Inclusive Education Support for Students with Disabilities at Third Level

An evidence-based support programme for students struggling at third level education: an example of a successful partnership between a specialist and mainstream education provider.

Organisation    National Learning Network – the training and education division of the Rehab Group.
Target Group    The Institute of Technology Blanchardstown (ITB) is a third level, higher education institution which offers ordinary, honours and masters programs in business, humanities, engineering and computing. The target group for the service is extremely varied as any student who attends the ITB may avail of the support services. About 39% of the students who attend the service have one or more of a range of mental health, learning, physical, sensory or medical difficulties, while the remainder of students accessing the service have similar difficulties, but may not have a diagnosis. The age range of individuals accessing the service is between 18 and 57.
Per year, an average of 160 students attends the service. In 2013-2014, there were approximately 830 appointments scheduled from September-August with these students. 
Description  The National Learning Network Student Support Service, located on the campus of the Institute of Technology Blanchardstown (ITB) since 2003 provides a confidential learning, assessment and support service for individuals with disabilities, specific learning difficulties such as Dyslexia and Dyspraxia / DCD, and other associated specific processing/learning difficulties, such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit Disorders. The service supports students with or without a formal diagnosis, and also supports the increasing numbers of students who are presenting with mental health difficulties such as depression, bi-polar disorder, anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and schizophrenia. Using innovated psychological approaches and evidence-based interventions, NLN psychologists use an integrated research and practice model of service delivery and use their competencies and skills to provide a number of inclusive education services that benefit a diverse student population. It is a one-stop shop with a multi-modal approach that supports the ecological and holistic needs of all individuals. Support is provided within four streamed programs of skill development sessions which aim to improve academic skills, well-being, social skills and the ability to manage daily living.

The service aims to assist students to develop personally (through maintaining well-being, developing social skills and managing daily living) and academically. Students choose which area they would like to develop. While other higher education institutions often provided more segregated services to address personal and academic needs, the National Learning Network believe that there is a circular relationship between personal capacity and academic achievement development. It is clear that poorly developed confidence, motivation, resilience or coping mechanisms can impact adversely upon academic performance. For example, elements associated with personal development such as having a good sense of selfefficacy and a sense of self control can positively predict satisfaction in an academic environment among students who are attending college (Au, 2013). Furthermore, research has shown that students who can learn how to self-regulate the cognitive, motivational and the behavioural aspects of their academic lives are more likely to be more effective learners (Nota, Soresi & Zimmerman, 2004). It is also clear that poorly developed academic skills can impact upon well-being. It has been stated that one key aspect which can prevent progression through third level is a lack of awareness around the essential skills required for learning (Crowley, Mahon & Strain, 2012). Furthermore, students may also struggle to understand and adapt to the changes in a third level learning environment, or may fail to recognise their ability to meet the demands of their course (Crowley, Mahon & Strain, 2012). When students fail to perceive that they have the resources that are necessary to meet academic demands, stress can occur (Lazarus, 1966). 
Partners To support students, this NLN service works in partnership with the academic and administrative staff within the mainstream higher education college, ITB. Students’ parents are also perceived as “partners” and are on some occasions also invited to attend the service should the student have complex learning needs and when the students’ consent to it. The service also links with local and national providers of mental healthcare to ensure students with mental health needs are appropriately supported. To facilitate the development of innovate practices and research, the service closely collaborates with the Dyscovery Centre at the University of Wales, Newport to share best practice in relation to training and education, assessment and intervention, research and resources. 
Staff and Resources   One full–time and one part-time educational psychologist and an assistant psychologist provide the service on the campus of ITB.
Duration All year round including during the holidays. 
Budget The service is funded by student capitation funds and from the Student Union in ITB aswell as the Fund for Students with Disabilities within the Higher Education Authority (HEA) in Ireland 
Contact /more information  Suzanne McCarthy & Hollie Byrne: 

More information at: