Colleges across the dynamic Education Partnership North East group are providing thousands of young people across the North East with access to vital support and resources following the COVID-19 outbreak.

The group, which includes Hartlepool Sixth Form, Northumberland College and Sunderland College, established protocols to ensure its vulnerable students would be supported as part of risk assessments and planning for business continuity, prior to the government announcement.

The organisation was well prepared to initiate home support programmes as soon as face-to-face learning was to be suspended for most students across England.

Those who are affected by safeguarding concerns, such as young carers or parents, care experienced students and those with disabilities, can continue to attend face to face sessions at specified college campuses. Alternatively, they are able to remain in regular contact with their designated support officer via telephone, email or live chat to ensure they remain connected during the lockdown period. Across the three colleges, 150 students continue to receive intensive one-to-one support for existing personal or emotional support needs, despite the lockdown.

In addition, the information services and student support teams are available Monday to Friday to answer queries and concerns. Engaging in almost 200 chats in the first two weeks of closure, the team are committing a total of 60 hours to ensure that any new support needs can be identified and acted on quickly.

Going beyond student engagement in remote teaching and learning, the group has sustained a comprehensive programme of participation focused on the social, emotional and developmental needs of individual students. Tutor support and guidance has continued across the colleges, engaging over 5,500 students weekly in individual digital or telephone-based meetings. These meetings mirror the typical personal development activities that would occur if the colleges were operating normally, and ensure students are progressing with their studies and have the resources needed.

The team are also seeing an increasing number of family related issues arising through this period of global and national challenge resulting in students moving to alternative accommodation, with the college’s Intensive Support Officers acting quickly to confirm the safety of the students and offer financial and tailored advice where needed.

Following the lockdown, the college has further supported over 130 students remotely through one-to-one counselling for a range of issues including mental health or financial concerns delivered by the Intensive Support Team.

Nicola Warburton, head of student experience, said: "One of our students had a disagreement with a parent, which led to a relationship breakdown.

"The tutor was unable to make contact with the student and knew that this young person was known to the safeguarding team. Our intensive support officer immediately stepped in and was able ensure the student was safe and had suitable alternative accommodation.

"The intensive support officer referred the student to a support worker who made the necessary checks, provided relevant external contact numbers and access to financial support."

The intensive support team has also recorded a high number of young parents who are finding it increasingly difficult adjusting to a new way of life and looking after their children following the closure of nurseries and schools. The college team are always available to ensure those who may be struggling personally, are able to receive support from the College’s counselling team directly, or through managed referrals to other support networks.

Nicola added: "Another of our students, a young parent who is in weekly contact with our intensive support officers, admitted that they were struggling due to living with additional pressures.

"Daily contact is now being made with the student to carry out welfare checks and a counselling appointment was made and delivered the same day."

Bethany Wright
Article by Bethany Wright
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