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The Oaks Specialist College in Tonbridge first 16 plus specialist setting in the UK selected for Microsoft Showcase School program


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A college in Tonbridge has become the first of its kind in the UK to be accepted onto a digital program with a global technology company.

The Oaks Specialist College, for adults with learning disabilities, is taking part in the Microsoft Showcase School program which partners schools across the world to deliver digital education and prepare young people for independence and employment.

The Oaks Specialist College in Tonbridge has been accepted on the Microsoft Showcase School program. Picture: Amanda Collins Photography
The Oaks Specialist College in Tonbridge has been accepted on the Microsoft Showcase School program. Picture: Amanda Collins Photography

It is one of three specialist settings in the UK to gain entry, and the only post 16 establishment to be accepted.

The hope is, through the scheme The Oaks will be able to share its knowledge with other specialist settings to make sure accessibility features are more widely available to those who need them.

Libby Wilkins, digital lead who helped secure the program at The Oaks, formerly Oakley College, said: "A lot of young people going into secondary school now will be leaving in 2030 so it's all about looking at the skills they will need when they leave.

"There are fully fledged showcase schools that have gone through the transformation framework Microsoft have, then there’s the entrance to that which is the incubator pathway which we are on so this is just the start.

"Our main aim is making sure that our young people, who often find it harder than the average person to access the community and the workplace, are supported with accessibility features and making sure they can be as independent as possible."

Libby Wilkins, digital lead
Libby Wilkins, digital lead
The Oaks Specialist College in Cage Green Road
The Oaks Specialist College in Cage Green Road

One of the ways they are hoping to do that is by pushing the use of mobile phones above laptops.

Mrs Wilkins added: "Our young people will leave college using a mobile phone, but it’s not necessarily in their future that they're going to be working on a laptop.

"We don't think anything of checking our emails on our phone but if our young people don't know how to do that, they might not get those job alerts until they next log onto a laptop.

"We are using technology to empower young people as opposed to teaching them how to write an essay on Word.

"When you think of a specialist setting people don't always equate that to being technologically independent but actually we have really high aspirations for our young people and we want systemic change and that needs to happen across the country."

Students have been learning skills on their mobile phones. Picture: Amanda Collins Photography
Students have been learning skills on their mobile phones. Picture: Amanda Collins Photography

Students at The Oaks are aged between 19 and 25 and have been learning how to use the Microsoft Office Lens app. It allows you to scan text which is then read back to you out loud.

For instance if a young person is at a bus stop, they might have previously needed another person to read a sign to them.

With the app, they can now take the dependence on another human away by getting their phone to read it to them which can be life changing.

As well as this, one of the students who previously didn't know his home address can now safely and independently find his way home using 'What Three Words'.

It means if he becomes detached from a group, he can make sure he gets home safely by telling the police where he lives based on the app's address.

Mrs Wilkins has also earned Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert status - a separate program which runs alongside the scheme.

It means she is able to network with more than 1,000 educators from across the UK to share tips so establishments can learn from each other.

To earn the title she has completed more than 40 hours of Microsoft training which she then shares with her colleagues.

The college in Cage Green Road recently opened a Tesco store on site to give students valuable work experience opportunities.

Read more: All the latest news from Tonbridge

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