Ruskin Mill Trust

Re-imagining Potential

This week we have a guest post from the Ruskin Mill Trust a brilliant organisation who provide specialised bespoke teaching with a focus on practical skills as a form of therapeutic education. This form of education can be beneficial for those with a learning difficulty and certainly will help any student gain the self-confidence to find their place in the world.

‘The measure of success for a student at one of our Ruskin Mill Trust colleges is as wide and diverse as the range of issues and conditions experienced by the young people themselves.’

This is how Aonghus Gordon, the Founder and Executive Chair of Ruskin Mill Trust (RMT), introduced a recent talk about the Vision and Method of RMT, Practical Skills Therapeutic Education.

 Mr. Gordon described three short case studies to show something of the diverse range of outcomes achieved by students at RMT colleges. The first, a student who experiences elective mutism and who continues not to talk who has now learned to express herself confidently through various alternative means of communication. The second, related to a story of a young man who, before attending a RMT college, had been through a series of placement breakdowns and had been a serial non-attender. The student progressed to attending college daily and engaging well with his Study Programme despite always struggling to start the day on time. For the final case study, Mr. Gordon spoke about a student who began his course at a RMT college with no qualifications who has recently graduated from university.

 So how is Ruskin Mill Trust so successful with these complex young adults?

Mr. Gordon described  the approach which stands behind these stories. He began by  explaining how students  have access to a wide range of subjects which form their bespoke’ Study Programmes and went on to outline the criteria used for putting the programmes together.

RMT views the Student Study Programme as a journey which involves three phases, Focus, Grasp and Step.

Each student’s course will begin with an experience of core subjects which are frequently linked to the industrial heritage of the community where the college is located. For example, students at Glasshouse College in Stourbridge can learn to work with hot molten glass to make wine glasses, to cut crystal glass tumblers, and to decorate glass items with vivid colours.  At Ruskin Mill College, in Gloucestershire, students can learn the skills of the ‘stick-bodger’, working in the woods to make stools and chairs from timber they cut down themselves, or they can craft the fleece from the college’s sheep to make felted and woven textiles. In Sheffield, at Freeman College, students can make knives and forks from steel or silver and vessels from pewter or copper.

By concentrated interaction with the core crafts the student engages in a task that requires FOCUS, cultivating an understanding and control gained by interaction with the material.  This experience can lead to new self-awareness which in turn results in greater emotional stability and self-esteem enabling the young person to GRASP new ideas and become open to further learning, generating self-conscious actions.

The third part of the journey, and as an outcome of the student’s newly gained confidence, is the ability to STEP into the community beginning with work in RMT’s many social enterprises allowing the student to interact with the public in a supported environment.

These social enterprises include farms, market gardens and cafés where opportunities include every aspect of growing, preparing, cooking and serving food for the college and for visiting members of the public. The range of subjects is such that each individual student has a fresh opportunity to make the most of their own potential at the same time as continuing to develop their vital numeracy, literacy and employability skills.

Many of our students also progress to external work experience or further education courses.

Referring to the three cases initially described, Mr. Gordon went on to explain that by immersing the students within the productive aspects of our curriculum, the students learned to care for their own well-being and development.  This allowed the student to recognise their capabilities and most importantly how they contribute to Society.

Ruskin Mill Trust operates a group of specialist education provisions across England and Wales.  To find out more please visit

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