her home town after identifying a gap in education for vulnerable young people.

Last year the college made the top three shortlist in the National Association of Special Educational Needs award for 16-25 provision awards that attract entrants from all over the world.

Currently, all students are learning at home. Gemma said: “Engagement in our live lessons has been fantastic with students submitting work and maintaining their relationships with each other really well. This can be difficult for our learners and I’m really pleased with the way they’ve responded. They’re even talking about the community projects they want to start when they get back to college.”

She added: “Our approach is that a young person’s learning need or disability shouldn’t hold them back, and we can help them.

“We are working with the vulnerable and the disengaged who would normally be directed into a large further education setting at 16. However, when they stop attending, possibly because of anxiety issues, they are lost and might not return to education.

“These students have a lot to give and we have a moral duty to support them and we are trying to change perceptions around what they can offer.”

For more information on the Feb 3 open event, call 01302 540495 or visit harrisoncollege.co.uk