THE headteacher at Scotland’s first-ever dedicated college for school leavers with complex needs has insisted “the sky’s the limit” for what students can achieve when it opens its doors later this month.

Corseford College – operated by Capability Scotland – will welcome its first 15 students from next Monday, as the charity looks to fill a void in further education opportunities for young people with needs that cannot be fully met at mainstream colleges.

It is hoped the facility in Johnstone, Renfrewshire, will begin a transformation in levelling up society, with these students given the same chance at a successful and happy adult life as anyone else.

Headteacher Liz McConnachie said the college – which has been partially funded by the Scottish Government – has been desperately needed for many years, with these students having “nowhere to go” once they leave school, while their mainstream peers have the world at their feet.

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But she believes Corseford will begin to change this imbalance as the college aims to nurture these youngsters’ big ambitions, while ensuring they are fully supported with tailored care and specialist facilities.

“It came up about two years ago when Capability Scotland was looking at the strategic direction it wanted to go in and what other services we could provide, and I think we just realised these youngsters don’t have anywhere to go,” said McConnachie, who has come from a background in further education and caring for those with additional support needs.

“We saw the demand was there and these young people were being let down. Corseford College is going to really fill a gap I feel because these kids have a right to an education.

“We know there’s a limit to the type of student we can take in and cope with in mainstream further education and some kids just don’t cope well in that environment, but we’d never really thought about, well, where do these kids go? This is something that is needed but no one has really thought about how we fix it, so they have fallen through a hole.

“Their peers from mainstream schools have the option to go to college or higher education and these kids do not have that. I believe Corseford College will start to change that.

“The sky’s the limit. There will be no restrictions as to how far a student can go if we can try and provide opportunities and help support them.”

Capability Scotland has invested £250,000 into the project, with a further £316,000 pledged by the Scottish Government for the first year of delivery. It currently provides direct support to more than 800 individuals through day and residential schools, residential care, housing support services, home care and a range of day opportunities in the community and local hubs.

The charity is aiming to continue taking on at least 10 new students a year at Corseford College into a four-year programme but, beyond that, there is a vision to set up other campuses across Scotland providing funding can be secured.

There is no doubt young people with complex needs – which often means learning or psychological disabilities are combined with physical or medical ones – have been left behind in Scotland, with 51 recorded as having moved to England for specialist further education in the past five years.

Across England and Wales, there are 46 colleges based on a similar model to Corseford and McConnachie said it is vital young Scots get the same opportunities as their peers south of the Border.

She added: “There’s a lot of provision in England, so this is something that is absolutely needed and we are getting inundated with enquiries.

“These youngsters in Scotland have nowhere to go apart from those 15 starting with us. They can go to day service but they could be there with 40-year-olds and the big thing for them is about developing friendships. These 15 students are all the same age and you seldom get that.

“Some of them have come from mainstream schools and they’ll be the only person in there [with complex needs] and it’s great to integrate into that but it’s not always the right thing for them.

“Alongside developing Corseford, I’ll be looking at where the demand is and what can we do with setting up additional campuses so we can offer out to other youngsters. Hopefully the Scottish Government will continue to look at funding this provision in a more structured way.”

Courses at the college – which is opening up in a refurbished wing of Capability Scotland’s neighbouring Corseford School – will focus on helping learners to master literacy, numeracy and tech skills, as well as communication and interpersonal skills and health and wellbeing.

The curriculum – which will allow students to gain qualifications – will deliver creative experiences, physical development and independence skills including shopping and cooking. Students will be able to make use of facilities such as sensory rooms, a hydrotherapy pool and a rebound therapy space with full-sized trampolines and there will be a student bistro where it is hoped young people will be able to eventually gain work experience.

McConnachie said it will be as much about building basic living skills so the students can lead as close to a normal life as possible as well as seeing whether they can take on higher education or more skilled careers.

She said: “We will be looking at what opportunities are out there for them and that will depend how much progress they have made. It could be there are students who couldn’t even manage in a further education college but they then have confidence to go onto a wider, higher- level vocational programme in further education.

“We will be doing a lot of work out in the community to get them doing volunteering and work experience as well. These young people deserve so much more.”