Support our Nation today - please donate here

Welsh college receives ‘able-learners’ award in UK first, with seven students aiming for Oxford and Cambridge

22 Dec 2023 4 minute read
The College Merthyr Tydfil

A Welsh college has become the first further education college in the UK to achieve a prestigious award recognising commitment to provision for more able and talented learners.

Awarded by the National Association for Able Children in Education (NACE), the Challenge Award is given in recognition of the college’s commitment to providing high-quality provision for gifted learners within the context of challenge for all.

The College Merthyr Tydfil currently has seven “more able and talented learners” in the middle of the interview process at Oxford and Cambridge University. The College, who are about to celebrate their 10-year anniversary, has seen around 40 learners each year placed at the top Sutton 30 and Russell Group universities, including Oxford and Cambridge.


Examples of former students who have gone on to top universities include past Cyfarthfa High School learner Mackenzie Vinnicombe who progressed on to study Behavioural Science at Cambridge, past Afon Taf High School pupil Rachel McKeown who progressed on to study Natural Science at Cambridge, Annabelle Dennis, who progressed on to study at Oxford, past Afon Taf High School pupil Cari Hope-Davies, who also progressed on to Oxford to study Law and past Brecon High School pupil Jenna Welch, who progressed on to study Archaeology at Cambridge.

The NACE Challenge Framework is the basis for the award and sets out criteria for high-quality provision for more able and talented learners.  The framework is part of the NACE Challenge Development Programme – a suite of resources developed by NACE to help schools and colleges evaluate and improve their provision for more able and talented learners.

NACE CEO Rob Lightfoot said, said: “The College Merthyr Tydfil has worked successfully to attain the NACE Challenge Award. It has shown itself to be committed to developing an environment in which all students are both challenged and supported to be the best they can be.”

The assessment process involved a detailed self-evaluation of the college’s provision using the NACE Challenge Framework, submission of a portfolio of supporting evidence, and an assessment by a NACE associate. The process included examination of data and key documents; lesson observations; and interviews with leaders, learners, parents, and governors.

In awarding the Challenge Award, the NACE assessor reported: “Staff at Merthyr College recognise the uniqueness of their students and they strive hard to develop the ability and talent of each individual. Learners are treated as young adults, and many reciprocate by showing maturity beyond their years.

“Expectations and aspirations are high, and challenge is an integral part of learners’ everyday diet. The needs of individual students’ abilities and talents are met through the provision of bespoke learning experiences, which are planned to allow them to develop as confident, resilient, high-achieving learners. Students are encouraged to reflect on the way they best learn and to use and apply that knowledge when pursuing their studies.”

One student said: “We are not talking up to our teachers and they are not talking down to us, we talk at an equal level, eye-to-eye. Students express opinions confidently and eloquently. They demonstrate high levels of mutual respect when listening to the opinions of others.

“Teachers are knowledgeable, and they strive to provide authentic learning experiences that give relevance and meaning to the tasks students are actively engaged in. Staff are excellent role models to the students they teach. They exude a clear passion and enthusiasm for their subjects. Their approach to teaching is motivational and engaging.”


The Challenge Award is a recognition of college-wide commitment to and achievement in providing effective challenge and support for all – spanning school leadership, curriculum, teaching and learning, processes for identification and tracking, extracurricular opportunities, strong communication and partnerships, and ongoing evaluation. The College Merthyr Tydfil will now be part of the international community of Challenge Award-accredited education establishments which have demonstrated a sustained and effective commitment to meeting the needs of more able and talented learners, and an interest in sharing expertise for the wider benefit of the education community.

Vice Principal Curriculum and Quality, Chris Ford said: “Achievement of this award demonstrates what is possible when all stakeholders collaborate for the benefit of the learners. Our More Able and Talented strategy has allowed us to identify, support and challenge more able learners across the entire college, celebrating both academic and vocational excellence. Outstanding teaching and learning is at the core of this success and we are incredibly proud that through discussion with learners, parents, governors and staff, NACE have recognised the college as worthy recipients of The Challenge Award.”

Support our Nation today

For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Our Supporters

All information provided to Nation.Cymru will be handled sensitively and within the boundaries of the Data Protection Act 2018.