‘This Mighty Traveller’: Platform Rail reflect on the academic year

As a new academic year approaches, the Platform Rail team reflect on the work they have completed in partnership with special schools across the scheme’s area during the 2022-2023 school year.

There are many reasons why a young person may not feel confident to travel by rail, with a range of perceived (and real) barriers making it appear complicated. For young people with disabilities, this can be even more challenging.

Platform’s ‘This Mighty Traveller’ programme is designed specifically for specialist provisions in the hope of breaking down these barriers and empowering young people to become confident rail users, whether travelling independently or with support.

For the academic year 2022-2023, the team worked with 305 students in 13 special schools and took 225 students on 20 train trips.

Before travelling, Platform delivered in-school workshops to all students, with a focus on accessibility, alongside their usual learning around rail safety, confidence, and behaviour. Specific travel-planning is also embedded into the scheme’s special school offer, with information shared about the Passenger Assistance App and clear instruction on how to utilise it.

Following on from the workshops, many of the young people then joined Platform on a train trip to put their learning into practice. Student and teacher voice are a key part of this programme and, whilst the team were happy to offer recommendations about destinations, it was wonderful to see so many students and their teachers steer the decision this year. As a result, a wide number of different destinations were visited.

In November, Chadsgrove School travelled from Bromsgrove to Worcester Foregate Street and visited the History and Heritage pod in a trip that involved Christmas crafting and shopping. The next month, students from Pershore College travelled to the same destination, but this time they opted to combine their trip with a Railway Careers workshop, again delivered by the Platform team.

Through the spring, students from Belmont School in Cheltenham also travelled to Worcester’s History and Heritage Pod to take part in activities, but this time the school staff used the trip as an opportunity for the students to practice their life skills, such as visiting shops and food venues to allow the students to place orders and purchase their lunches, which were then eaten in the beautiful Cripplegate Park. Huge thanks are extended to the Crowngate Shopping Centre for their generosity in letting Platform use the Pod, free of charge, as a safe and accessible space for groups.

In another ‘This Mighty Traveller’ trip, the students – who attend Oasis New Oak’s Deaf Learning Base – travelled to Avonmouth and Severn Beach with Platform. They had been studying sustainability in school and so opted for a more traditional Platform experience, combining rail travel with outdoor learning and a workshop, as well as a visit to the Avonmouth Garden.

Through the summer term, students from Oakwood College in Yate had two different destinations in mind – as a result, one group travelled to Bristol Temple Meads, and another to Gloucester. The students of SGS Pegasus School in Bristol were determined to visit Weston-Super-Mare on trips that involved beaches, chips, and doughnuts, whilst Alderman Knight students from Cheltenham joined the team for some unicorn hunting in Bristol.

Inclusion sits at the heart of Platform’s education offer, with learning and development in this area a key priority. All delivery team members attended a sign-language course laid on by GWR this year to improve their offer for schools with non-verbal students and those from the D/deaf community. The team also completed training from the National Autistic Society to keep up to date with how best to support young people with autism, specifically when using public transport. A qualified Special Educational Needs Coordinator sits on the delivery team and inclusion features prominently in team meetings.

Kevin Day, Headteacher at Belmont Special School, said: “The work of the rail education team is simply outstanding, and they are professional in all that they do. The school-based sessions were very skilfully adapted to children with special needs and the resources and ‘hands on’ activities made the sessions as fun as they were educational. All my staff reported how much the children learnt about railways and rail safety, and then to experience a train trip in ‘real life’ was wonderful. I can recommend this wonderful organisation and essential life skill intervention to all schools without reservation.”

Dan Miliffe, Head of Careers and Futures at Oakwood Specialist College, said: “Platform has been brilliant and really helped us to support students to develop their knowledge and skills in relation to rail travel, sustainability, and rail careers. Emilie was friendly and approachable from the outset, making us feel like nothing was too much trouble. All the students really enjoyed the workshops delivered and we are really excited as a college to continue linking with Platform in the future.”

Becky Williams, Job Coach at Pershore College, said: “Emilie and Imogen were fabulous. The session was pitched at the right level for the students and planning in preparation for the safety talk and session ensured this. Platform made offering students the opportunity for a trip accessible, due to the free cost and the effective communication they established with myself and other job coaches. Students noted the development in their confidence following the trip, and I will be recommending Platform Rail’s services to my colleagues.”  

Emilie Dawson, Learning Development Manager at Platform, said: “It has been joyous to have seen such a large amount of positive engagement from Special Schools this year. School trips can feel complicated for any teacher, but even more so when there are additional needs to factor in as well as train travel. I am extremely grateful to all the staff who were willing to engage. We have been so delighted by the feedback from all those involved this year and can’t wait to do even more work with Special Schools next year.”

The Platform team extend sincere thanks to the four community rail partnerships they work across – Worcestershire CRP, TransWilts CRP, Gloucestershire CRP, and Severnside CRP – and to their funding partners, GWR, CrossCountry, and Community Rail Network. Their generous funding and provision for free rail tickets for rail education means Platform’s work can be carried out at no cost to the schools.