Local student named as National Winner!


Inspirational young adult learner from Consett in County Durham overcomes barriers to reach prestigious university and win national learning award

Brandon Layton was diagnosed with autism as a child and attended a specialist school. Teachers told him he would not be able to complete GCSEs or go to university but – determined to pursue his academic and career goals – Brandon enrolled at his local college and has gone on to study at Durham University.

Brandon did not have a positive experience at school, and he left feeling de-motivated and like he had not fulfilled his potential.

His decision to return to education has transformed his life. Brandon’s experience at college gave him the confidence to be himself and reach for goals he previously believed to be unobtainable. His Level 1 Foundation Learning course helped Brandon to develop his social and communication skills and become more independent. This provided the foundations he needed to go on to achieve GCSEs and embark on an Access to Higher Education course.

In his time at Derwentside College, Brandon became a student representative to the College Board of Governers, and a passionate advocate and ambassador for other learners with autistic spectrum disorders. He was offered places at all four of the universities he applied to and is now studying International Relations at Durham University – one of the most prestigious universities in the country.

Brandon has won the Festival of Learning 2020 Outstanding Individual Learner award. Organised by Learning and Work Institute, and supported by the Department for Education, Festival of Learning is an annual campaign which aims both to celebrate the power of learning to transform lives, and to encourage more adults to take part.

Brandon said, “Without education I know my potential would be unfulfilled. My college tutors have shown a belief in me that made me profoundly consider the life I want for myself. My career goals have changed immeasurably. I want a career in politics where I can make a difference and I truly believe I’ve found the right path.”

Chris Todd, principal and chief executive at Derwentside College said, “Brandon is a fantastic young man. I think it's probably the first time in my career that I've ever seen a learner progress from a foundation learning course all the way to a Russell Group university. We're very, very proud of Brandon. This is the type of success story that further education is all about.”

Brandon’s nominator, Julie Eddy, Learning Support Leader at Derwentside College said, “Watching Brandon mature and become the adult he has reinforces to me how further education changes lives. Brandon is an exceptionally dedicated learner and without doubt the most determined person I have ever met.” 

Stephen Evans, chief executive of Learning and Work Institute, said, “Brandon’s story shows that – no matter where you start from or what challenges you face – there is no limit to the learning goals you can achieve. Brandon is now encouraging, supporting and inspiring others with autism to achieve their goals. We are delighted to present Brandon with this year’s Outstanding Individual Learner award.  

Festival of Learning awards celebrate the commitment and achievements of outstanding adult learners, tutors, projects and employers. These stories show us how transformative lifelong learning can be, not just for individuals but for families, communities and society as a whole. As we look to build back better after the pandemic, we need to redouble our efforts to provide access to lifelong learning opportunities for all."