This summer, alongside my colleagues from the National Union of Students (NUS), I took part in Makaton training and I’m delighted to say that we’re now a Makaton friendly organisation.
About 25 years ago I volunteered on a NCH Action for Children (now Action for Children) play project with children with special needs and had learnt a little Makaton then. To say I was rusty is an understatement. I could remember Makaton signs for hello and lollipop.
The training we had this summer helped me to understand Makaton and its purpose, and most importantly, it started much needed dialogue about how we at NUS can be a more inclusive, engaging union for all our members.
Over the past two years 25 members of staff at NUS have been trained in Makaton and how we can use it to enable our members to participate more effectively in the work of their national union.
But why and how will NUS be using this learning moving forward?
Figures from 2014-2015 tell us that 16% of learners aged between 19-25 in further education and the skills sector had a learning difficulty or disability – and that 45,280 learners aged 16-17 also had a learning difficulty or disability. The Children & Families Act 2014 introduced new duties for the FE and skills sector with regard to SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) learners from age 16-26. In particular, it outlined that General FE and sixth form colleges “must use their best endeavours to secure the special educational provision that the young person needs”. With around 95% of all General FE and sixth form colleges being affiliated to NUS, we clearly work to represent a lot of learners with learning difficulties or disabilities.
We need to get better at making sure our activities at NUS - such as training, democracy, policy formulation, events etc - are accessible to our members who deliver training specifically to student leaders with learning difficulties or disabilities as well as the countless students with learning difficulties and disabilities within our member students’ unions mentioned above. As an organisation NUS has a long proud history of leading by example on access and inclusion in our work. At National Conference 2015 a motion submitted to conference by Derwen College Students’ Council resolved that we would do more to improve our accessibility and develop suitable training for learners with learning difficulties and disabilities (LLDD).
Becoming a Makaton Friendly organisation is an important part of delivering on the spirit and intention of that motion. We intend to continue to become better, and following the training over the summer a group has been established to drive forward our work on becoming more inclusive and accessible. This will ensure we continue to turn training into practical changes to make our policies, processes and activities more inclusive and accessible, help us to encourage our other members to collaborate on that journey. Through training and developing our staff, we’re already beginning to think more about the way in which we do things here at NUS to ensure that all students can engage and be a part of their own national union.
I want to thank my colleagues at NUS who have driven this work forward with positivity and tenacity and Sarah Laszlo from Derwen College, one of our constituent members, who has provided training, support and challenge with patience and determination. We’re really excited about the part of this journey and look forward to working closely with the Makaton Charity to make change happen.
Simon Blake is Chief Executive at National Union of Students (@Simonablake)