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New HE Qualification in Special Education Needs and Disabilities at Northern Regional College


Female with male toddler

Northern Regional College is offering a new Level 4 qualification for people working with children and adults with special education needs and disability. The course is the first and only Higher Education qualification of its kind currently available in Northern Ireland. The innovative Level 4 module Supporting Children and Adults with Special Educational Needs (SEN) and Disabilities was written by Fiona Forrest, a lecturer at Northern Regional College.

Prior to the introduction of this course, it was not possible to achieve a higher education qualification in SEN in the island of Ireland. From September onwards, however, students will be able to complete the one year part-time Level 4 qualification at Northern Regional College in either Ballymena or Newtownabbey.

Fiona, who is Essential Skills Curriculum Manager at the College, explained why developing training for people working with children and adults with special needs and Disabilities  was something very close to her heart.

“My three-year-old son Ted has autism which is why I’m such a passionate advocate for autism and special needs.

She continued: “My background is in SEN and I previously worked in a special school. Once we identified a skills gap in the market on the island of Ireland, we decided to bridge it by creating a qualification specifically tailored to Northern Ireland.”

The course is aimed at providing essential background knowledge on special education needs and disability issues.

Fiona admitted that it was “quite a task” to create the Level 4 module from scratch but she was happy to take on the challenge.

“We canvassed opinion on the course before it was approved and we were astounded by the response,” she said.

“We received over 80 expressions of interest, which is indicative of how prevalent the interest in special needs is.”

A total of 40 places will be available, 20 at the College’s campus in Ballymena and 20 at the Newtownabbey campus.  

The course will be delivered through blended learning, which is a mixture of online learning and face to face teaching. Classes on both campuses will be on Monday evenings, commencing 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 higher education gap in special needs training, the College was very quick to fix it. 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 academic year,” she added.

Supporting Children and Adults with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities is a continuous professional development course suitable for anyone working with adults or children with learning difficulties.

To obtain a place on the course, applicants must be in paid employment or undertaking a voluntary placement for a minimum of two days a week.