Intake Soars Following Revamp

Tue, 08 January 2013

It represents a bold and bright statement of intent to create order and opportunity for young people with learning difficulties from across the North East.

For South Tyneside College’s state-of-the-art LLDD (learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities) zone is seeing student numbers soar on the back of heavy financial investment which has transformed the department.

Just two years ago, those with conditions including autism and cerebral palsy were taught in general classrooms in the college’s now closed Hebburn campus.

Today, the facilities at the Westoe Campus, South Shields which include quiet rooms, multi-purpose rooms and even a sensory room for students whose condition is profound, aid education.

And with a relaxing garden, spacious café and kitchen where skills for independent living are learnt, it’s little surprise it is proving such an attraction to parents and learners.

Practical workshops allow students to learn dance, drama and music, as well as topics like woodwork and metalwork.

Whilst in workshops, art and crafts rooms, the IT suite and purpose-built classrooms, students are taught personal skills to help them become as independent as possible.

As well as the upbeat feel and outstanding facilities, staff insist the relaxed atmosphere and warm and welcoming colours do not mask the serious nature of the instruction given or the problems learners face.

Courses are based on individual needs and there is flexibility in what students can do, with vocational skills encouraged.

However, where possible, all LLDD students must do maths and English, learn personal skills, personal hygiene and develop employability skills, such as learning how to job search.

Tina Garside, Head of School - Foundation Studies, said: “The emphasis is on student development.

“They are encouraged every step of the way to be independent and our facilities and curriculum are designed for just that.

“Our students find security here, an excellent, safe learning environment, along with a lot of practical help and support. We are very proud of all that we are achieving.”

With another facilities upgrade just completed, its success and growing reputation means it has about 250 full and part-time learners from throughout the region, aged mainly 16 to 25.

Although some students use the facilities as a drop-in, the majority attend full-time with the zone comprising 25 lecturers and around 50 support staff.

The department is unique among North East colleges in having facilities specially designed for people with autism.  The number of students with autism traits has risen from five to 70 in just five years.

Most students come from feeder schools - which include mainstream schools - and generally spend three years attending the unit, with some then going into the college’s mainstream teaching programmes, but with additional support.

The site has its own specified entrance and car park with safety barrier.  Although it is not a secure centre and is designed to be an involved and integral part of the college, students remain securely monitored and their safety paramount.

Added Ms Garside: “It’s very important that we have the dedicated car park because it gives an added sense of security and provides excellent access for those parents and carers who bring their children in purpose-built vehicles.

“Although we are a separate department in a very specific part of the college, we are by no means cut off or isolated. For example, there is easy access to the refectory.  We find the students enjoy being part of the wider college life.”

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