Tuesday 13-09-2016 - 10:52
In June this year we delivered a specialist version of our FE Lead and Change training. While the aim of the course is the same as other Lead and Change events, it’s delivered in a more accessible way and targeted towards our FE members with learning difficulties and disabilities.
Since then, it’s been a busy summer. But that hasn’t stopped me from reflecting on the lessons learned from that event and thinking about how we can better engage a group of students who historically, have felt excluded and cut-off from NUS.
1. Learners with learning difficulties and disabilities are empowered to be effective student leaders through training.
We know there are parts of our membership that face barriers trying to get their voices heard but nowhere has this been more apparent to me than when talking to our members who have learning difficulties and disabilities. That’s why this course and our future work with this part of our membership is so important to me.
NUS training is a powerful thing. It offers an opportunity to discover your own potential. It builds confidence. It helps to empower. This specialist training is no different and in fact, the impact on delegates is probably greater. I saw firsthand how these students used this event to not only develop their skills but to use the space and freedom they were given to talk about the barriers they experience. This may sound similar to other NUS events, but for these students this might have been the first time they’d been given this freedom. To me, it was a clear demonstration of how NUS can support and develop effective leaders who will inspire the students they represent - as well as the rest of the movement.
I think it’s only fair I mention Robin here. Robin Ferguson, a member of Derwen College Student Council, is a prime example of where our support can lead. By working with NUS and thanks to support from within his own college, Robin became the first delegate with Down’s Syndrome to ever deliver a motion at National Conference and has since gone on to be elected to the FE Zone Committee. He inspiring his peers and challenging the way we do things.
By continuing to ensure that training and development for all of our members is available, and by working hard to not just create engagement but to support it, we’ll help more students like Robin become more involved in the conversations we have as a movement.
2. We need to do more to support the networking of our members with learning difficulties and disabilities
One of the biggest positives I took from the event was the amount of networking and discussion that took place outside of the training sessions. We know that NUS events are filled with learning, discussion and networking but they are also times where we meet allies and build friendships.
Due to a number of factors, these opportunities are somewhat limited for FE members, especially those with learning difficulties and disabilities. We need to work hard to ensure that we offer more opportunities, time, space and freedom to meet and share ideas. This is the only way we will be able to build the relationships needed to work together to overcome barriers.
3. Solid alliances have huge impacts
We always talk about collaboration at NUS. A lot of the work we do spans across the remits and portfolios of different Zones and Campaigns. This event was a prime example of a cross-organisational effort – and success. To build on this we need to continue to build these alliances across the FE and UD Zones and work more closely with the Disabled Student’s Campaign so that we are able to share appropriate resources and expertise, develop as an organisation and increase opportunity.
4. Developing students’ unions within specialist colleges is just as important as developing any other union.
I think this sounds obvious - and you probably do too. But we know we’ve not achieved as much as we should with this part of our membership. We know because they’ve told us.
There are 11 students’ unions based in Independent Specialist Colleges that are members of NUS, as well as countless learners with learning difficulties and disabilities studying in FE colleges and on apprenticeships. Our procedures, our structures and the language we use are just some of the many barriers that have stopped many of these from engaging, and from us being able to help them develop and reach their potential.
Courses like this and the wider work we’re doing as an organisation are just the start of fixing these problems. We’re now in a better place to be able to support them and we’ll be able to offer more support and opportunity in the future. I know this because…
5. NUS is challenging organisational activity to recognise learners with learning difficulties and disabilities.
This is only the second time we’ve delivered a specialist version of Lead and Change. But it shouldn’t be specialist it should be a part of our ‘business as usual’ - and we’ve recognised that. We’ve been honest and said that we need to do more and we’re seeing the impact of this.
We gained a new affiliate at National Conference, we’ve met more inspiring and motivated leaders who are keen to engage and we are working hard to make sure that events are more accessible in the future.
As an NUS VP you can be sure that I’ll be working with the NEC to ensure that our work in this area doesn’t stop here – and that this is just the start of bigger things to come.