A course delivered by the University of Cumbria is helping to provide a new generation of teachers with expertise in the fields of special needs and inclusion.
Shelby Mercer is a member of the BA (Hons) Primary Education with SEND and Inclusion class of 2019 to graduate this summer.
Shelby, 26, has achieved a first-class honours degree and is already working in the outstanding and award-winning special school where she has been honing her skills, Highfurlong School in her native Blackpool.
“I’ve done some of my placements and some supply at Highfurlong but now I’ve got a job there too starting in September,” said Shelby, who says she was inspired to work with children with special needs after her experience as a teaching assistant supporting a girl with Down’s Syndrome.
One of the first in her family to go to university, Shelby returned to education five years ago.
After dropping out of sixth form, Shelby worked a couple of jobs, including the role of teaching assistant and quickly making the decision that she wanted to teach.
Shelby completed an access course at Blackburn College in 2014 before finding the degree to suit her.
Shelby said: “I wanted to stay in the north west but there are not many places where you can do a course that specialises in special needs. The open day at Cumbria’s Lancaster campus was fantastic – the team, the lecturers, were fabulous and so passionate.
“The course is also highly regarded by schools in the sector. It is over four years and you cover everything in the usual three-year Primary Education course but you do additional specialist modules.
“There aren’t many courses of this type offered in the region. The next were a lot further afield. I would’ve had a commute of an hour and a half. I was prepared to do that, but I was so blown away by the team at the University of Cumbria that I couldn’t go anywhere else. The groups are small and the staff have such passion and knowledge. I can’t shout about this course enough.”
Staff supported Shelby during the third year of her course, when she had to take some time away from her studies for personal reasons.
“As these things tend to happen, this came at a time of deadlines but my tutors were so wonderful in their response,” said Shelby.
“They weren’t all about my grades, they were concerned about me and my family. My personal tutor Graham Hallett was there for me as were all the staff. I know everyone on the course would say the same of them.”
Senior lecturer Graham Hallett said: "In addition to first class honours and a grade one on final placement, Shelby also received two Salute Awards in May for UCSU Volunteer of the Year and for Representative of the Year. The awards, run by the university and the Students’ Union, recognised that Shelby has worked tirelessly throughout her time at with us, to support her colleagues, to promote diversity, and to ensure equity in all aspects of her student life. In addition, she is a lovely person!”
Ruth Harrison-Palmer, co-head of the Institute of Education at the university, said: “We’re very proud of our BA (Hons) Primary Education (5-11): Inclusion with SEND QTS programme. This programme equips new teachers with the expertise to inspire, enable and include all children and in particular children with special educational needs and/or disability to learn and make progress.
“A key feature of the programme is the opportunity for postgraduate study in the fourth year. With successful students gaining the award of Postgraduate Certificate: Inclusion with SEND as well as their BA (Hons) degree. Through this, students develop the skills to challenge, critique and debate matters pertaining to education, pedagogy and inclusion. It also enables students to stand out from other potential applicants when applying for teaching posts.”