Natspec, or the National Association of Specialist Colleges, is the membership association for organisations that offer specialist provision for students and young adults aged 16-25 with learning difficulties and disabilities.


Specialist colleges occupy a niche subsector within the Further Education landscape. Their relatively small student population, coupled with responsibility for them falling between skills and FE (Minister for Skills) and SEND (Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing), puts them at a disadvantage. They are often overlooked, with priority given instead to SEND provision at a school level.

Bridgehead Education was retained by Natspec to raise the profile of the organisation and the key challenges its members face among policymakers in Westminster and the Welsh Assembly.

On behalf of its members, Natspec championed a range of key policy issues largely centred around fairer access for learners, improved quality, greater post-college support, and a robust system of accountability. Chief among these, however, was a one-off urgent capital improvement fund for publicly funded specialist FE colleges, greater government consultation when formulating FE and SEND policy, and a commitment to integrate specialist colleges better into FE and SEND policy.


We designed a comprehensive public affairs engagement programme for both the Welsh and Westminster Parliaments. We began by updating existing and stakeholder maps of all relevant policymakers. This included ministers, MPs, Peers, and MSs, including those interested in SEND or further education and those with member colleges within or close to their constituencies.

We also established a comprehensive Parliamentary monitoring system that enabled us to detect any notable activity at either the Government or Parliamentary levels. We used this information to update our stakeholder map, ensuring it accurately reflected all interested and relevant MPs, Peers, and MSs.

With our monitoring in place and the stakeholder map up to date, we embarked on a one-to-one process of meeting with relevant MPs and officials. We took a strategic approach aimed at driving a coalition of supporters among policymakers. We prioritised those MPs likely to be most sympathetic, including those with Natspec member colleges within their constituency and those involved with relevant All Party Parliamentary Groups. Key requests in meetings included pledges to table Parliamentary Questions and speak in debates around relevant issues, as well as sending letters to relevant ministers calling on them to action Natspec's policy requests.


Our ongoing campaign continues to gather momentum. To date, we've secured a combined total of 27 meetings with relevant MPs and Peers in Westminster and 10 meetings in the Welsh Parliament. Several of these meetings have resulted in tangible outcomes, such as letters being sent to Ministers and oral or written questions being tabled, which have all helped to draw attention within the Government to the challenges faced by specialist colleges.

The culmination of our political engagement campaign to date came with the launch of the Natspec manifesto in Parliament on 19 February 2024. Sponsored by Dr Lisa Cameron MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Disabilities, Helen Hayes MP, Shadow Minister for Children and Early Years (including SEND) and Seema Malhotra MP, Shadow Minister for Skills, attended the launch event.

Their joint attendance at the event offers significant hope that a future Labour government would take a more coordinated approach to SEND. A further highlight of the event saw Billy, a student from Hereward College, petition the Leader of the Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer MP, to ensure that a future Labour government does more to support specialist colleges.