Killester College of Further Education is a state funded mainstream post-secondary vocational education and training college and is one of 23 schools of colleges of the City of Dublin Education and Training Board (CDETB). Established in 1956 in the north-east of Dublin City, Killester College provides a range of VET programmes in the areas of the computing and technology, business studies, cultural & heritage studies, social studies, animal science, laboratory science and horticulture. These programmes are certified by the Irish government agency, Quality and Qualifications Ireland, at levels 4 to 6 on the Irish National Framework of Qualifications. This wide variety of programmes and levels are provided to a diverse student population in an inclusive way. There are many definitions of inclusive education, so in Killester College we see inclusive education as being about improving the quality of learning for all students by dealing with all barriers to accessing, participating and succeeding in learning, whoever experiences them and wherever they are located throughout all aspects of the college – our culture, policies and practices. In other words, if our students can’t learn from the way we teach then we must teach in a way that our student’s learn.
In our approach to inclusive education, our key goals are that
- We seek to move from caring for people with disabilities to enabling active citizenship;
- We provide the support needed but then we expect the students to perform;
- We seek to ensure that students receiving support will have the same outcomes as students not receiving support. In other words, we seek to ensure that all students, in receipt of support or not, have an equal chance of success.
Profile of the Students in Killester College
This year in Killester College there are 360 full-time and 50 part-time day students ranging in age from 17 to 84 years with 52% over 21 years of age. There are also some 850 students taking evening classes. The students come from Dublin, across Ireland, and from some 40 different countries around the world. Of all of the day-time students 81 or 20.5% declared a learning support need at enrolment. Following a needs-assessment, 25 required additional support, with the remainder being supported through inclusive teaching and learning methodologies in the classroom.
Access to VET programmes
A key element of our inclusive strategy is to ensure that there is a ‘best fit’ between the student and the programme – the admissions or access process.
Firstly, there are no formal entry requirements for any of our programmes. However, at the interview, the applicant must demonstrate the capacity to successfully participate, with the appropriate learning support, on the academic, practical and work placement elements of the programme and achieve the certification upon completion. Formal educational qualifications are one way of demonstrating capacity.
However, the assessment of capacity is not solely based on previous learning and/or experience. Many of our students lack confidence or self-esteem. In some cases, the student may have never experienced success in education. Part of the access process is to determine if perhaps a programme at a lower level might be more suitable so as to give the student the opportunity to grow in confidence before joining the programme at the next level.
The conversation about learning support, for programmes starting in September, begins at our College Open Day in the previous February. The Learning Support Team, which includes our Access Officer, our visiting disability support officer and our career guidance counsellor, meet students regularly from the time of application until completion of the programme.
Successful Participation on VET Programmes
Successful participation on a programme is dependent as much on the
student’s effort as on the teacher’s. While providing our students with support we expect the same high standard of all our students – we provide the support and now we expect the performance.
All of the teachers in Killester College receive on-going training in inclusive teaching and learning
methodologies. Indeed, while participating in EU funded projects new methodologies were developed by the teachers in Killester College. Through using these techniques, many students are supported in their learning at no additional cost – we are already paying the teachers!
A significant element of the Killester College inclusion strategy is the use of ICT to support students’ learning. We are part of a City of Dublin ETB web-based learning system, Moodle. In addition, we use Google Apps to provide online access to all of our teaching and learning resources. WiFi is also available to our students in the College. This means that learning materials for the students’ can be accessed electronically at a time, in a place and in a manner that best suits the students.
Work experience placement is a mandatory requirement of programmes certified at levels 5 and 6 on the Irish national certification system. These are the levels at which students enter employment and further study. Securing a placement is not easy. The student is required to secure the placement and to write about the experience as part of the assessment. For many students this is difficult. While, we give the students as much assistance as we can, the placement is in the gift of the employer.
Successful completion of any programme is as much about overcoming the normal obstacles of life as it is about demonstrating the learning. The support infrastructure within Killester College begins with the Class Tutor assigned to every class group. He/she is the day-to-day contact person for all of the students in the group. The Learning Support Team acts in support of Class Tutors on an on-going basis as well as the individual students receiving specific learning support.
Part of the Irish certification for VET is the requirement for reasonable accommodation in assessment methodologies.
All of the programmes are assessed using college-based assessments. Different methodologies are developed as required throughout the programme. In May each year, the students in Killester College completed their final examination. In addition, to the main exam hall we had seven separate centres providing support to students.
In the area of science and technology, the use of technical jargon can present some difficulties for sign language interpreters. In these cases, the interpreters would meet the programme teachers with the student to develop appropriate signs both for the ordinary classes and for the assessments, particularly the practical examinations.
You will see from the profile of our students I gave at the beginning of the presentation that we see our students, in the first instance, as students. All will need to be supported in one way or another during their time with us. Some support might be because of life events, some might be more specific to their learning needs. In the end, we are all vulnerable people needing support at different times for different reasons.
As I conclude this presentation I must pay tribute to all of the staff in Killester College – teaching, administrative and maintenance staff – for their commitment to inclusive learning every day. This blog is to tell you about their great work.
The American writer, Maya Angelou, said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. In including all students within our learning community, we must ensure that they are not just present but “feel” included and have a true sense of belonging. We must begin from a position of kindness, compassion and encouragement and provide a welcoming, supportive and inclusive environment for all.
By Rory O’Sullivan
This story is part of Multinclude Inclusion Stories about how equity is implemented in different educational environments across the globe. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Author is Principal of Killester College of Further Education. Their program Inclusive VET is included in Multinclude’s Database of Good Practices. You can find out more about it in our Webinar Recordings Library.