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How a dedicated teaching assistant is transforming student lives

Carla Horton’s initiative at Oakwood Academy Sixth Form provides invaluable work experience to SEND students, fostering practical skills and confidence
Oakwood Academy Sixth Form

At Oakwood Academy Sixth Form in Eccles, Carla Horton has been pioneering an inspiring initiative dedicated to providing valuable work experience to students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). 

This initiative, housed at The Quays MediaCity, involves students engaging directly with the community through a charity shop, helping them to gain both practical skills and confidence.

Carla Horton, Oakwood Academy Sixth Form

Oakwood Academy Sixth Form

And also invaluable, life skills.

“I’m really, really pleased,” Carla shares about the recognition her work has received.

“It’s just lovely. It was just such a surprise though, you know, everyone’s just turned up. But it’s nice and it’s nice that our college is being acknowledged.”

Pearson National Teaching Awards

Carla has recently been awarded at the prestigious Pearson National Teaching Awards. She won the Silver Award for Teaching Assistant of the Year.

The innovative setup wasn’t without its challenges. 

Carla explained, “It’s quite difficult as you’ll know for some students to get work experience, and it’s even harder for our students because they’ve got special needs. 

“These barriers there as well as the barriers that came with COVID. There were a lot of obstacles before we got it going.”

Securing a shop at The Quays

Oakwood Academy Sixth Form
Cara with a student

Thanks to a connection with Peel Holdings, Carla and her team were able to secure a space at The Quays. 

Initially given the charity shop for six weeks, the success of the initiative has seen it extended to two years.

Carla continued: “We’ve been pleased with how we’ve run it, and how the students’ behaviour and everything have just shown how lovely they all are,” she says with pride.

“A taste of the real world”

Students at Oakwood Academy are getting a taste of the real world through this initiative. 

Carla notes, “They learn lots. They’re learning about customer service, the health and safety aspects, the retail selling process, and balancing money.

“They might not have been exposed to these things before.”

“It’s just lovely that they can go through and put into practice what they’ve been learning. It’s all about communicating with people and understanding customer services.”

Recognising and nurturing talent

Carla highlights how individual talents are recognised and nurtured.

“Everyone’s got their own little talent in life.

“It’s about tapping into their confidence, letting them shine at what they can do, and then they can go into that area.” Carla’s approach ensures that each student’s potential is maximised.

The rewards of the initiative are evident in individual success stories.

Carla proudly mentions Megan, who went from being a student to full-time employment: “She’s grown so much. The next goal is to get her driving lessons and a driving test.

“It’s amazing to see her independence and growth.”

Beyond individual achievements, the initiative creates a sense of community.

Carla explained: “It’s a community shop where people can come, old and young, feel safe, chat, and have a nice time.

“We sell clothes for our extended family and friends, and we get a lot of support from people in the centre who donate to us. It’s a very supportive environment.”

Carla was full of praise for her team, which she described as “great” and with a boss who trusts her.

“I love working here, and to see the positive effect it is having on our students, is a sight to behold.”

The initiative at Oakwood Academy stands as a testament to the amazing outcomes that can be achieved when communities come together to support SEND students.

You can find out more about Oakwood Academy by clicking here

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