Council chief praise unique special college in Doncaster

A senior council official has spoken of being “impressed” by a unique education provider that is putting young people with special needs on the path to work.

Tuesday, 30th November 2021, 12:43 pm

Damian Allen, the chief executive of Doncaster Council, visited Harrison College during an open evening to meet staff and students.

The college, which was opened by Gemma Peebles in 2019, does not look like a conventional school and has already expanded to take over an entire building on a town centre business park.

It offers work-focused education to students aged 16-25, covering core subjects and partnering with local businesses to secure work experience, internships and employment and apprenticeships to young people who may struggle to find a rewarding future.

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Harrison College principal Gemma Peebles (left), with Damian Allen, chief executive of Doncaster Council, and Gail Stonier, chief operating officer at Harrison College

Mr Allen said: “I am impressed, it feels very professional in terms a learning environment. The specification is great, it’s bright but there is a sense of discreetness.”

The college has the capacity for 50 students, which is capped to ensure a smaller scale environment in which young people feel comfortable.

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Rather than traditional classrooms, students work in an open plan space except for one-to-one sessions, for example, in art psychotherapy or music, or small group learning for maths. There is a careers library, a shared kitchen and chill out room.

Mr Allen added: “I like the idea of one space with many uses. I have never been anywhere where special educational needs education doesn’t innovate and influence the mainstream. It creates the characteristic of adaptability, but it also demands staff with broad enough skills and the requisite special needs skills.

“Scale-wise, the model is really good, small is beautiful. It’s human scale education with a family feel and meets needs that can often isolate young people and limit their exploration as a result. An indication of the success is how the students watch out for each other and that builds collaborative learning. This isn’t learning about, it’s learning in and with; it’s real- world experience, fitting the model to the learner, not the other way round.”

Harrison College students have a range of learning needs, ranging from those who are disengaged or disenfranchised from mainstream education to others diagnosed autistic.

Callum Hall, aged 16, was attending a school in Nottingham, 90 minutes from his home in Doncaster, until he was able to join Harrison College. “It’s good for me here because there were a lot of behavioural issues among pupils at my old school, and I can do more subjects here. I love IT hardware and that’s what I want to do next,” he said.

Rhianna Jackson, aged 19, has an internship with the RSPCA two days per week and is hoping to secure an apprenticeship. She said: “I came here for help to gain confidence and grow my skills. I can definitely see a change in myself. I’m able to communicate with people more and my confidence level has definitely gone up. Making friends used to be a problem for me but the college is teaching me the communication skills to help with that and I have lots of friends here.”

Admissions are now open for September 2022. To apply for a place at Harrison College or to visit, contact Gemma Peebles via email [email protected] or visit the website for more information.

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