6 September 2022 News
Up until now, it wasn’t possible to achieve a higher level education qualification for working with children and adults with special needs in Northern Ireland.
But that has all changed, thanks to the mother of an autistic child who has developed precisely that to deal with this anomaly.
Fiona Forrest, a lecturer at Northern Regional College, has developed an innovative Level 4 module, Supporting Children and Adults with Special Education Needs (SEN) and Disability, in time for it to be offered as a part-time course for the 2022/23 academic year.
Students have the option of doing the one-year course at the College in either Newtownabbey or Ballymena.
Fiona, Essential Skills Curriculum Manager at Northern Regional College, explained why developing the course was something very close to her heart:
“My three-year-old son Ted has autism and I’m a passionate advocate for autism and special needs,” said the Moneymore mother-of-two.
Fiona, who’s little boy has just started pre-school, said she felt compelled to address a gap in the market.
“My background is in SEN and I previously worked in a special school,” she said.
“Once we identified a skills gap for special needs training on the island of Ireland, we decided to bridge it by creating a qualification specifically tailored to Northern Ireland.”
The course will provide essential background knowledge and the skills needed to support and work with families with children and adults who have special educational needs and disability.
Admitting that it was ‘quite the task’ to create the new module from scratch, Fiona said she was motivated enough to rise to the challenge.
“We canvassed opinion on the course before it was approved and were astounded by the high level of demand for this kind of training,” she said.
“We received over 80 expressions of interest, which is indicative of how prevalent the appetite for special needs training is.”
The Stranmillis graduate, who also has a six-year-old daughter Annie, said she was pleased that Northern Regional College had assigned four lecturers to deliver the course.
There will be a total of 40 places available, 20 at Newtownabbey and 20 at the College in Ballymena.
The course will be delivered through blended learning, which is a mixture of online learning and face to face teaching. Classes on both Newtownabbey and Ballymena campuses will be on Monday evenings, starting on Monday, September 19.
Fiona said she was looking forward to seeing the very first cohort of students come on board.
“Once we realised we could address this deficit in special needs training, the College was very quick to put measures in place to fix it,” she said.
“The enthusiastic support from Helen Hampsey, Head of Health, Social Care and Access Department, has been fantastic and helped us to get everything in place for the start of the new school year.
Supporting Children and Adults with Special Educational Needs and Disability (Level 4) is a continuous professional development course suitable for anyone working with adults or children with learning difficulties.
Fiona Forrest, Essential Skills Curriculum Manager at Northern Regional College