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Business & Economy

Newcastle College & Newcastle United Foundation: Hitting the target on character skills

Teamwork, communication, confidence, resilience. Consult any business handbook and those words leap from the page as critical factors in achieving success. But they’re not just applicable to the commercial world – they’re equally important in the education environment. And a flagship partnership between Newcastle College and Newcastle United Foundation is channelling the latter to help the next generation hone their talents. Combining traditional lessons with time at the Foundation’s multi-million-pound NUCASTLE, powered by Newcastle Building Society, community hub, youngsters from the college’s discreet provision for special educational needs and disability learners are picking up skills that are helping them become increasingly independent and employment ready. Here, Steven Hugill speaks to Emma Coulter, curriculum leader in the college’s learning development department, and Ross Gordon, Newcastle United Foundation project officer, to find out more.

From the days of Milburn to the era of Macdonald and the record-breaking feats of Shearer, hitting the net has long been the dominant currency for success at Newcastle United.

Today, though, in a flagship collaboration with Newcastle College, the focus is on goals of an altogether different kind – ones backing the progress of the city’s next generation.

Just a short walk from St. James’ Park, at the top of Pitt Street, lies NUCASTLE, the former Murray House community centre turned headquarters of Newcastle United Foundation.

Once a place where shipbuilders put down hammers and welding irons to pick up new skills and where footballers, including former Magpies’ star Shola Ameobi, fell in love with the game, the site is a beacon for social progress.

So much so, that when Newcastle College sought a partner to further bolster provision across its learning development department, it extended a long-standing relationship with the Foundation to do so.

Every student in the programme’s cohort visits NUCASTLE for an hour each week, spending time in its classrooms and sports hall, and treading the artificial grass of its rooftop football pitch.

The relationship helps young people aged between 16 and 24, who have special educational needs and disability (SEND) – a majority of whom have education, health and care plans – to be prepared for adulthood, by equipping them with soft skills that not only enable them to triumph in lesson-based activities, but mature as independent and work-ready individuals.

Alongside the college’s high-class education provision, the alliance benefits from the Foundation’s place within the Premier League Inspires programme.

Developed by the competition and its professional clubs, the venture provides close support to 11 to 25-year-olds to help them reach their potential, building on previous Premier League projects and incorporating the Prince’s Trust Achieve qualification in their studies.

And its impact is overwhelmingly tangible. As the classroom empties, the doors to the open-air footballing arena are unlocked.

Immediately, wayward shots thud against metal barriers and shrieks of delight and frustration escape into the Tyneside sky as teams come together, tactics are set, and goals are scored.

A moment of wonderful symbolism arrives too, when 17-year-old student Alex spots a loose ball.

With a deliberate run-up, he strikes towards goal, the fluorescent ball arcing through the air past the crowd of moving bodies.

Its trajectory initially seems wrong, for Ross Gordon, Newcastle United Foundation project officer rather than heading towards the goal being used in the game, its moving in the direction of a spare, smaller target situated off the playing area.

This, though, is Alex’s intended target and as the ball comes to rest in the netting, he turns, eyes and mouth wide with delight, to beckon friends and relive the moment.

It’s a fantastically visual representation of the cornerstones upon which the learning programme is built.

The goal wasn’t Alex’s first attempt, neither was it his last, but by channelling the lessons of resilience, belief and problem-solving taught to him and
his peers in the classroom, he met his objective.

Watching on, Emma Coulter, curriculum leader in Newcastle College’s learning development department, shares his excitement.

She says: “The partnership with the Foundation is incredibly valuable to our students’ progress.

“As a college, we take a much more rounded approach that focuses on the whole person, to help them become more confident and resilient, increase their employment prospects and live more independently.

“And working with the Foundation helps us achieve that.

“They really enjoy the different learning environment at NUCASTLE, and it perfectly complements their college lessons because it introduces them to new challenges in a fresh setting.

“Whether it be learning to control robots on iPads in the classroom or being out on the pitch, these activities improve their self-assurance, raise the levels of their communications skills and introduce the importance of teamwork and friendships.”

Emma adds: “It’s the launching pad for our students to begin taking the various steps that climax with a supported internship programme, which combines classroom learning with on-the-job experience and introduces them to the working world.”

On the field, the reaction is similarly positive.

With a ball again at his white-trainered feet, Alex stops for a quick chat.

“I love coming here,” he says, his cheeks flushed from his exertions.

“It’s so different, and I feel like I get so much out of it.”

Classmate Moudud, 18, is equally effusive.

Briefly leaving his goalkeeping post, he adds: “I really look forward to our time at NUCASTLE.

“Everyone is so friendly and helpful, and we learn a lot in our lessons that we then take back into our studies at college.”

The impact is felt too by Foundation project officer Ross Gordon.

Dressed in shorts that belie the damp and chilly weather, he combines refereeing kick-abouts with overseeing classroom activities.

“We’re providing an alternative way of learning, which makes a big difference to students,” says Ross, who’s dropped the whistle from his lips and taken sanctuary from the cold in an indoor viewing area next to the pitch.

He continues: “There’s a really relaxed atmosphere here, great friendliness and we engage with learners on first name terms, which helps generate a lot of rapport.

“A good majority of what we do in our learning is centred around solving problems and dealing with a specific issue.

“And that is important because it funnels into the longer-term objectives of the programme around providing students with the skills they need for the working environment.

“But we’re very focused on ensuring they don’t just reach outcomes, but fully understand how they did so.

“That’s crucial for their progress because if there is an area where they might have become frustrated, being able to see how, and understand why, they dealt with something positively, in the way they did, means they are better equipped to do so again in the future.

“And once they realise they can do something, they can, and want, to do it again.

“You see their confidence visibly build lesson by lesson; they’re genuinely energised by what we are doing and want to be involved – whenever we ask a question in class, hands shoot up in the air to answer.”

And Ross says such engagement brings with it an added element of fluidity to the learning environment, which in turn further extends students’ outcomes.

He says: “We plan for lessons, to make sure things work for the cohort and each individual learner, but the students help push where we go too by taking the lead in certain situations.

“We recently undertook an exercise programme where they had to plan an activity for five minutes that included things like warm-ups, cool downs and meditation – and they were really involved.

“And that’s the beauty of this programme – and our relationship with Newcastle College – because we have an ever- changing scope of delivery.

“By using our constant learnings around what methods benefit students, as well as how they like to learn, we’re able to deliver a course that enhances their resilience, their teamwork and their confidence.

“And it is putting them in really good stead for the future.”

Pictured below (L-R): Emma Coulter and Ross Gordon