Hundreds of students write to public representatives calling for support for specialist training provider to mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

To mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities, National Learning Network students all over Ireland have written to their local public representatives urgently calling for support for the training provider.

National Learning Network, the education and training division of Rehab Group, empowers 500 people each year across communities in Ireland to achieve qualifications, develop resilience skills, progress to further and higher education and get jobs.

More than 2,600 NLN students with disabilities have transitioned to further and higher education or into employment since 2020. In addition to the individual outcomes for students, NLN services also impact society. The work of NLN has supported people to have higher earning capabilities, become tax contributors and, in many cases, reduce reliance on social protection payments.

NLN is particularly attuned to the needs of those who find traditional post-school study routes challenging, including autistic people or people who may struggle in larger class settings and bustling college environments.

Since 2020, over 1,653 NLN students have progressed in their educational journey from NLN and secured places in Colleges of Further Education and Higher Education Institutions. Many of these students found going to further education or university straight from school too big a step. Some of these students have been supported to use access routes such as Mature Students applications or through the Disability Access Route to Education to get to college. An additional 950 students with disabilities were supported by NLN to find jobs, some in renowned companies like Meta, Cook Medical, and Mr. Price and demonstrated the recognised qualifications and critical skills that so many employers need.

NLN’s personalised approach to the delivery of education and training continues to support thousands of people living with disabilities, autistic people and people with mental health conditions to overcome barriers to participation, connect with their communities, access educational opportunities, progress with their education and secure employment. However, despite this, the service has been facing funding shortfalls and has not had an increase in its core funding since 2011.

To mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPWD), which falls on Sunday, December 3rd, students and NLN staff from across the country have been writing to their local public representatives in a campaign called “Letters for Learning” to highlight the positive impact NLN has had on so many people’s lives and to ask for support to sustain this life-changing education and training service into the future.

A delegation from the National Learning Network will travel to Leinster House on Thursday, December 7th, to meet public representatives to share their letters and to seek support to secure the long-term future of the National Learning Network.

As NLN’s impact extends beyond individuals to families and communities, the urgent call is for a funding model that covers core costs and flexible funding to address some students’ severe, profound needs. NLN is seeking a multi-annual funding approach to futureproof its transformative services.

Katie Still, a Certified Behavioural Analyst and autism support specialist at NLN Castlebar, said: “NLN has been a game-changer for my students in their educational and career journeys. Without NLN, our students would not have been able to reach their educational and career goals.” 

“I see students with behavioural support needs that would not be included in other educational facilities thrive here due to our specialised support team. It is incredible seeing students learn life-changing skills with the special learning support of the team here. We want to raise awareness of the vital importance of NLN and are seeking support for it in the future. NLN is committed to empowering people to learn and succeed, and we need to make sure NLN continue doing that for future generations.”  

Lucianne Bird, Director of Learning at Rehab Group, said: “There is so much more to NLN than education. The personalised approach means that each student is empowered to develop skills and manage aspects of their life that limit their opportunities to be included in society. For some people, entering National Learning Network can be that first step into Adult Education. For other people who acquire a disability or experience the impact of a long-term health condition in later life, it can be a space to reassess skills, learn new skills, and face new challenges and plans.

National Learning Network centres are places where people can be their true, authentic selves without masking needs or wants. Diversity and difference are accepted and celebrated. Staff focus on supporting each person to realise their educational and, personal and professional ambitions. With each student, we consider what is important to the person and what is essential for the person as they prepare for life after NLN. The core philosophy at NLN is that no one should be left behind, and this commitment is evident in our daily practices. Many changes are taking place in the Further Education System, and we are concerned that National Learning Network may be left behind unless adequately funded. A fit-for-purpose funding model must be secured to continue offering this life-changing service to those who need it most.


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