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Return to College – A blog by Dynamite Young Person representative, Carly Blake

 Carly Blake from Dynamite shares her lockdown learning experiences and recent return to college….

Pre lockdown studying functional skills at college, there were multiple challenges but plenty of support available that eased the learning experience. 

College is an accessible environment, with a friendly atmosphere for individuals with disabilities and special educational needs.  The ability to learn is reliant on extra support, which is something that is always easy to access especially where staff are understanding to my needs without an Educational Health Care Plan (EHCP).

Going into lockdown with an immediate transition to online learning, the use of google classrooms by college made learning difficult, sometimes impossible. Although teaching staff were understanding to my needs, allowing me to continue later this year, the learning experience was significantly disrupted as I was unable to continue with my course at the time. The uncertainty of completing the course and passing was difficult especially with the number of months off during this period and always at the back of my mind considering how much hard work I had put into it. On the other hand, the time off from college was welcome especially over the summer, where often I have little time to spend with family and pets, lockdown gave respite from work and college, allowing me to spend my time as I please.

Looking back, it would have been useful to have received support from college using technology and accessible software on top of the support I already receive. 

Returning in September the main concern was how accessible and easy to understand the new safety provisions were going to beFortunately, college was accommodating in communicating with me over the summer in helping me get back and understanding how I will transition backHowever, little communication about the precise changes they had made throughout the college around safety and hygiene with no introduction made the new experience confusing and unwelcoming. Despite all this the new provisions at college made me feel safe once there was a routine. 

In the classroom there are a mixture of restrictions in place including limited students in the classroom, no handouts, and no moving around. These restrictions made learning difficult, unwelcoming and frustrating at times where learning was very one sided from the teacher rather than the interactive learning that I am used to. To give an example group work was made even more difficult than normal due to social distancing, communicating with the teacher was also hard for similar reasons. 

Over time, and with a change of environment in a Learning Difficulties and Disabilities (LDD) course still doing functional skills Maths, there has been more support available and now it is always there no matter what, and can be relied upon. This has meant I am able to get on with my work with help always there, not having to worry about it either. A reduced class size in this LDD course meant that the teacher was able to give more of their time to allow everyone to complete tasks dependent on the needs without any rush. A bonus to this is there is more focus on learning aspect compared to the normal preparations of an exam, which are tiresome. 

Going into the LDD course was partly down to the difficulties I faced with restrictions, and other issues out of my control but it has made a positive difference to my learning experience, even from before lockdown. Not only the academic side (getting more support) but also the social aspect with a more friendly environment making the whole experience more enjoyable with interest. Which in contrast to an online environment is a whole lot better. 

Going into another lockdown, there are ways that learning could be made a lot more accessible, unlike how it was before. For example, sending out recourses in advance such as worksheets that can be edited, and PowerPoint presentations. Communication comes into this to as zoom creates a barrier that can be very one sided. Preparations for going back to teaching online would be important to my learning, without which the experience would be negative. This would also mean having someone available online during college hours to get any additional online support from. 

 Considerations should be made around the pace of lessons which can bring up difficulties for some young people(because of the barriers created by online learning)It should be remembered that support should be there during these lockdown periods and beyond, with regular updates from everyone involved in the learning experience. Support shouldn’t just focus on going into lock down but also coming out, explanations of restrictions as well as safety and hygiene provisions for example.

Going online has shown how inaccessible many parts of life can be, including college and work environments. It has shown gaps in the understanding of accessibility. Hopefully  this year will have helped everyone learn how to make everyday life more inclusive for everyone. 

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