This year’s Open Training College conferring ceremony took place on Saturday 21 March in Dublin City University. Thirty-two students received their parchments, of whom twenty received a National Certificate in Vocational Rehabilitation and twelve received a Certificate in First Line Management. Both courses are accredited by the National Council for Educational Awards (NCEA). This brings the total number of students who have availed of Open Training College courses to 213, representing 35 agencies nationwide. Participants who have been conferred to date have achieved outstanding results, with 86% being awarded a Merit or Distinction.
The Open Training College was founded in 1992 under the directorship of Dr Bob McCormack. The College is the only open-learning, distance education institute developing courses for staff in the disability field in Ireland. As such it is committed to offering staff working in the disability field training opportunities which are accredited, accessible and embody best practice.
The courses on offer
The first course developed to meet this aim was the National Certificate in Vocational Rehabilitation (NCVR). This is a two-year course designed for experienced instructors, trainers, supervisors and care staff in services for people with disabilities. The course offers a broad understanding of the rehabilitation process combined with the development of specific training and employment skills.
Funded by Horizon money, the College developed two additional courses between 1995 and 1997. The first of these, the Diploma in Training and Education in Supported Employment, is accredited by University College Galway and was developed in partnership with the Irish Association for Supported Employment. It is designed for employment specialists, job coaches, trainers and instructors in disability and encompasses all the elements needed to implement Supported Employment successfully. A unique feature of the course is that it offers a direct professional development ladder to a Degree in Training and Education (also from UCG).
The second course addresses the need for disability-focused management training. It is a one-year course intended for managers or deputy managers working at first line level in disability service provision. It offers the opportunity to develop the knowledge and skills needed to carry out the manager’s role effectively. While grounded in generic management and theory, the course is written from the disability perspective and addresses the unique features and aspects of managing disability services today.
A fourth course was also developed during 1997; the National Diploma in Vocational Rehabilitation is an add-on Diploma year to the National Certificate in Rehabilitation. This course is also accredited by the NCEA and offers students the opportunity to explore the unique issues affecting service delivery. An in-depth look at leading a change project is followed by an extensive examination of the empowerment process—a significant issue for everyone involved in service provision.
All our courses are delivered through the supported open-learning model, which minimises disruption to the service, allows participants to study at their own time and pace, and ensures that courses are accessible to all parts of Ireland. This is backed by significant support from the College in the form of regular telephone tutorials, feedback on assignments and practical workshops during the year. Other forms of support include supervision and study groups. The modular system allows participants to accumulate credits towards their final award at a steady, manageable pace. The College’s commitment to investing in support structures for students ensures the outstanding results mentioned above, and the flexibility offered through the modular structure ensures very low drop-out rates.
The partnership approach
The College works closely with disability agencies in ensuring the success of the course. One expression of this cooperation is the Partnership Agreement summarised in the diagram below.
Through the Partnership Agreement the agency pays a significant part of the course fee, allows the participant to attend workshops/summer schools and examination days as study leave, provides a work-based supervisor or mentor, and agrees that the participant may undertake work-based assignments as part of their regular duties.
The participant makes a commitment to pay the balance of the fees, to complete course assignments, to attend the practical skills workshops and to undertake personal study in their own time. The College provides the open-learning materials, assigns a tutor to the participant, provides workshops and site visits/supervisor’s briefings, and coordinates the assessment and certification of the courses. Experience to date has shown that the Partnership Agreement is a highly effective way of ensuring success for participants.
The assessment process
Because of the applied nature of the courses offered, there is a strong emphasis on work-based assignments as evidence of the application of the course learning to students’ own work; on some courses there are also elements of competency-based assessment, demonstrating the acquisition of key skills.
All NCEA-approved courses are in the ACCS system, which facilitates mature staff who because of personal circumstances (serious illness, maternity leave, moving house) or work circumstances (moving jobs, promotion) wish to drop out at some point during the course, to resume at a later course intake.
What the customers say
As part of a commitment to delivering quality training and meeting customer need the courses are evaluated by students on an ongoing basis. Recent comments from people involved in the evaluation process include the following.
Comments from participants:
“Major impact on service-user quality of setting”
“I am clearer about what needs to be done, the climate and how to move things along”
“Good compromise location for all parts of country. Enjoyed travelling the night before”
“This is the first skills workshop where I got to stay overnight. Very enjoyable getting to know other participants on a social level”
“Clients got a job”
“New lines of communication with client and their family established”
“Far more customer satisfaction”
“Very informative and practical”
Comments from agencies:
“Course participants were introduced to a range of management skills and techniques which clearly impacted on their work attitudes and behaviours”
“Two participants were promoted and a third is likely to be promoted within one year”
“A number of new initiatives began as a result of staff participating on this course”
“The course had a very practical orientation with projects on person-centred planning and performance appraisal being successfully completed and integrated into centre activities”
“Relevant and easily transferred to workplace”
“Practical assignments, excellent course for quality assurance”
“Good solid course (assignments) especially for services starting out in supported employment”
“Excellent course, a great deal of thought has gone into the preparation and the results are evident. The course materials are excellent, feedback to students is very helpful and course assignments are well chosen to allow students to demonstrate relevant skills. Practical work and theoretical work appear to be well integrated. Keep it up”.
In March of this year Dr Bob McCormack resigned his position as the College Director to take up the post of Director of Research and Service Development with St Michael’s House. All would like to wish him well in his new post- He retains a link to the College, having recently agreed to chair the Academic Council.