The Hot Seat: Robin Ferguson and Sarah Laszlo (Derwen College)

Monday 11-04-2016 - 14:01

We spoke to Robin Ferguson and Sarah Laszlo from Derwen College to hear about their experiences of NUS, and the steps NUS will need to take over the next few years to become totally inclusive for our whole membership.

Robin Ferguson is the Representative for the Enterprise Trainees on the Student Council at Derwen College, and is also the Treasurer for the student union. Sarah Lazlo is the Learner Voice Programme Coordinator, a Teacher and Regional Makaton Tutor at Derwen.

Tell us about Derwen College’s involvement with NUS to date…

We affiliated to NUS in 2008 and our involvement has increased dramatically over the last five years. Robin sits on the NUS Further Education (FE) Committee and represents people with Learning Difficulties and Disabilities across the country. This has been as a direct result of the Learner Voice Team and learners at Derwen College striving to raise awareness with NUS of the needs of students with learning difficulties and disabilities (LDD) in order for them to engage in democracy at a national level. 

We collaborated with NUS to write training for students with LDD and trialled it at Derwen before helping to facilitate the course at Hereward College last year. We have been involved with consultation and have put forward successful motions to both National Conference and Disabled Students' Conference.

Our practice with Learner Voice both as an organisation and as individual practitioners has won awards from NUS.  We continue to work with NUS by offering training, advice and support in issues around LDD. In addition to our work with NUS we have worked closely with the National Society of Apprentices and have three of our trainees sitting on the Leadership Team. 

Why is NUS important for your college?

NUS is important for us at Derwen College in terms of belonging to a powerful nationwide organisation. 

We strive to support NUS and its members to develop a better understanding of the complex needs, funding issues and lack of choice in educational opportunities for people with LDD in order for the organisation to support the rights of disabled learners alongside the campaigns of their mainstream peers.

What steps do NUS need to take to become more accessible our campaigns and communications?

In order to become more accessible NUS needs to carefully consider the level of language it uses in all areas of its work. Historically NUS has been an organisation dedicated to the rights and wellbeing of more academic HE students but now has a far broader application, including specialist colleges. Using appropriate and meaningful photographs or pictures would be helpful, perhaps even some symbols? Presenting information in smaller, more manageable chunks, in simplified language is massively helpful and the introduction of some signing support would be beneficial to many learners, too.

What steps do NUS need to take to become more accessible in the way we make decisions?

NUS needs to make the whole decision making process more straightforward. Again, language levels and jargon are barriers to engagement for many learners and information in small, manageable chunks would be helpful. Information mailed out as far in advance as possible really helps to break things down and prepare learners for future discussions.

What are your hopes for the future of the student movement?

We hope that the student movement will in time, with ongoing consultation and support, become totally inclusive. Inclusion should not be something that is remarkable, it should be something that happens as a matter of course, something that naturally enables students with LDD to have a voice heard alongside their mainstream counterparts. 



Disabled, Education, Features, Interviews, NUS100

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