Further Education and your prospects
Whether you're 16 or 60, there's a huge variety of courses available. Options range from courses covering the basics of reading, writing and numbers to GCSEs and A levels. There are also opportunities to get into work-based learning, through Training for Success, Apprenticeships or Steps 2 Success.
Having a disability or a learning difficulty doesn't have to limit your options. You will need to take care choosing the course and college that are right for you so it is important to get information about the courses and support available before you apply.
Support at college
Colleges have to make 'reasonable adjustments' so that people with disabilities or a learning difficulty don't suffer a great disadvantage. The colleges fulfil this obligation by making funding available to support students with a learning difficulty and/or a disability (SLDD) through the Additional Support Fund (ASF).
The fund allows colleges to provide students with technical and personal support to allow them to gain maximum benefit from their courses by removing barriers to study. Examples of technical support include specialised enabling equipment, such as braillers, specialist software and hearing loops. Personal support includes specialist tutors/advisers, such as hearing or visual impairment tutors, interpreters, classroom assistants and note takers. The level of support provided depends on both the nature of the disability and the course of study.
If you are unable to take part in mainstream further education provision because of your learning difficulty or disability, ask your local further education college about the courses provided under discrete provision.
Discrete provision is specifically designed to meet students’ individual needs and is delivered in a more supported environment. This provision may have a higher staff to student ratio than mainstream provision so you benefit from being in smaller class sizes and from the extra help provided by classroom assistants and other specialist staff. Discrete provision, offers a range of courses from unaccredited to accredited at entry level, level 1 and level 2.
In discrete provision you can go to a mix of work focused, personal development and lifeskills courses and also take part in work placements which can help to prepare you for future employment opportunities. Contact details for your local further education college can be found on Colleges NI website:
All colleges will have a "Student Support" section where you can get advice on what support is available to meet your needs. You can ask for a copy of the college’s disability policy.
Further Education at 16
If you had a statement of special educational needs while at school, you should have a 'transition plan' giving details of the support you'll need once you leave. If you stay on at school to go to sixth form, you'll continue to get the help set out in your statement.
Your college will arrange for your learning support. Personal or medical care services can be arranged through your local health trust or social services department. Your Careers Adviser or College should work with these different agencies to make sure arrangements are in place.
Financial support for Higher Education students in Further Education colleges
If you have a disability, health condition (including mental health conditions) or a specific learning difficulty like dyslexia, you may be entitled to claim extra financial help as a student. This is paid on top of anything you get through the standard student finance package.
Sources of extra financial help for disabled students include:
- Disabled Students' Allowances
- Support Funds
- Disability Living Allowance (DLA)
- Employment and Support Allowance
Further Education as an adult
Learning from home
e-learning and distance learning courses let you do all or part of your studying from home. It's an option worth considering if you have a disability that makes it difficult to get to college.
Residential training for adults with disabilities
If you're unemployed, have the potential to take up work and there's no suitable training available locally, you may be able to get on a residential training scheme. There are over 50 vocational courses on offer, and you'll get an allowance to help with your costs.
Advice on adult learning courses
Contact the Careers Service for free, impartial guidance on finding a course.
You may be able to claim benefits while you're in Further Education.
Disability Living Allowance
Disability Living Allowance could provide financial help if you need personal care or have difficulty walking because of a disability. Starting a course won't affect your entitlement.
Employment and Support Allowance
If you have a disability and you're on a low income, you may also be able to claim income-related Employment and Support Allowance while you're studying.
Incapacity Benefit is a weekly payment for people who can't work due to illness or disability. It has been replaced with Employment and Support Allowance for new claimants.
If you're currently getting Incapacity Benefit, you may be able to carry on claiming it while doing a course.
If you have a disability and you're on a low income, you may also be able to claim Income Support while you're studying.
More about claiming benefits while you're studying
nidirect has information on other benefits you may be able to claim if you're a student with disabilities on a low income - such as Housing Benefit, Rent and Rates.