Realising the aspirations of people with disabilities

Able-bodied people take a lot for granted.  We expect to live comfortably in our own homes, source and prepare our own food, be able to find a job, and drive our own vehicles or use public transport to travel to places independently of other people.  We have hobbies, and dreams we’d like to achieve. We may have future expectations of achieving our personal and career potential through hard work and or education, and we are free to make choices about what we do and how we will do it.

Life is not so rosy for young people with complex physical, sensory or learning disabilities.  They may have lived with their condition since birth, or acquired it due to illness, such as a brain tumour, meningitis or a degenerative neural / muscular disease.  Some young people’s lives are changed forever as a result of a traumatic accident and a resulting acquired complex disability.  When mainstream education cannot accommodate such students, to where can they turn? Enter National Star College, which has been providing specialist education for young people with complex physical, sensory or learning disabilities for almost 50 years, equipping them to face the world with confidence and aspiration. Its motto is ‘Realising the aspirations of people with disabilities’.

Recently the charity overseeing the operation of National Star College has become the National Star Foundation, with a mission to build on all its prior experience and expertise in order to follow an ambitious new agenda for which the guiding principle is ‘Innovations for Life’: the Foundation will look at how best to provide new transition, accommodation and occupation services wherever they may be needed, across the whole country. The services will not always be limited to ex-students but also available to others who have a disability.

The new services will be developed under the banner of the National Star Foundation whilst the College will continue to develop its outstanding work, with its core activities still focussing on working with young people with severe disabilities.

The National Star Foundation Charity Speical Needs Kids

The charity works with over 1,600 disabled people from across the UK, covering the highly important ‘Four ‘E’ areas for its students: EducationEnvironmentEquipment and Employability.

Teams of highly skilled professionals use an integrated, holistic approach to look at the complete educational, social and health needs of students, meeting these with specialised equipment, therapy and medical attention, as well as supported, independent accommodation.  Staff are dedicated to ensuring that students achieve their potential through personalised learning, transition and lifestyle services.  Core education services are largely government-funded, but the rest of the charity’s work – all the life-changing opportunities and facilities that make a difference – are made possible only by voluntary contributions.

When I first visited Ullenwood, the home of National Star Foundation in Gloucestershire, I was amazed at the magnitude of the whole set-up.  The facilities have been transformed in the last few years with major building works to make a thoroughly modern campus. There is:

  • a therapies centre with an aquatic therapy pool, sensory suites, physiotherapy area and specialist training room;
  • an art, design and ceramic centre;
  • a learning technology suite;
  • a work skills building encompassing real learning environments – a training kitchen, bistro, shop, reception and office;
  • ten bedrooms of student residential accommodation, including four independent living studios;
  • a dance and drama studio with a gallery foyer.

NB: If you are in the area make sure you eat at the Star Bistro – it’s highly recommended!  It offers delicious bistro lunches, morning coffee and traditional afternoon tea and uses the finest local and seasonal ingredients.  There are also ‘Chef days’ available with Rob Rees, The Cotswold Chef.

Special Needs BIstro Cafe

The National Star College is clear about the desired results it would like all students to attain before they leave, which are :

  • achieving personal goals;
  • increasing independence;
  • building confidence and self-esteem;
  • becoming empowered to fulfil potential – and to prepare for the future.

The great value and success of the National Star experience for students can be measured by many and varied yardsticks.  Formal measures of success are listed in the charity’s Annual Review and make impressive reading, for example:

  • 100% of students follow accredited learning programmes with a 100% pass rate for full awards on main programmes;
  • 94% of leavers achieved their targeted occupation goals;
  • an Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ ranking was gained in 2011/2012.

National Star Special Needs Education

Qualitatively however, it is the voices of the students themselves which help us understand the impact that their time at National Star has had on their lives:

‘If it wasn’t for National Star College I wouldn’t be in the position I am now: in my first place of my own and planning my own future.’ Tom

Working in StarBistro is inspirational.  I get “that feeling” there that I don’t get anywhere else.  I’ve learned how to speak to customers in a professional way.’ Joe Cook

Before I came here I felt that I couldn’t do anything because of my disabilities, but now I know not to let my disabilities stop me from doing what I want to achieve.’ Thomas
I am very proud that my business, has become a corporate partner of National Star Foundation and wish it every success as it rolls out its strategy over the coming years.

Read more about the work of National Star Foundation and National Star College here:

Visit their Facebook Page :

Follow the Twitter accounts: @starcoll   @NStarFoundation  @starbistro


About Dr. Elaine Atkins

Author, Therapist and Communications Director at
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