Ballymena NRC is offering 20 places in a new special education course – Photo 1 of 1

The Northern Regional College offers a new Level 4 qualification for people working with children and adults with special educational needs and disabilities.

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, Lecturer at Northern Regional College.

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

Fiona, who is the Essential Skills Program Manager at the College, said developing training for people working with children and adults with special needs and disabilities was something close to her heart.

“My three-year-old son, Ted, has autism, which is why I’m a strong advocate for autism and special needs,” she said. I have a training in SEN and I previously worked in a specialized school. Once we identified a skills gap in the Island of Ireland market, we decided to fill it by creating a qualification specifically tailored to Northern Ireland.

The course aims to provide essential background knowledge on special educational needs and disability issues.

Fiona admitted it was “quite a task” to create the Level 4 module from scratch, but she was happy to take on the challenge. We surveyed opinion on the course before it was approved and were amazed at the response,” she said.

“We received over 80 expressions of interest, indicating just how widespread interest in special needs is.”

A total of 40 places will be available, 20 on the College campus in Ballymena and 20 on 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 take place on Monday evenings, starting September 19.

Fiona said she was looking forward to seeing the very first cohort of students join us.

“Once we realized we could fill this gap in higher education for special needs training, the College was very quick to address it,” she said.

“The enthusiastic support from Helen Hampsey, Head of Health, Social Care and Access, has been fantastic and helped us get everything in place for the start of the new academic year.”

Supporting Children and Adults with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities is a continuing professional development course suitable for anyone working with adults or children with learning difficulties. To obtain a place in the training, candidates must be gainfully employed or carry out a voluntary internship at least two days a week. Visit for more information.