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Thornhill College's Chemistry Competition Success
Accuracy and precision!
Accuracy and precision!
The winning Thornhill College team with their teacher Mrs Caroline Devine and Dr Michael Harriott and Dr John McCullagh (RSC).
The winning Thornhill College team with their teacher Mrs Caroline Devine and Dr Michael Harriott and Dr John McCullagh (RSC).

The girls from Thornhill College took first place, and the team from Lumen Christi College were placed third in this year’s Schools’ Analyst Competition.

This annual event, held at Stranmillis University College Belfast, is organised by the local Analytical Division of the Royal Society of Chemistry and involved 12 schools from right across Northern Ireland. The three sixth-form girls from Thornhill were judged to be the most accurate and precise in their chemical analysis of everyday household products which included lemon juice and an iron health supplement.

The competition showcases the importance of STEM subjects, particularly chemistry, to the local pharmaceutical and food industries. After the event the winning team of Jessica O’Hare, Aoibh Graham and Amy English said: ‘The RSC Schools’ Analyst Competition was a brilliant opportunity for us to work together as a team and apply our existing knowledge in a practical way to real life situations. There was a great sense of enthusiasm throughout the whole day and we thoroughly enjoyed it. We are delighted to progress to the National final in June!’

Their teacher of the winning team, Head of Thornhill's Chemistry Department Caroline Devine added, ‘I always look forward to the RSC Schools’ Analyst competition each year. It is a wonderful learning experience for my students, enabling them to carry out challenging experiments in a university setting.’

The team from Friends’ School Lisburn narrowly pipped the Lumen Christi students to second place. In addition to winning book vouchers to support the teaching of chemistry, the winners will now go on to represent the Northern Ireland region in the UK final at Sussex University on 21st and 22nd June. We wish them well!

For further details of the event please contact:

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Stran Graduates @ Newtownhamilton High
Four former Stran students at Newtownhamilton High: Chris Coils, David Sloan, Joanna Ferris and Neil Megaw
Four former Stran students at Newtownhamilton High: Chris Coils, David Sloan, Joanna Ferris and Neil Megaw

Newtownhamilton High School may only be a small post primary small with 191 pupils but four of the current 17 members of teaching staff are Stranmillis graduates: Neil Megaw, Joanna Ferris, David Sloan and Chris Coils. 

Situated in the rural setting of South Armagh, Newtownhamilton High is led by Principal Neil Megaw, who graduated as a Business Studies teacher in 1999. Neil explains the background to the school by stating: “Newtownhamilton High School serves a small isolated minority community in South Armagh.  We are very much at the heart of the local community and are involved in a very successful Shared Education programme with St. Paul’s HS Bessbrook, Newry HS and St. Joseph’s HS Crossmaglen.  All our collaborative courses and programmes are delivered in an environment of respect for cultural diversity and also provide greater subject choice for our pupils than we would be able to offer working alone.  These partnership arrangements have helped contribute to GCSE results that have been consistently high over recent years and prove that our small school can compete with the very best non-selective schools in the province”.

The 2016 GCSE statistics confirm why Newtownhamilton High has developed a province-wide reputation for academic excellence as 93% of pupils achieved 5 GCSE grades at A*- C or equivalent and 79% when the all-important GCSE English and Maths are included.  Neil explains: “Our recent GCSE performance is building on a successful partnership between pupil, parent and school”.  However, you don’t achieve excellent GCSE results without high quality teaching, and we have an excellent team of teachers – even the non Stran teachers!”

Each of the former Stran students now says something about their time at Stran and what they are doing now at Newtownhamilton:
Neil Megaw
Putting it simply, Stranmillis changed my life.  My ‘A’ Level results did not go according to plan.  In a last ditch attempt to get a place, I made a decision to drive to Belfast and speak to Mae Watson (the then Head of Admissions).  During that 15 minute conversation, I managed to convince her that I deserved the final place in the year group and I have not looked back since. 
On arrival at Stran, my main lecturers in the Business Studies department were Audrey Curry, Mae Watson and Ken Andrews.  Although they all had completely different teaching styles, they collectively had a major impact on my development as a trainee teacher over my 4 years, which included a 3 month exchange programme in Holland in 1997, before graduating in 1999.
In those days, teaching jobs were plentiful and I therefore secured a full-time permanent post in Craigavon Senior High School.  The Stran influence was to continue as I worked under a superbly organised HoD in Lisa McKeown (now Lisa McKenzie, the current Stran lecturer).
After 10 years in Craigavon, I made the move to Newtownhamilton High School as Vice Principal in 2009 before stepping into the post of Principal in November 2014.  I consider myself very fortunate to be Principal of this wonderful little school and I am thankful to the people identified above for their influence and encouragement over the years.  

Joanna Ferris
After completing my Bachelor in Education (Honours) Degree in Business Studies and Computing in 1992 at Stranmillis I started working in Fort Hill Girls’ High School.  During my time there I started teaching RSA Typing, Commerce and Business Studies.  As technology developed my subjects changed to Word Processing and then Business Communication Systems.  Great changes also took place in the school with it going coeducational and becoming an Integrated school.
In 1998 I made a move to my second school – City of Armagh High School - which was much closer to home.  I continued teaching GCSE Business Studies and Business Communication Systems but I also introduced GCSE Short Course ICT to the vocational classes.  I took advantage of a job share opportunity to care for my young family. After five years of job sharing, I felt it was time to start looking for a full-time post again and one was advertised in Newtownhamilton High School.  I started working here in September 2016, and today I am responsible for teaching GCSE Business Studies, ICT and Learning for Life and Work. 
I have also been involved with our Shared Education programme with St Paul’s High School since 2010  and am now responsible for co-ordinating our second phase of Shared Education. Being a small country school with single teacher departments is very demanding but very rewarding.  Having links with our partner schools is invaluable and vital for both staff and pupils.

David Sloan
I graduated from Stranmillis University College in 2007, having studied for a BEd (Hons) in Technology & Design with Mathematics.  My time at Stranmillis not only prepared me with a variety of skills required  for a career in education but also inspired and challenged my thinking in a number of key educational areas. The school based placements allowed me to grow in confidence as well as giving me the chance to see ‘theory put into action’.  I secured my first teaching post in Newtownhamilton High School, starting in September 2007.  In 2008 I returned on a part-time basis to Stranmillis to study a number of Master’s Level modules in School Leadership and Curriculum Development through the College’s Professional Development programme.
During the past ten years, Newtownhamilton High has allowed me to develop in a number of professional areas, not only in the classroom but in the whole life of the school.  I have recently served a term of five years as the school’s Teacher Governor and am currently responsible for the Student Council.

Chris Coils
I was fortunate enough to study at Stranmillis from 2012 to 2016. During my four years at Stran I studied for a Post-Primary BEd in Mathematics & Science and eventually graduated in the summer of 2016 with a First Class Honours Degree. Stranmillis provided me with a very thorough introduction to the world of teaching and has provided me with a solid professional base to build upon throughout my career. I found the BEd degree pathway particularly helpful as not only did it provide me with an extended subject knowledge of Mathematics and Science but it also provided me with great opportunities to explore key educational theory, current educational policy, indicate difficulties/opportunities in NI classrooms as well as giving me great preparation for life inside the classroom through extensive periods of school-based work.My time at Stranmillis was fantastic and I enjoyed every aspect. I met some of my best friends there and I was able to get involved in many other areas of college life such as working on the Students’ Union Executive Council for three years. In that time I had many great opportunities to become heavily involved in charity fundraising, student entertainment and also academic and pastoral committees that ensured I was able to be a voice for my peers. I was also very lucky to play rugby for Kings’ Scholars – it was a true privilege to be able to wear the blue and yellow jersey on a number of occasions!
Since graduating last year, I have been very lucky to have been able to teach science in Newtownhamilton High School. It is a wonderful school and a pleasure to teach in – the pupils are a delight and the staff are indeed very supportive of one another. I really could not have asked for a better school in which to begin my teaching career. In the short time I have been here, I have been given great help in completing my Induction and EPD training and have been given many opportunities to display leadership and initiative as well as being able to take the lead in various extra-curricular activities and trips.
The Stran influence at Newtownhamilton High is also having an impact on the next generation of teachers.  Current Stran students include former Newtownhamilton High pupils Leanne McNiece (Year 2) James Robinson (Year 2) and Leah McNiece (Year 3). 

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Seven Stran Students have a Rewarding Ugandan Experience

Pictured above are: Kerry McQuillan with Jackson, who is being sponsored by the SU through FOL; a first ever school trip to the Post Office; and a Bible Lesson in Truth Nursery School.
Pictured above are: Kerry McQuillan with Jackson, who is being sponsored by the SU through FOL; a first ever school trip to the Post Office; and a Bible Lesson in Truth Nursery School.

In March 2017, seven Stranmillis BEd students were invited to spend two weeks in Ugandan schools to complete their School Based Work.

The student team, accompanied by Senior Lecturer in Education Studies and International Development, Ms Barbara McDade, travelled to Uganda and then a further 215 miles north of the country's capital Kampala to the town of Lira, the fourth largest town in Uganda, with a population of just over 100,000. Today, the town once nicknamed “the jewel of the north” is struggling in the aftermath of one of Africa’s longest-running civil wars; however the town's strong sense of hope, determination and aspiration is to be admired by all.

The three BEd Post-Primary students, Jordan McKane, Emma Blair and Beth Davis, carried out their teaching practice in Dara Christian High School whilst the four Primary students, Alice Hamilton, Rebecca Crone, Leah Shaw and Kerry McQuillan, were based in the nearby Truth Primary School. Both of these schools had been previously visited by a team of academic staff in January so a strong partnership and solid links were already in place.

Throughout their time there, the students carried out their professional practice under the close support and guidance of a staff member from the host school. These individuals acted as personal mentors to ease the students' transition to working within the unfamiliar Ugandan curriculum and within a vastly different classroom setting compared to what they were used to. The placements proved to be very valuable for all the students - both academically and culturally. Working in the schools proved challenging in the development of their professional skills such as classroom management, effective questioning and active learning, whilst also enhancing their understanding of global culture and diversity.

The hospitality shown to the Stranmillis team was outstanding throughout the entire trip. The charity ‘Fields of Life’, the host schools, and even the warm and open attitudes of the community itself, made the team feel very welcome. This placement highlighted the very best of Stranmillis in how it ‘Pursues excellence, Embraces Diversity, Champions Collaboration, and Promotes Social Responsibility...'. It was so rewarding for us to be part of helping to develop the College's new partnership in Uganda with Fields of Life and we look forward to strengthening it further when the 30-strong Students’ Union team visits Uganda for two weeks in June.

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Emma Mitchell Wins Titanic 10K

Year 2 Health, Physical Activity and Sport Student and Irish International athlete Emma Mitchell has had a significant race win recently and is aiming for Commonwealth Games qualification. 

Thousands of athletes took to the roads of the famous Titanic Quarter of Belfast on Sunday 9th April for the annual TQ10k race, an event hosted by Athletics Northern Ireland and this year sponsored by Dale Farm Protein Milk.

In the ladies’ race, a late entry from Emma, who runs for QUB AC and is the current Northern Ireland & Ulster 10k Champion added to an already strong field which included AAI National Marathon and Half Marathon Champion Laura Graham from Mourne Runners.  Nothing separated these two runners until the final stages, when Emma moved clear to take the win in 34:12.  Laura narrowly missed a personal best when crossing the line in second place in 34:30. 

Emma explained that she was delighted to win, commenting: 'The only plan was win so I positioned myself in second for 9k before making a move over the last 1k'

Emma will now return to training for another three weeks before opening her track season in May where she will aim to achieve the Commonwealth Games Standard for the 5000m and 10000m. 

Emma splits her time between training for the Commonwealth Games and studying for the HPAS degree.  She said: 'I am really enjoying the degree course as it has such a wide variety of modules, which will provide a host of career opportunities'.  Within the next few weeks Emma will head out on work placement in a primary school; she hopes that working in this kind of setting will help her decide on a possible future career pathway. 

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Miriam Donnan- Award-Winning Teacher … and now Principal!

Congratulations to Stranmillis graduate Miriam Donnan who has been appointed Principal of Mitchell House School from September 2017.

After concluding secondary education at Glastry College, Miriam Donnan graduated with a BEd Honours Degree, main subject Business and Management, from Stranmillis University College in 2005. 

Her teaching career started with two temporary positions, each lasting for one year, during which time she knew her heart lay in Special Needs education.  Miriam commenced her first permanent job in Mitchell House School in Belfast in 2007 and remained there for seven years. She was promoted to the position of Acting Vice Principal at Mitchell House before taking the post of Vice Principal in Fleming Fulton School.  In 2014 Miriam completed the Professional Qualification of Head teachers PQH(NI) and has recently been appointed Principal of Mitchell House school – the place where her career began. 

Miriam was delighted to be awarded the Gold Plato for ‘Special Needs Teacher of the Year’ at the Pearson Teaching Awards in 2015.  She said ‘It was an honour to be nominated by a pupil and her mum for this UK award, although when the judging panel came to school to make their assessments, it was quite nerve racking!’

In January 2017 Miriam was awarded the BlackBoard Award in Stormont Buildings. Each year these awards recognise principals, teachers and classroom assistants across Belfast.

In a recent interview Miriam said: ‘I thoroughly enjoy my job, including the challenges! I also enjoy being creative for each pupil to enable them to overcome physical/emotional challenges and am dedicated and committed to helping children learn and fulfill their ambitions.  My goal is to make a difference in every child's life.’ Best wishes Miriam!

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President Gillian Beck!

Congratulations to Gillian Beck, Senior Lecturer, who has been elected President of the Northern Ireland branch of NASEN, the National Association for Special Educational Needs, for the next two years. 

A former primary school teacher and SENCO, Gillian brings a wealth of experience and expertise to her role as President.  Gillian currently lectures at Stranmillis on a wide range of SEN and literacy modules and has a particular interest in autism and sensory processing difficulties.

On Saturday 1st April NASEN held its annual Study Day at Stranmillis around the theme of “Building Effective Class Teams”.  The engaging opening keynote address was given this year by another Stranmillis member of staff, Mrs Lois Totton.  Almost 80 delegates from all over Northern Ireland enjoyed a busy morning of workshops and panel discussions involving experienced teachers, SENCOs, classroom assistants and representatives from the ETI and EA.

Further information about NASEN can be found on their website .

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‘WorldHost’ Training
Course delegates with Christine Watson, MCIM Chartered Marketer at Watson & Co Chartered Marketing
Course delegates with Christine Watson, MCIM Chartered Marketer at Watson & Co Chartered Marketing

On the 5th and 6th April 2017 seven members of the Hospitality Services Team, two members of the Security Team and one of our librarians signed up to attend the WorldHost Training Programme, held at Stranmillis University College.

WorldHost is a nationally recognised badge of excellence for customer service. The programme was developed for the Northern Ireland market by Tourism NI and the tourism and hospitality sector skills council ‘People1st’. It offers delegates a comprehensive training toolkit that can be used where the quality of front-line customer service is key to business success.

During the course the Stranmillis delegates learned invaluable skills and techniques that form the fundamentals of service professionalism. It is an accredited course giving confidence to staff to deliver a consistent standard of service at all service points and at all varieties of events. All staff who attended completed the course and were awarded the certificate. As over 75% staff in Hospitality Services have been trained, the Chatz and Betty’s Coffee Shop display the world-recognised ‘WorldHost’ sign.

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Contemporary Childhood Book Launch

Stranmillis lecturer Jill Dunn is delighted to announce the launch of a new book ‘Contemporary Childhood’, published by Sage, which she co-authored with Sean MacBlain and Ian Luke.

'Contemporary Childhood' takes a fresh look at the growing complexities now facing children in the 21st Century, with an international and comparative approach to the topic of global childhood.
The book is comprised of three sections: the Child, the Family and Modern and Emerging Childhoods.  It addresses issues such as: children’s security and the impact of poverty, austerity and conflict; children’s happiness, mental health and well-being; the changing nature of families; professionalism and professional identity; and the ‘digital child’, amongst other contemporary issues.  Early Childhood is a fast-paced and ever-changing field and the purpose of this book is to provide students with an understanding of what it means to be a child growing up in today’s society.

The authors each brought their own interests and research specialisms to the book.  Sean MacBlain is a Reader in Child Development and Disability at the University of St Mark and St John, Plymouth, and a former Senior Lecturer at Stranmillis University College; Jill Dunn is a Senior Lecturer at Stranmillis and Ian Luke is Dean of Faculty: Education and Social Sciences at the University of St Mark and St John, Plymouth.  All of the authors valued the opportunities to collaborate on the book and share experiences, research and professional perspectives on a wide range of issues.

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College Staff Strengthen Links with Uganda

Dr Sharon Jones, Ms Barbara McDade and Dr John McMullen travelled to Uganda in January on behalf of the College to continue the development of a collaborative partnership with Fields of Life ( and their partner schools in Uganda.

The College’s International Strategy aims to build research and scholarship partnerships and strengthen international networks. In fact Stranmillis has historical links to Uganda; in the late 1960s and early 1970s several cohorts of teachers from Uganda came to Belfast to study on a special two-year course so that they could lead teacher training in Uganda. The photo on the rightwas taken at the Halls of Residence in 1969. Through the new links being forged we hope to ‘reopen old wells’.

John McMullen is a Director of the Fields of Life (FOL) charity and chairs their Education Committee. This year he attended the FOL Conference 2017 at Uganda Christian University in Mukono near Kampala, alongside colleague Sharon Jones and approximately 200 Directors and Head Teachers from Fields of Life supported schools across Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.

John gave a presentation to conference delegates to introduce FOL’s potential partnership with Stranmillis University College. He outlined the College’s core values and mission, as well as highlighting the teaching and learning programmes it offers. John followed this presentation with an update on the Living Well mental health/life skills project that he has been implementing in Ugandan schools since 2014. Sharon then gave a presentation on Gift and Talent development, relating this to the conference theme, ‘Building Bridges to Excellence’ and the wider focus of teacher development. The presentation considered the concept of inclusive education, Dr Carol Dweck’s Fixed and Growth Mindsets, the role of challenge in high quality teaching and learning, and the development of thinking skills through effective questioning. 

Following the conference, Sharon and John had an interesting and productive meeting with Dean Joyce Ayikoru Asiimwe, Dean of the Faculty of Education at Kyambogo University. Kyambogo University is currently the largest Initial Teacher Education provider in Uganda and holds the government mandate to develop curriculum, assess private teacher training institutions and validate awards for Early Years and Primary education. Kyambogo also offers courses in Early Childhood Development up to doctoral level.

Other business included a meeting at the the British Council office in Kampala with Millicent Mugabi, and Mabel Kebirungi, Programme Managers. Both are involved in liaising with Higher Education partners and with the ‘Connecting Classrooms’ initiative, which Stranmillis has recently facilitated.

Finally, Barbara and John travelled 7 hours by road to the town of Lira to visit Dara Christian High School and Truth Primary School. These schools will host a staff and student delegation from Stranmillis at the end of March.
Lira, now peaceful, continues to recover from one of Africa’s longest-running civil wars. The near 20-year conflict ended in 2006 but the psychological scars of war remain alongside poverty and other daily stressors. However, there is much hope and joy to be found here and the enthusiasm and commitment to education there is an example to all.
We are excited about the potentially life-changing experiences that await the College team that travel in March as well as the 30-strong Students’ Union team that will go for two weeks in June. Hopefully these are just the start of many ventures to come.






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Primary Languages Report Launch

The Review of Current Primary Languages in Northern Ireland report, commissioned by the Northern Irish Languages Council (NILC), was launched at a special event at Stranmillis University College on Wednesday 15th March 2017.

Research led by Stranmillis lecturer Dr Sharon Jones has found that Northern Ireland’s children are being disadvantaged in the global economy because of a lack of curricular planning and recent cuts to the provision of additional language learning in Primary Schools.

The Primary Modern Language Programme was established in 2007 by the former Department of Education to support primary schools wishing to introduce a modern language. The programme was scrapped in March 2015 as a result of budget cuts. Against this backdrop the report’s authors were commissioned to map out and evaluate the current provision of additional language learning across Northern Ireland’s Primary Schools, and make recommendations for future development. To equip the Northern Ireland workforce with the linguistic skills and abilities to compete within a culturally diverse, digitally connected global economy, the report recommends that additional language learning should be a requirement built in to the Northern Ireland Primary Curriculum.

Among the key recommendations of the report are that:

• Additional language learning should be included as a statutory part of the Northern Ireland Curriculum to provide pupils in all primary schools with the opportunity to learn languages, ensuring equity of provision to all primary age children

• Curricular and cross-curricular guidance on levels of progression and other developmental criteria should be provided to teachers and schools.

• Age-appropriate resources, including e-resources, to support additional language teaching in primary schools should be developed

• A funded specialist qualification in Primary Education with modern languages in Initial Teacher Education should be introduced, along with funded support for modern languages in Continuing Professional Development programmes

• Further research into possible models of collaboration between schools at primary level and between primary and post-primary schools is undertaken to ensure progression in learning and to promote a positive transition between Key Stages 2 and 3

• There should be more effective area-based planning to ensure better linkage between the languages offered in primary and post-primary schools.

"Our study found that children in Northern Ireland enjoy learning languages; at primary school they are curious, confident and successful,” the report's lead author Dr Sharon Jones remarked. “Learning a new language and exploring new cultures broadens horizons and develops vital literacy and communication skills. If we want to grow a globally competitive, prosperous and peaceful Northern Ireland we should invest in giving all of the children in all of our primary schools this important opportunity".

The Review of Current Primary Languages in Northern Ireland report, commissioned by the Northern Irish Languages Council (NILC) will be launched at a special event at Stranmillis University College on Wednesday 15th March 2017.

To read a copy of the report, go to:,748093,en.pdf 


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PGCE Students Get Hands-On at the Ulster Museum

PGCE students and College tutors Dr Anita Gracie and Dr Richard Greenwood visited the Ulster Museum to find out about how the museum caters for visiting Early Years and Primary school groups. One of the students, Claire Durnin, reports:

‘Upon arrival we were greeted by Colleen Watters, Head of Learning and Partnership at the museum, who told us about the many things on offer for families, children and schools. We were made aware of the different ‘Discovery Centres’ available, which we then got to explore. We were told by the members of staff at each of the centres that visits can be tailored to suit the needs of all children.

In ‘Discover History’ we looked at many different world cultures, archaeology and changes over time throughout history such as the different homes, Ancient Egypt, how to dress like a Victorian and a rich collection of artefacts such as ancient bones.

Within ‘Discover Nature’ we came face to face with dinosaurs and were thrilled at the many wonders of nature. We enjoyed examining the fine detail of the exotic animals and mini-beasts such as beetles, butterflies and spiders, as well as seeing an elephant’s foot and a real dinosaur’s egg. We were introduced to ‘Stuffee’, a larger-than-life stuffed character who could be unzipped to reveal his internal organs!

After that, we were given the flexibility to explore and enjoy everything that the Ulster Museum offers, such as Natural Sciences, the Elements, Art zones and beautiful pendants. Not only did the PGCE Students enjoy the visit but we have also learnt new ideas and gained new transferable skills that can be used to introduce World Around Us topics to children in a practical, fun and hands-on approach.

The PGCE class would like to thank the College tutors for organising the visit, and all the staff at the Ulster Museum for sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm with us.’

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Matthew’s Hockey Success
(photo: Billy Pollock)
(photo: Billy Pollock)

Year 1 Health, Physical Activity and Sport student Matthew Nelson is on top of the world! Matthew has recently been selected for the Ireland Men's hockey squad to take part in the World League 2 Series being held at Stormont, Belfast in March 2017. Following their success in the Rio Olympic Games last summer, Ireland men's hockey are now ranked 10th in the world.

Matthew's achievement is even more significant as the first five years of secondary education were at Fort Hill College where he developed core sporting skills playing football and rugby, not hockey. His initial hockey development was through the youth section of Lisnagarvey Hockey Club and it was only when he transferred to Wallace High School for Sixth Form that he had the opportunity to play schools hockey and helped the 1st XI lift the Ulster Schools Burney Cup in 2015. Matthew also represented Ulster and Ireland at U18 level. As a result he quickly established himself as a regular member of Lisnagarvey 1st XI hockey club, winning the Irish Hockey League and Champions Trophy in 2016. Over the Easter holidays he will travel with Lisnagarvey to represent Ireland in the European Hockey League KO 16 event.

Being able to combine his passion for sport with a blend of practical and academic elements meant that the Health, Physical Activity and Sport course at Stranmillis was the natural course choice for Matthew.

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Mountain Biker Shannon Dreams of Tokyo 2020

Shannon Buller, Year 1 Health, Physical Activity and Sport student, has accomplished many things in her cycling career to date but hope that her Olympic dreams might become a reality.

Shannon, from Banbridge, began racing mountain bikes at the age of seven. Since then she has trekked up and down the UK and Ireland racing on the weekends for her club Banbridge Cycling Club, collecting multiple Irish National Points Series league and Championships titles along the way. In 2012 she made her first appearance representing Ulster at the UK School Games in London on the Olympic velodrome. In 2012 and 2013 she competed in the Interregional Mountain Bike Championships in Essex on the Olympic Mountain Bike course and 2013 saw her take her best result from this competition - 4th in the three –day ‘dirt crit’ event and 12th out of 68 overall.

Her best opportunity to date was also in 2013 when she got the call up to represent Ireland at the European Youth MTB XC Championships in Austria along with club mates James Curry and her brother, John Buller. This was one of her best experiences, but also the toughest with climbing in races reaching the height of Slieve Donard and temperatures of 30C.

After taking a year out from racing to concentrate on A Levels, Shannon now turns her thoughts to every athlete’s dream, the Olympics. Awaiting results from trials completed a couple of weeks ago, she hopes to get selection onto the Irish High performance team for track racing with hopes and dreams of Tokyo 2020.

But for now she is studying at Stranmillis, working towards her HPAS degree; she is enjoying the course and looking forward to what the future has in store.



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The Who, What, Where, When and Why of Risk Management…

Year 2 full-time Early Childhood Studies students, along with lecturers Catriona Rogers and Jill Magennis, took part in a visit to W5 Belfast as part of their ‘Management, Leadership and Professionalism’ module. The focus of the visit was ‘risk assessment’. ECS student Bex Atkinson reports:

‘Upon arrival at W5 we were greeted by an enthusiastic staff member, who delivered a brief safety talk and a timetable for the day. To start, we were given free time to explore W5 at their leisure. With over 250 interactive exhibits spread across 4 zones, there was a great deal to see and do.

We were asked to visit the various zones and exhibits, to note any risks we could observe and to consider what steps wecould take to minimise these. We were also asked to think about how bringing a group of young children would need to be organised and planned in advance so as to minimise risk to both staff and children.

Then Elaine Steele, one of W5’s Education Officers, discussed with us the risk assessment procedure at W5 as well as allowing time for feedback and questions. It was clear that running a venue like W5, or indeed planning a visit there, takes a lot of careful thought and consideration and it was impressive to see just how much attention to detail W5 have put into their venue and exhibits, with even the smallest of risks identified and managed.

The visit was a hit with the whole class, and many of us felt that we had not only enjoyed ourselves but had left with transferable ideas and learnt more about risk assessment in a practical hands on way, perfect for the kinaesthetic learners in the class! It also gave us all food for thought regarding our upcoming Year 3 placements, with many in the class saying they would now consider a venue such as W5 as an option for an alternative placement.

A huge thank you to W5 and to Catriona and Jill for organising the visit’.

Jill Magennis commented: ‘This visit to W5 was planned to help students explore the range of issues to consider when managing risk for young children. W5, with its extensive array of interactive activities, is ideally placed to deliver this training, and this proved to be an invaluable learning opportunity both to explore and to reflect. Thank you to W5 for a fun-filled trip!’

Catriona Rogers added: ‘We very much value the partnership made with W5 to enhance the Management, Leadership and Professionalism module. We look forward to further collaboration in the future.’

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Open Day 2017

Stranmillis University College Open Day took place on Wednesday 8th February 2017 and attracted over 700 pupils as well as teachers, parents and careers officers.

The sixth formers had the opportunity to hear talks on each of the undergraduate programmes on offer including Teacher Education, Health, Physical Activity and Sport and Early Childhood Studies. They also explored the campus and the many interactive displays showcasing partnership work and the achievements of our current students in multiple fields, and they met with staff who took time to speak to them about particular aspects of each course.

Visitors could also hear about the broader student experience such as international study opportunities and Degree Enhancement, the co-curriculum that students take alongside their degree programme to enhance their own skills, knowledge and experience. The Student Support and Wellbeing Centre and the Students Union, located in the newly re-opened Stranmillis House, also welcomed students to hear about the full range of support and advice available to those choosing to study at Stranmillis.  Fine weather meant that students could better appreciate the beauty of the 18 hectares of well-maintained grounds and visit halls accommodation and the Refectory Building to get a taste of living on campus.

The day was enjoyed by all who came and for many students, confirmed their decision to apply to become a Stranmillis student.

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Careers Fair 2017

On Wednesday 8th February 2017, Stranmillis University College hosted the annual Careers Fair in the College Hall; this was a part of the wider Open Day event in the College. 

The Careers Fair attracted 54 graduate recruiters, from a wide range of sectors and locations, all keen to promote employment opportunities to our students.  The exhibitors were offering employment in a range of areas including education, early years and health and physical activity.  In addition opportunities for employment were being offered locally, nationally and internationally.  For teacher education students there were many opportunities available with excellent salaries and relocation packages. Fife, Aberdeen (looking for 100 teachers), Greater London, Manchester, and also further afield, Dubai, Singapore, Thailand and Brazil. From nursery right through to post-primary.  Other interesting options were promoted to Health, Physical Activity and Sport students and the Early Childhood Studies students.  Many of the organisations present expressed a strong interest in building partnerships with the College, with a number offering to host placements, fly students over for interviews, and provide accommodation.

It is clear from conversations over the course of the day that the employers value the potential and the capabilities of the Stranmillis graduate.  Many of the recruiters spoke in very positive terms about the engaging, able and articulate young people they had spoken with at the Fair, typified by “thank you so much for having us at your Career Fair yesterday. It was so well organised and attended and the packed lunch was a lovely touch! The students we spoke to were a credit to you all at Stranmillis. They were confident and open and inquisitive”. 

Some other comments from organisations:

Thank you for hosting the careers fair yesterday and a prime spot at the entrance to the hall.  We had some good discussions with your students which will hopefully lead to applications being submitted for the posts, and an enhanced awareness of the student placement opportunity for 2018”.

Thank you for inviting us to the career fair today. It has been a real pleasure to meet the students and other exhibitors today and we hope to be in touch with some potential teachers in the near future. Please keep in touch with us about any similar events in the future”.

From the student perspective:

Just thought you might like to know I've been offered a permanent job in London as a result of the careers fair yesterday! Going to make my decision tomorrow!”

In addition students were provided with additional opportunities to engage in appropriate and relevant volunteering activities, these being a way of further enhancing their personal portfolios as they prepare to enter the graduate employment market.

The underlying message to our students from exhibitors at the Careers Fair was very clear and powerful: high quality and well-paid employment is available beyond graduation. 

Once again we would want to express our thanks to the various representatives from each of the organisations present who gave so willingly of their time and expertise to make the Careers Fair a very successful event.    

We would want to acknowledge the hard work and effort of Ciara and Rosie in organising and managing the Careers Fair and in making it a very successful event.

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Celebrations at the 20th Charney Manor Primary Geography Conference

College lecturer Dr Richard Greenwood (Primary Education) attended the twentieth annual primary geography conference, held at Charney Manor in darkest Oxfordshire!

The conference is attended on average each year by around 30-35 teacher educators, consultants, principals and teachers from the UK and Ireland. This year, as it was a special anniversary conference and also saw the retirement from organising the conference by Professor Simon Catling, the attendance was a record 45 people and included colleagues from Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, Canada and India.

To mark the occasion (as well as the consumption of a specially iced cake!), Simon had asked each of the conference attendees to submit a paper, all of which would be published in a book of conference ‘precedings’. The final publication, launched at the conference, is a handsome 228 page A4 book entitled ‘Reflections on Primary Geography’, with 49 papers from the conference participants as well as from some others who could not attend. The topics range from papers on geography in primary schools to teaching and learning primary geography to primary geography in teacher education. Richard’s contribution was on teaching primary student teachers to avoid stereotype and prejudice when working with their classes on projects concerning developing countries.

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Foundation Degree Articulation Event

On Monday 20th February Stranmillis University College hosted a one-day event to provide advice, information and a point of contact for students hoping to articulate from the Foundation Degree in Early Childhood Studies into the BA Hons Early Childhood Studies at Stranmillis.  The event was organised by Paula Carlin (Direct Entry Support Tutor for the ECS Foundation Degree) and Careers Officer Ciara Love.

Six Regional Colleges across Northern Ireland offer a Foundation Degree in Early Childhood Studies.  Every year significant numbers of students articulate directly into Level 2 of the full-time and part time BA (Hons) in Early Childhood Studies completing their Foundation Degree studies to degree level. The event was well attended with 25 Foundation Degree students from across Northern Ireland.

The event included an ‘articulation’ information session, a careers talk, bursary advice and a Students’ Union tour of the College campus. The students also had the opportunity to meet current BA students over a sandwich lunch in Chatz, supported by Widening Participation. This opportunity afforded students the chance to hear first-hand about the university from the student perspective.

The event was planned to provide information to students and to help guide Foundation Degree students about their career and study options. The feedback from the students was very positive, suggesting that the event met its aims. Paula would like to thank all staff and students who were involved in making the event such an overwhelming success.

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ECS Make Magic with 'Nuudles'

The Year 1 Early Childhood Studies Child Development module has focused on Language and Thought.  With this thought in mind it was decided that it was a good time to be creative and develop a play session with magic ‘nuudles’.

Nuudles are colourful pieces of corn starch which just needed dampened to stick together, so the students got to work creating many interesting artefacts!

The purpose of the magic nuudle session was that it generated talk: conversations that involved meaningful descriptions and understandings.  Exchanges and listening skills were being enhanced as the various creations came to life!  As each child learns, they can use the assistance of others to enable them to organise their thought processes, and then create something on their own …. and that same process happened for the ECS students.  Thoughts on what was to be created developed through actively manipulating the nuudles. Tones of voice, inflections, intonations, grammar and the vocabulary of language were all purposeful, development of ‘language and thought’ certainly was an essential element of this activity.

The module’s co-ordinator, Dr Brenda McKay-Redmond, said: “This was an opportunity for collaborative and individual craft play time when students could demonstrate their use of appropriate words and conversations.  This activity can then be easily replicated on placement as the students confidently expose young children to words linked to the play activity. Encouraging and influencing language skills through craft play is a crucial part of an ECS student’s professional role”.

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Stepping into Diversity in the Classroom

Year 3 full-time and Year 4 part-time Early Childhood Studies students currently taking the optional module ‘Advanced Understanding of Diversity and Inclusion’, alongside their module coordinator Jill Magennis, enjoyed an informative and thought provoking seminar led by Yvonne Naylor on Monday 20th February. Year 4 part-time ECS student Sorcha Haider reports:

‘Yvonne spent four years as the schools worker at the Corrymeela Community and has gained a wealth of experience through her work as a teacher, youth worker and during the time she spent at the Irish School of Ecumenics at Trinity College, Dublin.

Yvonne shared her experience and knowledge of working with young people in the area of community relations as a consultant and facilitator to deliver creative approaches in the areas of PDMU and RE which can be used within early years settings. During circle time, students were prompted with discussions surrounding concepts such as majority and minority, similarity and difference and their  perceptions of aspects of life in Northern Ireland.

In an informal and discussion based afternoon, students were encouraged to offer their viewpoints and the reasons behind them, while learning simple games and activities that could be easily adapted and used with young children in order to recognise and respect difference in their own communities and the wider world. The group developed their level of awareness and understanding, and they could see how useful this was, especially in light of the forthcoming Children and Young People’s Strategy on the need to support and prepare children and young people for a diverse and shared society. Energy levels were supported by moving around the seminar room in order to discuss associations or stories that were prompted by a collection of cultural and religious artefacts.

Yvonne also introduced students to her amazing collection of handmade knitted puppets which represented the numerous faiths and traditions of people living in Northern Ireland. Those creative enough to make their own puppets were provided with the patterns to take home and attempt!

Sincere thanks to Jill Magennis for organising the visit and to Yvonne for giving her time and sharing her experience to enhance all our thinking on this topical and crucial element within early years practice.’

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Students ‘Wing it’ at Bombardier

The Year 2 BEd Technology and Design students led by T&D technician Mark Fullerton had the unique opportunity to visit Bombardier, based in Belfast Harbour Estate, as part of their ‘Advanced Manufacturing’ module. 

The students’ experience started at the company’s Tool Engineering and Manufacturing Unit, where a presentational overview was given of Bombardier’s extensive product range, operational activity and the significance of the Belfast site for the global leader.  The presentation also covered the importance of engineering and tooling within the organisation, as well as the significant shift in design and manufacturing philosophy which had taken place, including the change from the traditional understanding of hard tooling to soft tools and rapid proto-typing. 

The students were then shown two distinctly different styles of advanced manufacturing, firstly in Bombardier’s Tool Engineering and Manufacturing department and then in its Wing Manufacturing and Assembly facility . The main purpose of the students’ visit was to enable them to see first-hand how a specific design philosophy infiltrates all areas of the advanced manufacturing process, helping to illustrate some of the taught theory. 

Within Tool Engineering and Manufacturing, the students saw how jigs and fixtures are created using a computer-generated model of a newly designed aircraft part.  They were taken through all the major design processes: initial concept drawing, detailed analysis, planning, programming, and rapid proto-typing.  The students were then taken through the manufacturing workshops where they were shown some manufacturing processes, including five-axis CNC machining, laser-guided inspection and final-testing, which all contribute to the production of the finished tools.  

After lunch, the students were given a unique insight to the cutting-edge manufacturing processes involved in creating a new advanced composite aircraft wing.  The guide explained how each individual layer is laser-guided into place, how the massive lay-up tools are moved around the factory semi-automatically and the importance of cleanliness within this environment.  He also explained the precision needed in every aspect of production, from controlling the temperature and humidity of the air to the giant machines used to accurately position stringers and supporting beams within the wing.  Finally, we witnessed some sub-assembly, final assembly and packaging of wing pairs, ready to be shipped to Montreal, where they are fitted to brand new Bombardier aircraft.  

Sincere thanks go to Bombardier, especially Adrian Legg, our sponsor, and Richard Lemon, our guide, who took time out of their busy schedules to accommodate the trip.


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College Launch of ‘Ulster Placenames’ Book

The 15th February marked a ‘first’ for our Lifelong Learning Department when historical geographer and popular tutor Dr Des O’Reilly launched his new book on Ulster Placenames.

At the well-attended event, Des explored the diverse origins of local placenames. Some, like Armagh (from Ard Mhaca- ‘the Hill of Queen Macha’) or Carnalea ‘the Mound of the Calf) had a mythological background, commemorating one the one hand a Celtic goddess and, on the other, the magical calf in Irish folklore. Several local names recall birds of prey such as ‘Drumiller, near Dromore which means ‘the Hill of the Eagle’.

Other names, Des explained, reflect battles long ago such as Carnalbanagh (‘The Grave of the Scotsmen’) near Ballymena or Port-na-spanniagh (the ‘Harbour of the Spaniards’) where the Spanish Armada came to grief near the Giant’s Causeway.

Des focussed on Belfast placenames such as ‘Stranmillis’ (the ‘Sweet Stream’) and Derryvolgie (‘the belly of the woods), a reference to the once dense forest in south Belfast.

Dr Éamon Phoenix, Head of Lifelong Learning, then formally launched Dr O’Reilly’s new book, An Illustrated Guide to the Placenames of Ulster, now available at Waterstones Bookshop. It was a busy afternoon for Des who had to rush off for a live BBC interview!

This event concludes our free Winter Spring Talks series. A fresh series of FREE off-campus Spring Walking Tours begins in May. Please check our Lifelong Learning web-site for details.



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Marty’s Success with the Round Ball and the Oval Ball!

Marty representing Collingwood in the AFL and County Down in GAA
Marty representing Collingwood in the AFL and County Down in GAA

Year 2 Health, Physical Activity and Sport student Marty Clarke has tasted success in Gaelic football in Ireland and in Australian Rules football in Melbourne:

Marty Clarke came to prominence in GAA circles during the McRory Cup campaigns of 2005/06. As captain he led his relatively small school, St. Louis Grammar, Kilkeel, to back to back finals. Unfortunately on both occasions the team was to miss out on the Ulster Colleges’ most prestigious GAA silverware. In September 2005, Marty was awarded man of the match on the biggest GAA day of the calendar, as his County Down team claimed an All-Ireland Minor title at Croke Park in Dublin. 

After completing his A-Levels in June 2006 Marty was selected to go on trial with ‘Aussie Rules’ Football League giant Collingwood FC, based in Melbourne. He signed his first professional deal in late 2006 and represented 'The Magpies' on 73 occasions across seven seasons. Regularly playing in front of crowds in excess of 70,000 people, Marty was a fans’ favourite and is regarded as one of the most successful Irish converts to the Australian code. Marty spent many pre-season training camps at high altitude, including four separate three week stints in Flagstaff, Arizona. He was one of ten team mates to climb down and out of The Grand Canyon on consecutive days, breaking the five hour mark on both occasions.

After returning home to settle in September 2014, Marty applied for entry to the BSc degree (HPAS) at Stranmillis and started the degree the following September. Now in Year 2, he is very content to be back in Northern Ireland. The welcoming nature of Stranmillis staff and students and the interesting mix of theory and practical elements in the degree have helped Marty come to terms with the lack of sunshine we experience here in Belfast compared to Melbourne!


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Stranmillis Formal 2017

On Thursday 9th February, the Students’ Union hosted the biggest event of the second semester: the Stranmillis Formal!

A record-breaking number of 268 people filled to capacity the Wellington Park Hotel on a brisk winter’s evening. The event began with a champagne reception at 7pm followed by a gourmet three- course meal at 8pm.
The formal awards followed shortly after, leaving many in stitches! This set the tone for the speeches that followed, where the Students’ Union President thanked the current student executive team for all their hard work and effort. The Incoming Students’ Union President, John Carville, was then officially welcomed alongside his Executive team for 2017-18.

After the sit-down meal, the awards and speeches, everyone made great use of the photo booth and candy cart, whilst enjoying a few hours to take some time to enjoy each other’s company and admire how everyone looked the part!

The evening entertainment concluded with everyone heading across to the Botanic Inn to dance the night away…

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Strictly Come Dancing with Robots …. and Drones

In February 2017, Primary 7 classes from six primary schools in Belfast and Bangor participated in two two-day events, entitled ‘Strictly Come Dancing with Robots and Drones’, hosted by Stranmillis and St. Mary’s University Colleges.

Over one hundred and sixty P7 pupils completed a series of STEAM-focused challenges using robots and drones, concluding with open-ended problem-solving challenges to program the robots to dance (complete with music and ‘costume’), and to program the drones for aerial acrobatics (STEAM is the STEM subjects with elements of Art).

These two-day events followed research conducted last year as a joint venture between Stranmillis and St Mary’s. The aim of the research was to ascertain if engaging in ‘hands-on’ practical activities could assist pupils to understand better some elements of mathematics, such as measurement and time. The research team is also keen to establish if the practical approach, which also involves creative activity, will better engage certain types of learner who might be ‘turned off’ by theoretical activity. While the two days were a fun experience for the pupils, a research element was included to focus upon particular measurements of the educational impact of STEAM experiences. Three research instruments were used:

a) two TIMSS-based tests, one taken just before the two-day event, and the second taken just after the two-day event;
b) a second P7 class that was not attending the two-day event similarly took the two TIMSS-based tests, to provide a direct comparison of the effect of the two-day event;
c) a learning preference survey was administered during the two-day event.

The research team was supported by over twenty undergraduate student teachers from each university college. The project provided an invaluable opportunity for the student teachers to work alongside their tutors as professional colleagues and collaborators. Within this insightful perspective, the students were additionally able to develop, extend and hone their teaching techniques within a learning environment that would rarely be otherwise accessible during their undergraduate education.

The research team secured funding to cover transport costs and provide hospitality over the two days.

The researchers are now focused upon completing analysis of the gathered data, and then consideration of longer term application of the project, perhaps by integration of the planning and delivery within the degree pathway for B.Ed. Technology & Design, and offering participating schools the opportunity to learn and integrate new technologies within their classroom practice.

The events were opened by Dr. Anne Heaslett, Principal of Stranmillis University College, and Professor Peter Finn, Principal of St. Mary’s University College, both of whom also presented certificates upon completion to each of the participating schools: Loughview Integrated School; St. Kevin’s Primary School; Bunscoil Phobal Feirste; Rathmore Primary School; St. Peter’s Primary School; and Seaview Primary School. The events were also supported by the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) and the research team was led by Dr. Michael Ievers of Stranmillis University College and Dr. Kieran McGeown of St. Mary’s University College.

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Queen’s Sport ‘Active Travel’ Project
Alice Christie - Year 1 HPAS student, Zara Burnison from Active Belfast, Chloe McIlwaine, Paul Loughran Vice President from Queen’s SU.
Alice Christie - Year 1 HPAS student, Zara Burnison from Active Belfast, Chloe McIlwaine, Paul Loughran Vice President from Queen’s SU.

Chloe McIlwaine is a Year 3 HPAS student and is the Active Travel Co-ordinator for students at Queen’s and Stranmillis. She writes about ways in which students are being encouraged to be more active:

‘Last week Queen’s Sport launched their new project Active Travel, which is aiming to increase the number of students undertaking active journeys in and around the Queen’s University campus and the greater Belfast area. The project will be implementing lots of different initiatives to engage as many students as possible, particularly female students between the ages of 18-21.

Various practical events and taster sessions will take place throughout the programme, from ‘Couch 2 5Ks’ to nutrition workshops. We are looking for student volunteers to also assist with the delivery of these information and nutrition sessions. Practical sessions such as ‘Kicksister’ will be run in the Students’ Union, in order to increase physical activity opportunities for those who are typically inactive. This class also helps to promote self-defence as it is a women’s only taekwondo class.

A ‘Leadership in Running Fitness’ course was held in the PEC on Saturday 11th February. From this, our student volunteers will also be helping to lead the Couch 2 5K sessions, encouraging participants while also ensuring safety. A nutrition workshop is being held in the PEC on Wednesday 8th March with limited spaces, helping to provide recipes and affordable healthy eating options for students. If you are interested, please see the contact details below.

Following a student survey which occurred in December 2016, we are working alongside Belfast Bikes as well as Sustrans to promote the use of bikes and bicycle safety. A cycling safety training course will also be run in the PEC, free to students, to help them feel more confident and safer on the roads when they are cycling.

By increasing awareness of opportunities for and benefits of physical activity, healthy eating and cooking, we want Stranmillis and Queen’s students to be living a healthier and more active lifestyle.’ 

To learn more about the project, please contact Chloe McIlwaine at

Also see #QueensGirlsCan  #OnYerBike @qubactivetravel

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Helen's New Start in China

Recent graduate Helen Moutray describes her time so far teaching English in central China.

‘My name is Helen Moutray. I graduated in July 2015 with a BEd degree, main subject Religious Studies. Having lived in Belfast for more than 20 years, I found it hard to imagine that I would be living and lecturing in China one day. Having never ventured further than the south of Europe, the thought of embarking on a 16-hour journey seemed very overwhelming and I had a lot of doubts in my mind.

In September 2016, I decided to go to China with my fiancé, whom I met when he was a student at Queen’s studying accountancy and finance. I was able to commence training and then employment as a TEFL teacher. Wuhan College is situated in Wuhan, the largest city in central China. On my arrival, I was warmly welcomed by my colleagues and the students that I would be teaching. Despite my fears and feeling homesick, the positivity and consideration of both the staff and pupils has enabled me to remain strong.

I currently teach eight English classes per week as well as being an organiser for ‘English Corner’ which meets on a Wednesday evening. I am responsible for teaching both listening and speaking skills as well as being a careers advisor to facilitate the development of the students’ interview and writing abilities. The classes range in size from 40 down to smaller seminar groups.

In my spare time, I enjoy learning Mandarin as well as visiting my fiance’s Chinese family in Changsha, Hunan Province. I’m getting used to the food! I enjoy most of it apart from the very spicy dishes! During my time off I have been able to visit some of the many landmarks China has to offer; so far I have visited Yellow Crane Tower (Huáng hè lóu), East Lake (Dōng Hú) and Orange Island (Juzizhou). Next semester I hope to travel to Beijing and visit the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall and Lintong District, home of the magnificent terracotta army.

I would encourage all students to broaden their horizons, to embrace other cultures and to experience the beauty and wonders this world has to offer.’

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Talk Probes Irish Language in Northern Ireland

Dr Ian Malcolm, Lifelong Learning Irish tutor, Linda Ervine and Dr Eamon Phoenix
Dr Ian Malcolm, Lifelong Learning Irish tutor, Linda Ervine and Dr Eamon Phoenix

The third guest speaker in the series of Lunchtime Talks hosted by the College's Lifelong Learning Department was Mrs Linda Ervine. Linda, who is the Irish Language Development Officer for the East Belfast Mission (her own church congregation), spoke of her pioneering work in promoting the language at the Skainos Centre on Belfast's Newtownards Road.

Linda outlined how - as someone from a traditional Unionist background - she first discovered the Irish language and began to attend a class. Today she organises classes and cultural events around the language in the heart of Loyalist East Belfast.

Linda explained her passion for Irish, which she views as the shared heritage of everyone in Northern Ireland. 'Our placenames are redolent with it while 'Lamh Dearg na h-Eireann' ('The Red hand of Ireland') appears on Victorian buildings and Loyalist murals', she said.

Her talk prompted a lively discussion among the large audience on the place of Irish in contemporary Northern Ireland. It was noted that the Bible was first translated into Irish by the Church of Ireland bishop, William Bedell of Kilmore in the 1630s while Ulster Protestants were prominent in the 19th century Gaelic Revival.

The next Wednesday lunchtime talk (8 February at 1pm) is 'Ethics- An Introduction' by Dr Philip McAleenan. All are welcome.

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Going Global! Connecting Classrooms

College lecturer Dr Sharon Jones reports on a partnership between Stranmillis and the British Council to facilitate ‘Connecting Classrooms’ training for all Year 1 BEd Primary students.

‘This exciting opportunity is a new venture for the College and we are delighted to be involved. Connecting Classrooms is a global education ‘learning journey’ developed by the British Council and the Department for International Development (DFID). The first element of the training focuses on learning about 21st century skills and how best to develop these in the classroom. This provides a foundation for the next stage, which involves developing international professional partnerships between schools in the UK and schools overseas.

This busy day of training was a valuable opportunity for students to develop their international awareness and broaden their horizons, as well as strengthening their classroom skills, and certificates will be awarded. A big thank-you must go to Anca Martin, Project Coordinator at British Council Edinburgh, for coordinating the event.’

You can find out more about Connecting Classrooms project at


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Lunchtime Talks Draw Crowds

Record numbers have been packing the College’s Moses Hill Room to savour the new series of Wednesday Lunchtime Talks to promote the new Stranmillis Lifelong Learning programme.

On 18th January Dr Éamon Phoenix caught the mood of these politically challenging times with a talk on ‘Ulster Political Misfits’, ranging from the Irish separatist, Sir Roger Casement to the Presbyterian Home Ruler, Rev JB Armour and the leading Catholic Unionist, Sir Denis Henry.
On the 25th January it was the turn of Dr Ruairi O’Baoill, the eminent Irish archaeologist who attracted a capacity audience to his talk on ‘Hidden History Beneath Our Feet’. Ruairi, in his inimitable style, took his listeners on an archaeological tour of the city from the Anglo-Norman castle through Chichester’s Plantation Town to the Belfast of the Industrial Revolution. Among his most interesting finds was a trepanned skull (with drilled holes) dating from the days of the 19th century ‘body-snatchers’.

Ruairi’s forthcoming Lifelong Learning courses are now enrolling! 

On the 1st February in Stran House at 1pm Mrs  Linda Ervine of the Skainos Centre in East Belfast will speak on ‘The Irish language: A View from the East.’ All welcome.

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Cheers! Whiskey Drinking on Campus!!?

As part of their module entitled ‘Northern Ireland Culture and Education, the Erasmus and International students who are spending a semester at Stranmillis have been learning about the history and structure of the education system of Northern Ireland and contrasting it with the system in their own country; they have also been finding out about religion and diversity in Northern Ireland, they have been exploring the history of Ireland from the Plantations to the present day, they have been looking at culture and society and thinking about additional language learning in Northern Ireland schools. The students come from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, The Netherlands and the USA.

The students were set the task in their first week of working with another student (randomly assigned) on a short presentation chosen from a list of well-known places or people in Northern Ireland. One week later the students used a PowerPoint or a Prezi and talked for around five minutes about their chosen topic. The main aims of the exercise are so that all of the students would learn a little more about what this part of the world has to offer, hopefully with a view to visiting some of the places discussed, that they would get to know someone else in the group who they may not have spoken much to before, and would also be able to practise their spoken English in front of the whole group.

The topics chosen were Dunluce Castle, Harland and Wolff Shipyard, The Titanic, Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge, Belfast City Hall and the Mourne Mountains. In the intervening week some of the students had even visited their place and were able to use some of their own photos.

The group who went last had chosen to look at the Bushmills Whiskey Distillery on the north coast. Not only did they explain to us the history of distilling there and something of the different whiskies produced, but they had purchased a bottle of Bushmills original (and some plastic shot glasses from a local supermarket!) and invited us all to have a sip or two! Cheers!!

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Rob’s Outdoor Learning Passion

Former Stran student Rob Heyburn came back to Stran to give a presentation on Outdoor Learning to the Year 1 Primary students whose Area of Specialism is Geography/ History.

Rob graduated in 2010 with a BEd in Primary Education, main subject - geography. He now teaches in Ballyclare Primary School, and has done so since he graduated. Before talking to the students about the outdoor learning work that goes on at Ballyclare, he explained how he ended up working at the school. His Year 1 school experience placement was at Ballyclare PS, so he stressed to the students the importance of making a good impression on teaching practice, even in Year 1. On graduating, he was offered some months’ employment as a result of a maternity leave, followed by a year’s contract and eventually a permanent position. He commented: ‘Don’t underestimate the impression that you can leave in a school, even if you’re only there for a few weeks’. He encouraged the students to go in to their placements with a positive attitude, always looking out for what a school doesn’t currently do, and what they, as students, can contribute.

Using some lovely images and videos of Ballyclare’s outdoor learning work across the school, and talking about a number of bought and home-made resources, he demonstrated a great range of outdoor activities: work on a ‘Birds’ topic, where the children had to hunt like birds for different coloured thread ‘worms’; colour matching nature’s colours to a local DIY shop’s paint sampler card!; sorting natural materials into Venn diagrams and making outdoor art installations; going on a minibeast hunt and making a bug hotel and working in the school’s vegetable patch. He explained clearly to the students the difference between hazards (potentially always there, such as busy roads, broken glass) and risks (only a factor if they are approached too closely or touched).

Rob and the school are currently working towards gaining a Primary Science Quality Mark, and his presentation at Stran counted as part of the ‘widening influence’ criterion which is an element of the reward. If enthusiasm and passion for outdoor learning are another criterion, the award is surely ‘in the bag’!

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Winter Graduation 2016

On December 8th 2016, staff and students celebrated the success of Stranmillis graduating students at the Winter Graduation. While a number of first degrees were awarded, the majority of winter graduates were celebrating the award of a Master’s degree.

Graduates with Master of Education and Master of Arts: Early Childhood Studies were represented on the day and staff from across the College attended to enjoy the day of celebration with the students.
Dr Anne Heaslett, Principal of Stranmillis University College, congratulated all the students receiving awards and noted that: ‘Achieving a Master’s degree is a wonderful achievement and our graduating students are to be congratulated; they will no doubt benefit from their enhanced profile in their future careers’.

This year saw the first cohort graduating on the new MEd pathway ‘Teaching Pupils with Specific Learning Difficulties (Dyslexia)’. Dr Sharon McMurray, Pathway Coordinator, said: “These students have achieved the highest standards in the assessment of literacy difficulties. They are now eligible to apply for the prestigious Assessment Practising Certificate (APC). This is a highly skilled group of teachers who have demonstrated a gold standard in the assessment and teaching of pupils with dyslexia.”

A further cohort of six students graduated with an MEd in Pastoral Care, marking the culmination of three years of part-time study at Stranmillis.  This M-level specialist option in Pastoral Care, which began in 2010, addresses a need among teachers and education professionals for high-quality professional development in the crucial, challenging and fast-evolving area of pastoral care in education.  The modules also help students develop a clear understanding of how schools can be proactive in safeguarding children more effectively and in using the curriculum to pre-empt these issues sensitively and effectively.  There is an impressive range of relevant modules including Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies, International Perspectives on Bullying and Safeguarding Children and Young People, which begins in January 2017.

Our graduates now become alumni of the College and can look forward to joining our Alumni Association and continuing to be involved with Stranmillis throughout their careers.

For further information on all M level courses see,672467,en.pdf

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PGCE Students and Fane St Pupils have Christmas all wrapped up!

On the 13th and 14th December pupils from Primary 1 and Primary 2 in Fane Street Primary School were welcomed to Stranmillis University College to participate in a range of Christmas themed play activities in the Early Years Centre. One of the students, Niamh McCormick, reports:

As part of the PGCE module ‘Implementing a Play Based Curriculum’, the students were asked to design a play based workshop for children in the Foundation Stage.  The students were split into groups of 5 and were set the task of choosing a theme for their workshop.  Each student was then asked to plan an activity based on the chosen theme, provide the resources for the activity and present it to the children. The overall aim of the play workshop was to incorporate all areas of the Foundation Stage curriculum and highlight the importance of play at this early stage of learning.

Each foundation class attended one workshop for approximately 45 minutes which included an introduction to the workshop, play time and a plenary session.  From the outset the children were totally engaged with the activities and took part in purposeful and productive play. All of the children and students involved benefitted greatly from the experience and thoroughly enjoyed their time together during the workshops.

Early Years Education lecturer Jill Magennis said: ‘The PGCE students were able to apply their learning from a number of lectures to this practical assessment task. It was wonderful to see the children enjoying such a range of playful experiences. Well done to each of the PGCE students on the successful implementation of the task and for bringing such joy at this festive time of year!’ 

On their return to school some of the children involved in the sessions shared their thoughts with their teacher who kindly sent these to us:

“I loved it. I want to go back.”

“I loved the snow one. I want to play it, it was my favourite.”

“I enjoyed wrapping the presents.”

“I liked the play dough ‘cause I made a Christmas tree.”

We would like to extend our thanks to Fane Street Primary school for allowing their children to take part in the play sessions. Also to interns Emma McKelvey and Jayne Patterson for their support in getting this visit organised.



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Following the Star!

And Lo on the last day of Semester 1 did the Year 1 RE specialists hasten to ‘Follow the Star’ and came unto a lowly stable at Bethlehem …  well Finaghy Methodist Church actually! The RE/PDMU module coordinator, Dr Anita Gracie, reports:

There they encountered the P3 pupils of Seymour Hill Primary School who had come to take part in an ‘Interactive Nativity’. With the children we were welcomed by the innkeeper’s wife, who showed us into the stable where a baby had been born. Seated on the stable floor, the children then heard the story of the first Christmas from a variety of characters involved, including some silly shepherds, a very wise Wise Man from a distant land, nasty King Herod and, of course, Mary, Joseph and the Angel Gabriel.

After the juice and star-shaped biscuits the children could take part in a range of craft activities in the church foyer related to the story, including making crowns, angels, Christmas cards and a Christingle (see photo). Not a stocking or sleigh in sight! They also had the option of returning to the acting area and trying on costumes to role-play their own interpretations of the story – the donkey and camel costumes were most in demand and there was a minor tussle between two boys dressed as kings who both wanted to sit on Herod’s throne. Some time later, after two puppets had explained the meaning of the Christingle and a ‘thank-you prayer’ in sign-language, the children returned to Seymour Hill clutching a bag of their Christmas crafts and chatting animatedly about all they had seen and heard.

‘Follow the Star’ is a programme designed for schools by a former Stranmillis graduate Nicky Blair and another colleague with many years’ experience as a primary school teacher. They work for the Youth Department of the Methodist Church and have brought the ‘Follow the Star’ experience to primary and special schools around Ireland for the last ten years. The programme is founded on sound educational principles, as you might expect from a Stranmillis graduate, and allows local churches to partner with schools in bringing the real Christmas story to children in a way that is both memorable and meaningful for them.




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Hands On with the ‘Next Big Thing’ in Classroom Displays

Teacher Education students got ‘hands on’ with an ‘ActivPanel’ – a new kind of interactive display at the front of classrooms.

Nigel Johnston, NI Business Development Manager for Promethean, the company which is the market leader for interactive whiteboards in Northern Ireland schools, led sessions for Year 1 Primary, Year 2 Post-Primary students and Year 3 and 4 Business and Enterprise students, providing expert training on the use of Promethean interactive whiteboards and their software, ‘ActivInspire’. He worked through the software’s various tools and resources, demonstrating examples of their creative use in the classroom.

Following this, he showed off the new ActivPanel, which is rapidly beginning to replace interactive whiteboards in schools. ActivPanels are blackboard-sized, wall-mounted touch-screen devices – ‘like a giant tablet on the wall’. In their publicity material Promethean describe the ActivPanel as ‘the next generation of front of class interactive displays’. The various advantages over traditional interactive whiteboards soon became clear: no projector to bang your head on or whose bulb could blow; no shadow from the projector to get in the way of what’s on screen; no calibration needed between screen and projector; a much brighter, backlit display; no special pen needed (although one can be used); much higher screen resolution and sharpness. The Panel is able to utilise all of the ActivInspire software, but it also runs any downloadable Android apps. College Business and Enterprise lecturer Patricia Corrigan commented: 'I was very impressed by how seamlessly this system allows the fast changing external business environment to be taken into the classroom in real time'.

As well as demonstrating the clarity and brightness of the display, Nigel showed how the children’s coding software ‘Blockly’ could run a cheeky robot called ‘Dash’! He also got a couple of the students (in a ‘Michael McIntyre Saturday Night TV’ moment!) to ‘mirror’ the display of their mobile phone or tablet up onto the Panel’s big screen for all to see, and the students discussed the potential use of this function as a collaborative tool or as a ‘visualiser’, using the mobile device’s camera to display a class member’s work to everyone.

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Pupil Support Scheme 2016

For many years Stranmillis University College has worked in partnership with Glenwood Primary School to provide students with the opportunity to work alongside children who struggle to develop age appropriate literacy skills. This year, when the request was made for student volunteers, the standard of the proposals was so high that it was agreed that the partnership should be extended to accommodate as many students as possible. Two additional schools from socially disadvantaged areas agreed to participate: Currie Primary School on the Limestone Road and St. Mary’s Primary School in Divis Street. College lecturer Gillian Beck explains what the project involved:

'In total, the three schools took on 14 very willing volunteers. The students attended two mornings of training in September 2016 on evaluation of pupil need and selection of resources. Two of the principals, Mrs. Ashleigh Galway and Mr. Terry Leathem, were able to attend the second session. They gave the students valuable insight into the school environment, ethos and expectations and also answered student questions regarding the children they would be working with.

The students evaluated the children’s current need, planned lessons, sourced appropriate resources and worked with the children 1-to-1 for an hour per week for two months. To draw the sessions to a close, a session on the 8th December with the ‘Fighting Words’ team from the Skainos Centre in Belfast was arranged. A number of the students went for an additional evening training session with the team to prepare them to be writing mentors. Together, the children (P.2-P.7) wrote the first chapter of the story “Panda versus Dinosaur” ( ) and then worked with their mentors to complete their own version of Chapter 2. After reading their chapters to the group, the children were given a published version of their story to take back to school and complete.

The feedback from the children, students and principals has been very positive. It should be mentioned that Terry Leathem, principal of Glenwood Primary School, who has also worked with Stranmillis lecturers Dr Noel Purdy and Dr Denise Mitchell in the past, is retiring this year. We would like to thank him for his contribution and support of our students.

I would also like to express my gratitude to all of the contributors who worked hard to make this such a success. It is hoped that partnerships developed with all of the schools this year will be developed further in the future.'

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Education Minister Launches New Computational Thinking Programme

Dr Lee Goss, British Computer Society; Mairead Meyer, Managing Director of Networks at BT in Northern Ireland; Hilary Cunningham, Principal Fane Street Primary School; Peter Weir MLA;  Dr Irene Bell, Head of STEM at Stranmillis; Dr Bill Mitchell, British Computer Society
Dr Lee Goss, British Computer Society; Mairead Meyer, Managing Director of Networks at BT in Northern Ireland; Hilary Cunningham, Principal Fane Street Primary School; Peter Weir MLA; Dr Irene Bell, Head of STEM at Stranmillis; Dr Bill Mitchell, British Computer Society

The Minister for the Department of Education, Peter Weir MLA, launched a new BT programme to help Northern Ireland primary school teachers bring Computational Thinking to life in the classroom.

BT took over the lead and funding for the ‘Barefoot’ programme in 2015, with the continued support of the British Computer Society and CAS (Computing at School), and has been working to enable the resources and workshops to be available to all primary school teachers throughout the UK. The resources have been tailored to the Northern Ireland Curriculum by Dr Irene Bell, Head of STEM at Stranmillis and Chairman of CAS NI.

The free resources, which are available to all primary schools in Northern Ireland, aim to equip teachers with the confidence, knowledge, skills and assets to teach computational thinking to pupils from 5-11 years old, including pupils with SEN. Pupils use computational thinking in a fun and accessible way and the skills they develop can be used across the curriculum to help improve their maths, science and literacy.

The Barefoot Computing downloadable resources and lesson plans are available for use by over 8000 teachers in Northern Ireland, who may not have specialist computing knowledge, with the aim of helping them to educate almost 170,000 primary school pupils in computer science. Resources, which have been tailored to the Northern Ireland Curriculum, focus on concepts such as algorithms, abstraction, programming and data structures and provide ideas on how they can be used in the learning environment. Key content has also been translated into Irish.

Speaking at the launch of Barefoot Computing at Fane Street Primary School in Belfast, Minister Peter Weir MLA, said: “I am pleased to launch the Barefoot Computing Programme, which is an excellent tool for teachers delivering computer science classes to their pupils. In today’s digital world, where business and social engagements are often conducted online, it is of paramount importance that young people learn computing skills from an early age so that they are equipped with the necessary tools needed to progress in our increasingly digitised world.”

Fane Street Primary School principal, Hilary Cunningham, whose pupils have been benefiting from the programme, added: “Barefoot Computing is an excellent resource that my teachers are currently using to teach computer science to our young pupils in a way that is exciting and interactive. Not only do pupils learn vital computer skills as well as computational thinking from a young age, but the resources are also excellent in helping our teachers to understand computer science and to have the confidence to educate our pupils in this increasingly vital subject.”

To access the resources, go to:

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'Puppy Petting’ in the Students' Union

The Students' Union held a 'puppy petting morning' on Tuesday 29th November as part of their mental health and wellbeing strategy: 'StressLess'.

Designed to tackle the stress associated with the end of the first semester, the 'StressLess' campaign featured a number of 'de-stressing' activities for both staff and students.  As part of this campaign, the Students' Union hosted a representative from Dogs Trust and 'Ghillie' the poodle to take part in the puppy petting morning.

Over 200 students dropped in to the Students' Union office to meet Ghillie, and it is safe to say that many of them left suitably relaxed!
Overall, the event was a resounding success and was very well received by staff and students at a time where a five minute break from work is always welcome!

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Inspiring Playful Science in the Nursery!

Year 1 students whose Area of Specialism is WAU Science, along with their tutor, Dr Andrea Doherty, visited College Farm Nursery in Armagh and Carnlough Community Nursery School to observe good practice in playful science.

On arrival at College Farm Nursery, the principal, Brenda Murphy, and nursery teacher Lana McKinney, greeted the group and gripped us immediately with their enthusiasm and passion.   The entrance hall was alive with colour, music and children’s work, alongside inspiring displays and fun activities (and not to mention the scent of scones and apple pies!!).  As we toured the two classrooms, we entered a NASA space station, rocket launch pads, colourful sand galaxies, farmyards, a construction site, an old Irish cottage and a jungle den!  Students played with the children in spray painting craters on the moon, made erupting volcanoes, and pulled turnips from the ‘fields’.  It was all topped off with some delicious treats, and a song and a dance with children and staff!  Students left buzzing with ideas and enthusiasm, requesting a karaoke bus back to College!

In Carnlough Community Nursery, students were greeted by nursery teacher Anna Killough, a recently qualified teacher who straight away had us building bridges and towers, exploring magnets in the water tray, and building with hammers and screwdrivers.  Again accompanied by some delicious treats, students had the opportunity to ask Anna questions about planning, implementing, and assessing play in the nursery environment, particularly focusing on the development of science skills and knowledge.  We left with wonderful, transferable ideas to use in our practice, knowing it was all tried and tested by such a great professional! Thanks to Mary Haughey, principal of St John’s Primary School in Carnlough for helping to organise the trip.

Many thanks also to the Primary Science Teaching Trust who funded our transport to these incredible venues!

Some of the students shared their thoughts on the trips:

Today, I toured the vast intricacies of a NASA space station, experienced the unpredictability of an explosive, rocky planet, appreciated the depth of effort required to craft a careful and colourful science classroom and engaged with the confident, curious and adventurous minds of tomorrow - all in the space of a rocket-ship countdown. I have been encouraged, challenged and blessed by the hearts and spirits of all those at College Farm. Expect to see me very soon, for another one of College Farm's famous camp-fire themed sing-alongs!”
Karen Lennox

It was incredible to see how much confidence the children have in College Farm Nursery. We were all amazed when one child burst into an Adele solo for us on the spot upon our arrival! We were made to feel so welcome from the second we walked in the door. Brenda and Lana could not have done any more to help us - showing us around, explaining each play station and answering any questions we had.  College Farm has a totally different approach to any nursery I have had experience in - I have definitely picked up lots of creative ideas, and I honestly cannot thank the staff enough for letting our Science Class come to observe their 'second home’.”
Alice Ashfield

I had a great experience at the nursery in Carnlough. I particularly enjoyed the space theme, which featured star shaped play dough cutters and a very decorative water tray that had glitter and stars of different shapes and sizes in it! It was also very enjoyable to collaborate with the children and make different vehicles from their construction kits.”
Andrew Rankin


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‘Little Red Riding Hood’ is on her Way!

Panto producer Jason Price reports:

‘The Stranmillis Pantomime 2016 has officially taken to the stage! Following months of hard work, determination, creative flare, endless rehearsals and late nights, the whole committee, cast, chorus and crew are delighted with how everything has come together and it is set to be a fantastic show!

With 14 sold out shows scheduled over the next week, approximately 4,000 audience members will be entering the Drama Theatre to watch our very own pantomime production of 'Little Red Riding Hood'. If you have a ticket, you're in for a treat.... oh yes you are!’

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Hands on with the Earth Sciences

Year 2 students whose Area of Specialism is geography and history were introduced to new earth science resources for KS2 pupils in Northern Ireland. Anna Lowden and Holly Armstrong report:

The resources were presented by Jodie Marshall, who is currently a teacher in Larne, but has worked with CCEA along with two other teachers to produce the resources package. It is an ‘all you need’ pack to teach a full World Around Us topic about the earth and contains 4 units: ‘Planet Earth’, ‘Dynamic Earth’, ‘Violent Earth’ and ‘Future Earth’. Each unit is made up of 3-4 lessons which are available online (see below), along with schemes of work ready-made for teachers to use, including resources and worksheets.

Jodie carried out a number of hands on experiments with our class, including a rock hunt, an interactive cliff game involving a lot of sand and water to show how cliff erosion takes place, and rock evaluations. Jodie showed us simple methods using coloured towels to explain to upper primary pupils the formation of fold mountains, and how to use a Mars bar to represent the earth’s many layers. There were also physical rock samples which are available in 15 different locations across Northern Ireland for schools to borrow.

Overall, this session was very enjoyable, as well as being useful and informative, in helping us understand how to teach physical geography in the primary classroom.

The Earth Science resources were produced by CCEA in conjunction with Earth Science Ireland, the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland and the British Geological Survey. To find them, go to:  

Photos by Catriona Rogers

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Gilnahirk Pupils Teach Students about QR Codes

Post-primary students from Stranmillis University College were recently welcomed into the P7 classroom in Gilnahirk Primary School to learn about QR codes in the primary school. 

The school pupils enthusiastically embraced their role as ‘e-consultants’, sharing their learning about QR codes with the Stranmillis students, helping them to develop the use of QR codes for their own professional practice.  QR code (abbreviated from Quick Response code) are matrix barcodes consisting  of black squares arranged in a square grid on a white background which can be read by an imaging device such as a camera, and processed using software. They are often used to take the user quickly to a web site (see the Stranmillis University College QR code matrix on the right).

Both the school pupils and the Stranmillis students benefitted from and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.   The pupils unanimously enjoyed their work as e-consultants and the majority commented that they learned something new as they shared their work on QR codes.  One pupil said: “how cool to teach teachers!”  The students commented that they enjoyed the interaction with the pupils and remarked positively upon their high level of knowledge and skills, with one student stating “I completely underestimated how skilled 11 year olds could be!”  Many pupils and students noted that they would like to participate in more activities of a similar nature in the future.   

College lecturer Lisa McKenzie commented: “Technology advances at such an alarming rate, and often children and young people are able to embrace these changes quickly.  It was great to experience such a positive atmosphere in the classroom where everyone was engaged.”   Lecturer Ian Simons, who has been developing IT resources with ‘Go Berserk’ for pupils as young as 8 years old, has been highly impressed with the talent pool that exists in many of our schools throughout Northern Ireland. He commented: “The energy, excitement and fun that everyone experienced during this session should be shared in all schools. The young teacher educators learnt alongside their 11 and 12 year old e-consultants. Children just love to share what they have learnt, especially when using modern technology and digital devices”.

Sincerest thanks are expressed to the staff and pupils of Gilnahirk Primary School for providing such a welcoming environment and making this opportunity possible.  This innovative approach to learning highlights the value and importance of establishing good relationships between Initial Teacher Education and local schools in the community.  It was an extremely positive experience for the staff and pupils at Gilnahirk Primary School and a revolutionary, eye-opening experience for the staff and post-primary students from Stranmillis University College, demonstrating that learning has no boundaries.  

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International Week Fun with Rathcoole Primary School

The week beginning 7th November was ‘International Week’ at Stranmillis. As part of the week’s activities, Rathcoole Primary School’s Primary 6 and 7 classes were invited in to meet some of the wonderful Erasmus and international students who come to Belfast to study here for a semester.

On the first of two days the pupils were taken by our international buddies for a tour around the campus, looking around the Orchard Building, the Refectory and even getting a chance to spend some time in the Art Department. Following on from the tour the children were introduced to the culture, food and languages of both Germany and China.

On the second day students from Switzerland and Malta shared with the Rathcoole pupils their traditions, cultures and a little bit of their beautiful landscapes. After hearing about all four countries, the children were split into groups and tasked with creating a poster with all the information that they had learnt throughout the presentations. The children were then presented with certificates for taking part in the two day project along with a few Stranmillis goodies to take home with them! 

The pupils, teachers, international students and buddies, as well as the Widening Participation Ambassadors thoroughly enjoyed the presentations and learning all about the different countries. One of the pupils said: “I would like to come back to Stranmillis and learn about more countries”.

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The Tip of the Iceberg!
Going on board the Nomadic
Going on board the Nomadic

Year 3 Primary BEd students who have a special interest in World Around Us geography and history spent an afternoon at Titanic Belfast finding out about what school groups get up to when they visit. One of the students, Becky Freeburn, reports:

‘The 10 of us in the Year 3 WAU group and College tutors Dr Richard Greenwood and Dr Anita Gracie were met by Titanic Belfast’s Education and Outreach Officer Siobhán McCartney on ‘The Nomadic’ - the vessel which ferried passengers to the Titanic for its ill-fated first and last voyage. A former primary school teacher herself, Siobhán gave a presentation and discussed school visits to the centre in the wider context of out-of-school learning opportunities. After discussing potential lesson ideas with Siobhán, I discovered that many of my fellow student teachers and myself were unaware of the wide variety of learning opportunities that are available at the Titanic centre. We all thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Titanic visitor centre as it presented us with a range of creative teaching ideas for the future. Siobhán clearly described a range of teaching opportunities which are available at the centre, and this even included activities for Foundation Stage classes. Siobhán emphasised how the story of the Titanic tragedy should not only be taught in WAU, but that it can be included in a range of cross-curricular lessons. As a group we discussed how the Titanic can be taught through PDMU, ICT, the arts and how clear links with numeracy and literacy can be made. Our talk with Siobhán was extremely helpful as it gave us a range of creative lesson ideas which we hope to use in the future.

The students and staff then had a free tour through the nine galleries of the centre itself, thinking about activities which might be carried out with primary classes of various ages. As we walked around the centre, we all enjoyed participating in the interactive activities which are available throughout the exhibition. This included interactive floor activities, a ride through the shipyard and a CGI virtual tour of the interior of the Titanic. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at Titanic Belfast as it encouraged me to develop a range of creative lesson ideas associated with the tragedy of the Titanic. In addition, many of my friends who do not specialise in WAU and weren’t on the trip were surprised when I told them about the number of interactive and exciting activities the centre has to offer. I think it is vitally important that all students and qualified teachers are aware of the learning opportunities which are available at Titanic Belfast. Siobhán emphasised how teachers are entitled to a preparation visit to the centre before booking a class school trip. This is the perfect opportunity for teachers to plan and organise relevant activities associated with the Titanic whilst thinking about practical issues.

We all enjoyed our afternoon exploring the different elements of the Titanic and it was a nice change from classes! The highlight of the trip for me was getting to go on board the ‘Nomadic’ as it is the largest artefact associated with the Titanic. However everyone enjoyed the ride through the shipyard, some might say it was the tip of the iceberg! The WAU area of specialism class would like to thank Dr Greenwood and Dr Gracie for organising such a beneficial trip and allowing us to be big kids for the afternoon.’

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Strictly Come Dancing with Robots!
Peter Finn (Principal of St. Mary’s University College), Dr Kieran McGeown, Education Minister Peter Weir and Dr Michael Ievers.
Peter Finn (Principal of St. Mary’s University College), Dr Kieran McGeown, Education Minister Peter Weir and Dr Michael Ievers.

Stranmillis and St Mary’s University Colleges will be jointly hosting an exciting and innovative STEM event for Primary school pupils in 2017 – involving dancing robots!

This event is part of a collaborative research project focusing on how practical, problem-solving activities affect academic performance in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). All the activities will be designed so that the pupils are learning by solving problems whilst engaging in fun challenges programming drones and robots, culminating in programming the robots to dance together.

Education Minister Peter Weir recently met with the lead researchers, Dr Michael Ievers of Stranmillis University College and Dr Kieran McGeown of St. Mary’s University College. The purpose of the meeting was to outline for the Minister details of the joint research project between the two university colleges, which will provide opportunity to bring together Primary schools from across the spectrum to engage in programming the robots and drones. The associated research focus is the impact of practical activities upon academic achievement, with additional assessment of ‘right-brain’ and ‘left-brain’ learning preferences; the pilot study has already delivered some significant results. In addition, building upon the link-up with NASA established last year by Dr Irene Bell as part of the IASL (International Association of STEM Leaders) certification, the research team hopes to schedule a further live stream with NASA during the activities at Stranmillis.


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Out and About in Fermanagh!

On Thursday 4th November, Year One Health, Physical Activity and Sport students travelled to Co. Fermanagh to the Share Discovery Village for two days of physical activity and team bonding exercises. 

The students were split into groups and got involved in a variety of different activities – including mountain biking, rock climbing, kayaking and banana boating. Students also took part in a number of team building activities in which they had to work effectively together to complete these tasks.

The most amusing team building activity (for the leaders!!!!) was the 'Nightline', where all the students were blindfolded and led on an obstacle-filled trek through the forest whilst being soaked with water pistols. Students were faced with tunnels, bridges and very large trees that they had to work together to overcome. They had to use good communication skills to help each other through the hurdles, by passing on the method which they used to get through the various obstacles.  

The students really enjoyed trip; one stated that “it was fun because we got to try new things!”. Another said “we enjoyed getting to know more people in the year group”. 

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David Haire – Fast Bikes, Austria and Finland!
David with Ryan Farquhar
David with Ryan Farquhar

Year 4 Technology and Design student David Haire has taken a back seat from racing this season to concentrate on the final year of his teaching degree. His story was featured both on the Belfast Telegraph web site, and the BELFAST Telegraph newspaper on the 21st October. Below he writes about his motorcycling success as well as his educational experiences in Austria dnd Finland:

Recently David was racing at the Sunflower Trophy races at Bishopscourt, riding his own 600cc Yamaha as well as a 650cc Supertwin as part of Ryan Farquhar's KMR Kawasaki team. David’s results across the Bishopscourt weekend proved he still has the ability and talent to compete with the best of British Superbike professional riders, qualifying on the front row of the grid, before finishing a very creditable 5th and 4th places in his two races.
Speaking about his time away from the track, David said: ‘Apart from a 10-lap race at Easter, when I won the Enkalon Trophy race, I haven't ridden a bike all summer. I took a gap year from racing and went away to do some work on my thesis, but I'm glad to be back’

David spent a few months of his second College semester last academic year advancing his studies in Austria as a part of the Erasmus student exchange programme. After that he headed to Finland to conduct investigative research into the Finnish Education system with help from friends whom he met on the Erasmus programme. David said: 'The Erasmus programme in Austria was simply great. It allowed me the opportunity to explore a new country, its culture and education system, as well as making new friends. Along my journey I met a friend from Finland, and took the opportunity to visit a beautiful country which has education system which is extremely impressive, not only in terms of its results, but as an example of a creative, fun, vibrant education system which allows pupils and teachers to flourish.’

He added: ‘I would like to thank Stranmillis, especially Margaret Mulhern and all the others involved in the International Office, who go to so much effort for not only me, but all the Erasmus students.’


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Welcome to the 'Fall 2016' IfSA students!

Stranmillis University College has welcomed nine IfSA students this semester - six from Providence College, Rhode Island, one from St Martin’s University, Washington and two from Drake University, Iowa. They have joined us to undertake academic studies, to experience a range of professional placements and to experience NI culture!

During their time here, Nicolas, Ayotunde, Elizabeth, Kai, Jacob, Kristen, Katherine, Shealagh and Mariah have been participating in a variety of teaching placements, educational visits, and of course immersing themselves in student life around campus!

The students are making the most of their time in NI, meeting up with other Erasmus and International students. They are here for at least 10 weeks and have settled into their respective IfSA partner schools- Dundonald Primary School, Dundonald High School, Breda Academy and Gilnahirk Primary School.  They have been undertaking various modules and have particularly enjoyed the Literacy module on Children’s Literature taken by Colm Donaghy.
Adam Leahy is the International Graduate Intern this academic year and has been an invaluable support to all our international students.  Laura McKeown from the International Office ensures that all the cogs in the wheels keep moving as they should!

On Saturday 15 October, staff and students who went on a trip to the north coast built up healthy appetites by climbing over the lava rocks of the Giant’s Causeway and then and enjoyed a welcome rest and sustenance at 'The Smugglers’ Inn'.

Back at College, the students have weekly ‘TouchBase’ meetings; at one of these one of the students commented: “Professionally, this trip has prepared me to be more knowledgeable and aware of the different cultures and diversities that students bring into the classroom. It is such an important skill to be able to create an environment where all students feel safe and welcome, especially when it comes to religion and culture.”

This is the fifth year of the IfSA partnership at Stranmillis, which has been going from strength to strength.  Two new members of staff have joined the team: Barbara McDade and Lois Totton.  They look forward to expanding the programme and strengthening links with our current partner universities.

The International Week in College this year is from Monday 7th to Friday 11th November, and we are looking forward to hosting visiting faculty member Marcy Zipke from Providence College.

Needless to say it is proving to be an exciting semester for everyone involved!

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On a ‘Maths Mission’ with Botanic Primary School

Four Year 4 Primary students developed a ‘Maths Mission’ for Primary 5 children and completed it with the lovely Primary 5 class from Botanic Primary School.

A little bit of information from one the students: “When designing our outdoor maths trail we decided to go with the theme of a ‘maths mission’ whereby the children would adopt the role of maths secret agents and have to solve a number of problems located at different stations around the Stranmillis campus.  The children responded well to being secret agents, with some even making up their own ‘agent name’, and they enjoyed participating in the activities we had planned.

The maths activities we had planned allowed the children to have fun and interact with the natural environment whilst improving their mathematical skills. Furthermore, it also offered the children the opportunity to gain valuable, hands on experience with maths equipment, with the trundle wheel being a firm favourite!

Overall, my colleagues and I were very happy with how our outdoor maths trail was received by the children and indeed their teachers and I have been greatly encouraged to try and implement more outdoor maths in my own teaching practice and future teaching career.”

Botanic Primary 5s and their teacher thoroughly enjoyed the Maths Mission. One pupil said: “It was fun. I liked it when we went to do the measuring”, and another concluded: “I most enjoyed being a secret agent!”

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Bubbly Maths Celebrations at Stranmillis

Around 300 Key Stage 2 children from local schools helped in our celebration of Maths Week Ireland at Stranmillis.

Pupils from Blythefield Primary, Currie Primary, Scoil an Droichid, Elmgrove Primary, Euston Street Primary, St Francis' Primary and Botanic Primary schools travelled to Stranmillis to watch Bubblz the Mathematical Clown. Bubblz showed us that Maths can be fun!

With the help of the pupils, she measured the perimeter of the Drama Theatre and she used bubbles to discover some 3D shapes and even managed to surround some of our pupil volunteers with extra big bubbles. As you can see from our photographs, the children and teachers had a fun filled morning!

Below is a selection of comments from our audience members.

"We absolutely LOVED it! Both children and teachers all really enjoyed the show." (Teacher)
"I loved Bubblz the clown. Can she come and do maths with us at school?" (Pupil)
"I want to come back here and see the clown again!" (Pupil)

For more information about Maths Week Ireland, go to .

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Stran Ladies’ Hockey Up and Running!

On Wednesday 12th October, Stranmillis Hockey had their first training session out on the gravel pitches. 36 new girls turned up for a bit of fun and a spot of light training.

The hockey team is a new addition to the clubs and societies this year, and has been headed up by two final year Health, Physical Activity and Sport students - Club Captain Chloe McIlwaine, and Coach and Match Secretary Ruth Montgomery.

The girls have their first game against Larne Grammar 1st XI away on 26th October. More training and games will continue on Wednesday afternoons throughout the year.

To keep updated with Stran Hockey, please ‘like’ the Stranmillis Ladies’ Hockey page on Facebook.


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‘Gold Standard’ STEM Work at Stranmillis

Last year Stranmillis University College in collaboration with The International Association for STEM Leaders (IASL) offered Initial Teacher Education students the opportunity to work towards an internationally accepted accreditation in STEM. Stranmillis lecturer Dr Irene Bell, Head of Maths, Science and Technology describes the work that was done by the students as well as a successful ‘graduation’:

‘The International Association for STEM Leaders is globally recognized for creating a "gold standard" for STEM excellence in traditional and non-traditional educational settings for all pre-kindergarten through to adult students. Stranmillis University College is the first institution outside America to have students receive this award, and both students and staff are very thankful for this fruitful collaboration.

Further to the six students who received their certificates in July on graduation day, an additional thirteen students were recently honoured. Joining the ceremony from Virginia via video link was Dr Usha Rajdev who is a Professor in Education (STEM) at Marymount University, Virginia and President of STEM Certification in IASL. Along with several other Stranmillis University staff members I was present to hand over the certificates.

To achieve this award, students were trained in educational STEM based space exploration and precipitation monitoring activities by NASA Educators. They also volunteered 10 hours last year to teach children in engaging maths or science related activities, and organised a STEM event for school children and completed a portfolio. Even though there was obviously a lot of work involved over the course of the year, the students testify that it was certainly worthwhile, a really good experience and lots of fun.

Four students - Peter Soutar, Anthony McGill, Ryan Litter and Micha Lanz - received a second award from the IASL for their leadership role within the student body and for representing STEM at the College.

The Stranmillis STEM leaders hope that this will just have been the first round of certificates and that many more Stranmillis students will take up the initiative and strive to become STEM leaders in years to come.
Sincere thanks are expressed to Dr Rajdev and the Board of the IASL STEM Leaders programme for making it all possible. At the graduation Dr Rajdev spoke many words of encouragement to the students and urged them to continue their work and take their knowledge and experience to the schools in which they will teach – “and who knows, maybe you can get your school STEM certified. Just keep on going, this is only the start, so don’t stop now. The sky is your limit!”

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Five Recent Stran Graduates at Markethill HS!

From left: Gordon Park, Sarah Hargan, Jonathan McClure, Jenna Hanna, Jill Cregan, and Principal J A Maxwell
From left: Gordon Park, Sarah Hargan, Jonathan McClure, Jenna Hanna, Jill Cregan, and Principal J A Maxwell

Markethill High School in County Armagh has its fair share of recent Stranmillis graduates at present. The school’s principal, J A Maxwell, introduces them below:

‘Staff Professional Development is a key priority at Markethill High School, and the school works closely with external providers to offer staff high-quality opportunities to develop their skills and expertise. The degrees and courses undertaken by a significant number of our staff at Stranmillis University College have helped them to take on middle and senior leadership roles in school effectively and with aplomb, thus ensuring that our child-centred ethos and strong reputation as a school of excellence – both pastorally and academically – continues to flourish. The school is very proud of the achievements of its staff, and the dedication, commitment and fervour which they bring to all aspects of their roles. We are grateful to the local universities and colleges for the enrichment courses and finely-tuned qualifications which they offer the teaching profession, and Markethill High School hopes to strengthen further its links with Stranmillis in coming years.’ 

Jill Cregan BEd (Hons)

I qualified from Stranmillis with a B.Ed. Post Primary Religious Education and Science degree in July 2010 and began working in Markethill High School (my old school) in the September of that year. My initial post in MHS was SEN based, and involved close work with a small cohort of pupils with special educational needs, in the role of form tutor, subject teacher and learning support teacher.

During my time at Stranmillis I really enjoyed SEN and Pastoral Care modules, as well as the opportunity to work with pupils with SEN in a range of School Based Work placements and voluntary schemes such as working with EAL pupils at a local primary school. I think it’s fair to say that Stranmillis provided the inspiration for my keen interest in pupils with SEN, and it provided me with the education and experience to begin my career within this area.

Six years on, I am delighted to have just begun my role as Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator at Markethill High School. Although it’s a challenging role, I am already encouraged to see the difference that support can give to pupils with special educational needs.

Sarah Hargan BA (Hons), MEd

My time at Stranmillis started in the academic year of 2010 when the first MEd specialising in Pastoral Care was on offer. As a ‘newbie’ to Stranmillis, I didn’t know what to expect but I was instantly impressed by the approachable atmosphere and the outstanding standard of teaching and research. The MEd was headed up by Dr Noel Purdy, a Pastoral Care ‘legend’ in my eyes! The module included a hugely pertinent focus on topics such as International Perspectives on Bullying, Healthy Minds/Healthy Bodies and Safeguarding. Before I knew it, Year 3 had arrived and I decided to look at a case study of bereavement support within a Post Primary School setting, and this proved to be highly beneficial to my own school setting.

In 2010, I was asked to write a short piece for the ‘STRANews’ about my reasons for further study and I wrote that ‘I have always wanted to end up in a Head of Year position with the possibility of going all the way to vice principal level in charge of pastoral care. I thought the Master’s Degree would be a perfect stepping stone for helping me become “a little bit different” to other candidates when applying for positions to further my own professional development’. I am in absolutely no doubt that my three years at Stranmillis studying for my MEd helped me in gaining the position of Head of Year in 2014 and it has ultimately made me a better teacher, form teacher, head of department and now head of year, playing an active role in the school’s Pastoral Team. I am certain that the MEd pathway added another “string to my bow” for moving up the career ladder, so I would recommend to anyone brave enough to take up the challenge of completing an MEd - make sure it’s with Stranmillis!

Jenna Hanna BEd (Hons)

I graduated from Stranmillis University College in 2008, with a 2:1 in Religious Studies with English. On graduation from Stranmillis, I covered a career break in Markethill High School on a one year temporary basis. This led to a permanent position and to this day I am still teaching in Markethill High School. I have taught Religious Education to KS3 and KS4 classes, English to KS3 and Learning for Life and Work at both KS3 and KS4. I have also gained valuable experience of leading the RE Department, acting as Head of Department for one year.

In June 2016 I was appointed as Head of Learning for Life and Work and Careers. I currently teach Learning for Life and Work and Religious Studies at KS3 and KS4. Studying at Stranmillis truly were the best days of my life and provided me with memorable experiences of classroom practice that I needed, allowing me to gain confidence, and receiving support, knowledge and direction for my chosen career path. Whilst teaching at times can be challenging, for me watching students grow and develop makes it the most rewarding job,. From a very young age I always longed to become a teacher and I can honestly say I have no regrets; I thoroughly enjoy my profession.

Jonathan McClure BEd (Hons)

I studied at Stranmillis from 2003 until 2007. The four years at Stran thoroughly equipped me for the world of education. There were certain things in particular that were invaluable to my development as a teacher. We had five extended placements in schools throughout Northern Ireland, and these allowed me to see how a variety of schools executed their development plans in the class setting. Each teacher I met had their own skill set and it allowed me to glean from them their good practices to facilitate good learning. In college, it was great to share our successes and failings and then receive further training and advice through the various mechanisms set in place by our lecturers. 

Upon graduation, I secured a teaching post in Portora Royal School, teaching Religious Education, Physical Education and Learning for Life and Work. Portora had a robust rugby culture in the school and I got to immerse myself into a rigorous after school and weekend rugby schedule. In 2011, I relocated to the American Academy, Larnaca, Cyprus. This opportunity allowed me to teach ’A’ Level Religious Education. This was a great challenge, not only preparing students for the demands of an ‘A’ Level exam but also teaching a course to pupils where English was their second language. In 2014, I was able to relocate back to Northern Ireland when Markethill High School appointed me as Head of Religious Education. This is a post that I have thoroughly enjoyed since its commencement. I work in a school where the Principal and Senior Management celebrate good practice and encourage staff to continually develop in their profession. It’s a competitive environment, where across the whole school curriculum there is wonderful teaching and learning and as a department you want to be ‘keeping up with the pace’. This has allowed me to develop as a teacher and a leader. I’m very thankful to be working alongside a great staff who seek to give the pupils in Markethill a robust, well rounded and memorable learning experience.

Gordon Parks BEd (Hons), MEd

I graduated from Stranmillis University College in 2007, with a First Class Honours Degree in Business Studies with Mathematics. In 2008 I returned to Stranmillis to complete my MEd in School Leadership. On graduation from Stranmillis, I completed two temporary posts to cover a period of maternity leave in Craigavon Senior High School and Garvagh High School. Then in 2009, I was appointed to the staff of Markethill High School. Upon completion of my MEd in 2011, I was keen to further my career, and this led me to apply for a secondment on senior leadership within school in 2013. This seconded post focused on developing elements of learning and teaching within school including assessment for learning, gifted and talented provision and effective questioning.

In 2014 I applied for the KS3 Pupil Progress Manager in school which was introduced on the back of our very good ETI inspection. The focus of this post is to close the loophole between the academic and pastoral provision in school. As part of this role I co-ordinate the baseline testing in school and work with key coordinators to devise and implement suitable intervention strategies to support pupils. Over the last 18 months I have continued to get involved in different aspects of school and at present I organise events in school such as KS3 prize afternoon and KS4 prize night. I am also managing the Business Studies department which consists of four GCSE classes across two subjects and three YENI companies. Teaching is busy and education is constantly changing but it is also extremely rewarding career which I immensely enjoy.

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Stranmillis Arrives at Corrymeela

Early Childhood Studies lecturer Brenda McKay-Redmond describes a successful team-building away day at the Corrymeela Centre on the north coast:

‘Year 1 students on the Early Childhood Studies degree have embarked on a new, significant period of transition in their lives from home and school to university life. This adjustment means moving from one environment to another, involves lots of new experiences, meeting new people, coping with changes in relationships and in routine events and leaving their “comfort zone” to encounter the unknown.  This new opportunity is undoubtedly an exciting time, with new people working together, undergoing a time of growth and development. Embracing this, ECS students and tutors headed to Corrymeela in Ballycastle for a team-building away day to explore aspects of their identity as they form into a supportive community of learners. 

Corrymeela is a place of gathering, work and discussion, bringing people of different backgrounds, different political and religious beliefs and different identities together. The name Corrymeela comes from its neighbouring townland, Corrymellagh, in the parish of Culfeightrin.  Culfeightrin means in Irish “The Corner of the Stranger.” It’s a place where differing groups, strangers to each other, are offered the opportunity to cross over into another space.  Corrymeela is for people of all ages and traditions who, individually and together, are committed to the healing of social, religious and political divisions that exist in Northern Ireland and throughout the world.

The focus of the event was to help our students to live and learn well together, particularly through times of transition and change.  This will then be emulated in their future work with young children as Early Years Practitioners (EYP) throughout their degree studies. The EYPs will influence the way children will learn to communicate and form relationships with others in the future.  By modelling trust and clear communication, listening closely to a child and valuing who they are, the early years practitioners will be a role model of healthy interactions for that child.

Head of Department, Ms Sheelagh Carville, accompanied the students and staff members who attended. She was particularly impressed by the multi-national team of facilitators who worked with the new ECS students. These Corrymeela staff designed group sessions, experiential play, art and dialogue to look at issues that impact young children, especially how effective communication and engagement with children requires each of us to think about how we help children establish effective communication. From the most “everyday” greetings and acknowledgements, through to more complex interactions and professional interventions, we communicate in different ways and with different purposes and intentions. After welcomes, introductions and ice breakers, small teams worked on their listening and communication skills through games called “Raising the Sun,” “Skis and Maze,” “Spider’s Web” and “Sheep and Shepherd”, and there were definitely some strange sheep and shepherds wandering the grounds!  

The students learned that as effective practitioners, the opinions, aspirations, perspectives and views of colleagues and children are unique and valuable.  Listening enables us to see the world from another’s perspective and promoting a participatory approach may help improve the quality of life experiences for young children.  The experience at Corrymeela will help to lay the foundations for ECS Students as they become thoughtful, reflective, strong and competent individuals who can make a real difference in the lives of the children and families with whom they work.

After herding up our flock we left Corrymeela enriched and ready for the challenges of the degree.’


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Malaysian Partnership 2015-16

Stranmillis University College currently offers a ground-breaking P.G.C.E. (Primary) International qualification, in partnership with Queen's University School of Education and Tenby Schools, Malaysia. The programme’s coordinator, Dr Sharon Jones, reports: 

‘The innovative postgraduate primary programme is led by a highly committed team of Stranmillis academic staff who in recent years have developed a range of excellent online learning and teaching opportunities for student teachers based in international schools in Malaysia. It was my privilege as current coordinator of the P.G.C.E. International Primary course to visit Malaysia in February, to work with students in their classrooms, and more recently in September, with Ms Barbara McDade, Senior Lecturer in Education Studies and International Development, to deliver an induction programme for this year’s students and attend the Ceremony for the Presentation of the P.G.C.E. International Certificates.

According to the course representatives from the P.G.C.E. International class of 2015-16:‘The PGCEi course has taught us the essential skills and knowledge related to teaching and learning….It has enhanced our teaching skills by giving us the right tools to be reflective and creative…This is to ensure we as teachers constantly make progress by always reflecting on the successes and improvements after every lesson. Indeed, being a good and effective teacher is a lifelong learning process!’

Special thanks must go to the academic staff at Stranmillis for their commitment and dedication in sharing their expertise on the P.G.C.E. International programme. 

Our Malaysian partnership is highly valued. Each year a number of Stranmillis B.Ed. students are invited to spend four weeks in Tenby Schools to complete School Based Work. In February 2016, four Year 3 B.Ed. Primary students benefited from this excellent opportunity: Alice Hamilton, Stuart Fulton, Grainne O’Goan and Kirsten McDermott. The Malaysian hospitality shown to both Stranmillis students and staff is tremendous, and our visits offer remarkable opportunities to collaborate, working and learning together with educational professionals in a rich and diverse cultural and linguistic setting in a very different part of the world. Our work with our Malaysian partners is a great example of Stranmillis as a learning community that ‘Pursues excellence; Embraces Diversity; Champions Collaboration; Promotes Social Responsibility; and Practises Good Governance’.

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National Student Survey Success
Last year's Student President Adam Leahy with Audrey Curry and Dr Ken Gibson
Last year's Student President Adam Leahy with Audrey Curry and Dr Ken Gibson

Stranmillis University College is delighted to report very positive student feedback from the 2016 National Student Survey (NSS).

The student satisfaction score of 91% placed Stranmillis joint eleventh in the NSS UK ratings and second in Northern Ireland, ensuring that the College’s scores remain securely aligned with the top UK universities (Times Higher Education 10.08.16).

The National Student Survey is an important annual report on the undergraduate student experience in UK Higher Education Institutions and Stranmillis has continued to build on its success of previous years, remaining in the top 10% of institutions with respect to student satisfaction. This continued success is a testament to the ongoing partnership that has been developed between staff and students working together in a joint academic community, to improve and develop the Stranmillis experience.

The Principal, Dr Anne Heaslett, commented “It is also a reflection of the hard work done by both staff and students and all should be congratulated in helping to achieve the scores”. 

Students’ Union President, Mr Adam Pollock, said “The improvement in NSS scores signifies a significant step forward for Stranmillis University College. The scores accurately reflect the dedication of both staff and students towards creating an environment of excellence and innovation.  I am pleased that the staff and students are getting the recognition that they deserve for all their hard work!”

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Looking Forward to Panto 2016!
Above: Cast. Below: The Panto Committee
Above: Cast. Below: The Panto Committee
Above: Jason Price (Producer) and Jenna McAnearney (Director);                    Below - in the newly refurbished dressing rooms
Above: Jason Price (Producer) and Jenna McAnearney (Director); Below - in the newly refurbished dressing rooms

Panto 2016 Producer Jason Price reports on the latest on the 2016 panto and some newly refurbished dressing rooms!

‘Following the success of last year's production of 'Robin Hood', as well as endless other successful Stran pantomimes in the history books, Stranmillis Drama Society are extremely proud to announce that 'Little Red Riding Hood' will be our 2016 pantomime production. With committee preparations beginning back in June, it was hard to image being able to gather together a completed script, a fantastic cast, an enthusiastic chorus and a creative crew, but here we are with the glitter, sparkle, music, dancing, laughs and spectacle about to happen once again!

Panto is a labour of love for the countless students who will give up their time and talents in bringing this production to life over the next two months. Early October marks the beginning of many hours of intensive work, creative flair and endless rehearsals. Our expectations about participation have been surpassed – there have been dozens of students signing up to get involved, either on or off stage. We are so excited for what lies ahead and we can't wait to see the hard work pay off come show week!

This year is extra special for the Stranmillis Drama Society: each of the four dressing rooms located behind the Drama Theatre has been fully refurbished and transformed. This luxurious refurbishment to the facilities reflects not just the success of the Stranmillis pantomime, but also the work of many external organisations that make use of the College’s facilities for putting on a production. We would like publicly to thank all those involved in making this transformation possible and we very much look forward to making use of the shiny new spaces!

'Little Red Riding Hood' is running from 1st - 10th December 2016 with six school shows and eight public shows scheduled. Of course every production needs an audience, and we at Stran have been very lucky to perform in front of enthusiastic supporters willing to enter into the magical spirit of pantomime. Whether you are one of our regular supporters or are considering coming for the very first time, tickets go on sale on Monday 24th October in Stranmillis Students' Union office and we'd love to have you there! You won't regret it... oh no you won't!’

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College Service at St Bart’s

A service to mark the commencement of a new academic year was held on the 26th September in Saint Bartholomew’s Church on the Strnamillis Road. The service was organised by the Stranmillis Christian Union, and one of the CU Committee, Rachel Johnston, reports:

‘The service at St Bart’s was a fitting way to celebrate the start of the academic year - for new students, returning students, lecturers and all members of staff associated with Stranmillis University College.
The service began with a welcome from the Stranmillis CU President for this year, final year primary student Nicola Bailey. We also had a word of welcome from the College Principal, Dr Anne Heaslett, who reminded us to be thankful for the year that has passed but also excited for the year to come.  During the service, we sang some worship songs with the help of the Christian Union band. The Worship Coordinator for Stranmillis CU this year, Chris Nevin, organised the band and led the congregational singing.

Our invited speaker was Mr Adam McCready. Adam, a former Stran student, currently works for Scripture Union in the north of the province. In his talk, he was able to share a message from the Bible encouraging us to exercise obedience and endeavour to try our best as we begin or continue our studies within the College.

Following the service, there were refreshments provided for all. All in all, it was an excellent way to unite both lecturers and students and give us enthusiasm and empower us for the year ahead.’

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Halls of Residence – Rooms Still Available

There are still some single student bedrooms available in the Halls of Residence on the Stranmillis campus.

The rooms cost £108 per week, and this includes 7 day catering, wi-fi, heat and hot water. Students from Queen’s, St Mary’s University College and Belfast Met are also welcome to stay in Stranmillis Halls, and there are no post-code limitations.

To enquire further, telephone 02890384251 or email  .

The University College Halls of Residence are situated on the west side of the grounds in a pleasant environment of trees and shrubs. They provide modern, comfortable accommodation for over 400 students in six halls.

There is much to be gained - academically, professionally and socially - from living in Halls. It is easier for students to plan the effective use of their time, greater use can be made of University College facilities, and participation in student clubs and societies becomes much more convenient. Residents are freed from the tedium and irritation of daily travel and can devote more time to academic and leisure activities.

Life in Halls brings with it new privileges, new freedoms and new responsibilities. Students are afforded the opportunity to mature within a secure and supportive environment. The experience of living in Halls provides a basis for personal and professional development in the company of other Stranmillis students and students from other institutions. In addition, residents have the opportunity to meet with students from a range of other countries involved in the Erasmus and International schemes. Various activities are organised on campus by Stranmillis University College interns throughout the year so students from all institutions can meet each other in a relaxed, fun setting.

The University College is particularly fortunate in the quality of accommodation it can offer and is justly proud of its Halls. All Halls are double glazed, centrally heated and comprehensively equipped.

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Stranmillis Lifelong Learners Celebrate in Style!

In June Stranmillis University College’s Lifelong Learning Department hosted its annual Celebratory Evening to mark yet another successful year.

Among the 200 guests were many of the hundreds of adult learners who have enjoyed the College’s programme of courses ranging from History to Arabic and Computing to Tai-Chi. This was an opportunity to relax and reminisce with fellow students and staff to the strains of the traditional Irish harp, beautifully executed by Ms Edel Brady.

After a warm welcome by the Principal, Dr Anne Heaslett, guests were invited to sample a series of vibrant ‘taster’ sessions by Lifelong Learning tutors. These covered such forthcoming Autumn ‘attractions’ as Wood-Turning, Russian History and ‘Great Irish Demesnes’. This novel feature went down well with our loyal army of adult learners, keen to explore new avenues of self-fulfilment!

The grand finale was an illustrated talk by resident historian and Head of Lifelong Learning, Dr Éamon Phoenix who took as his theme: ‘Voices 16: Northern Narratives of the Easter Rising and the Somme’. 

And, as the sun set on a truly spectacular evening, guests filtered homewards to the haunting air of ‘The Coolin’, played beautifully by local flautist, Ms Muriel Moore. It was ‘a night that will linger long in the memory’, as one of them joyfully put it!  

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Males in Teaching Conference

Head of Widening Participation at Stranmillis, Dr Brian Cummins, reports on a recent ‘Males in Teaching’ conference held at the College. First, he writes about the context of the debate about teacher gender.

‘Stranmillis is dedicated to ensuring that it has a representative student body across its degree programmes. In line with other universities in Northern Ireland it is keen to attract more students from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, Care Experienced students, mature students, disabled students and those from ethnic minorities. We are also unique in that we have a dedicated project aimed at increasing male interest, application and entry into teaching. Lack of males in teaching is not a problem restricted to Stranmillis or indeed Northern Ireland: it is a global concern.

Here in Northern Ireland during the past decade the number of male teachers in all school sectors has averaged around 25%, but recent figures presented in ‘Teacher workforce statistics in grant-aided schools in Northern Ireland: 2015 to 2016’ highlight that ‘The proportion of teachers working in all schools who are male has been declining over the last five years. Most notable is the absence of male teachers in nursery schools’. Current figures reveal that ‘The proportion of teachers across the nursery, primary and preparatory schools who are male is 15.1%, while in the post primary schools 31.3% of teachers are male’ (DENI 16 June 2016). The Department of Education add: ‘… most notable is the low percentage of male principals and vice principals (38.4% and 31.4% respectively) in nursery, primary and preparatory schools. In post primary schools, 55.7% of principals and 42.2% of vice principals are male’.

The figures above are concerning, and what reinforces perceptions of the lack of adult males in schools today is that a significant number of schools have no male staff in any capacity, including support staff. In some schools male classroom assistants provide the additional adult male presence.

As a leading Initial Teacher Education College which is multi-professional, the disproportionate gender balance is of interest to us at Stranmillis in relation to recruitment, research, teaching and learning. The College recognises that while a lack of male teachers is a complex global issue, the decline should not be ignored by us and the sector at large and requires positive and direct action.

First and foremost children need good quality teachers, regardless of gender; fortunately this is what we have in Northern Ireland. However, our experience suggests that limited exposure to a male teacher can influence young male perceptions of the value of education. In places where there is a culture of poor educational aspiration, particularly amongst boys living in low socio-economic neighbourhoods, perhaps with few positive male role models, it is clear that there is validity in aiming to increase the number of male teachers. For girls, who may have no father figure at home, engaging with males in a positive, caring and nurturing environment can only be a good thing. Not only do children benefit from a male teacher, but female teachers can also welcome a male presence in the staffroom.

A number of benefits have been claimed for having a more gender balanced teacher workforce. A full discussion of this is beyond the scope of this short article; however to begin a debate, in June 2016 Stranmillis held a ‘Males in Teaching’ (MiT) conference. Speakers at the conference included Julie Richardson who shared her experience of young males’ attitudes to teaching through her experience as a leading Careers Teacher. Tony Monaghan drew from his extensive experience of School/Industry links to illustrate the importance of male teachers in forming the attitudes of boys and their fathers. Gary Cullen highlighted the importance of obtaining more robust data concerning why many males are not opting for teaching and also how technology could be used to obtain this information. Finally Mary McSorley of the Equality Commission provided an excellent overview of the bigger equality picture and what we could and indeed could not do to encourage more males into teaching. The conference was attend by a mix of individuals representative of the Northern Ireland education sector, and following the presentations there was an opportunity to discuss:

• Why are males reluctant to teach?
• Where are males most underrepresented in schools in Northern Ireland?
• Do schools really need male teachers? Does it really matter?
• How important is male role-modelling?
• How might more males be encouraged to get into teaching, and whose responsibility is this?

An excellent discussion was held, and given the purpose of the conference - to kick-start a debate - there emerged many more new questions, agreement, disagreement but an overall feeling that something has to be done.
One of the attendees reiterated the centrality of good teaching, noting that,  ‘In my opinion good teaching with emphasis on developing young people with appropriate social skills and early mathematical and literacy ability attracts a higher weighting than teacher gender on overall educational success’. However following the conference she added that, ‘the conversation has begun. The need to address the gender balance within the teaching profession in Northern Ireland has been recognised as an important factor in meeting the needs of the younger generation and in providing optimal educational outcomes. Bringing this discussion to the next stage requires a deeper understanding of the differences in public perception surrounding males in the teaching profession …’

During 2016-17 Stranmillis will explore in more detail what was commenced at the conference and begin to offer some answers as a basis for a strategy that addresses this decline. We would be delighted to have conversations with any current readers, including females, who could inform our efforts and perhaps contribute to informing a regional strategy.’


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Student Mentor Training

On Tuesday 6th and 13th September, 15 students took part in Student Mentor training, hosted in the Main Building Board room by NUS-USI.

The training workshop was interactive, student centred and provided new mentors with the opportunity to develop skills in building mentoring relationships, communication, group facilitation and referral techniques. The workshop was specifically aimed at enhancing participants’ understanding of the context of mentoring, discussing the steps to improve and ensure professional mentoring and to strengthen participants’ abilities in the development of mentorship plans.

Each participant in the training has also been provided with the material, knowledge and opportunity to create their own mentoring portfolio in order to gain an OCN Level 3 qualification in Peer Mentorship.

Feedback from all students involved was very positive and the sessions were found to be very constructive and informative, having equipped them to fulfil their roles effectively.

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Successful Outreach Events

Intern Jayne Patterson reports on two successful open day and careers day events:

‘On 7th September Banbridge Academy held a well organised careers day for the pupils of the school and the Area Learning Community. There was a very warm welcome from the school’s staff and principal, a number of informative seminars and the opportunity to meet lots of keen prospective Stranmillis students. The Stranmillis banner was raised high at the information stand and Dr Ken Gibson, along with interns Adam Leahy and Jayne Patterson, found great interest from pupils in the Banbridge area, keen to study at the College. Conversations were focused on preferable subject choices, grades needed, required experience and what the pupils really wanted become in a few years. Later in the afternoon, Dr Ken Gibson along with Jayne Patterson gave a presentation based seminar on what the sixth formers might expect when coming to Stranmillis and how they might maximise their potential to obtain a place at the College. There were many questions from some clearly passionate pupils. Interested prospective students were able to obtain information about the academic, pastoral and financial support offered through the University College Widening Participation (WP) scheme. Stranmillis is an all-inclusive institution and our WP team are particularly keen to hear from males interested in teaching, students from low income families and students with disabilities.

A number of colleagues represented the College at QUB Open Days between 8th and 10th September, including members from the Widening Participation team, the Students’ Union, the Registry Office and Dr. Irene Bell who gave lectures on Stranmillis.  A large number of prospective students and family members travelled from far and wide to ask questions and seek advice on the admissions process. There were attendees from all sectors of education and even the Republic of Ireland, which made for interesting conversations about the schooling system in Ireland. The staff from Registry were very helpful in giving detailed advice to prospective students about a variety of courses using the qualifications and that they had gained or were working towards. WP staff shared important information on the support we can offer to mature students, those with disabilities and Care Experienced applicants.

Despite negative media coverage of the teaching profession in recent years, the representatives from Stranmillis took great comfort in knowing that interest in the profession is still high. In addition to our BEd degrees it was pleasing to see the positive response of attendees interested in our BSC and BA programmes.

Stranmillis wishes every success to those beginning the UCAS application process.’


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CPD and APA Celebration

On Wednesday 22nd June Stranmillis University College welcomed for lunch an invited group of over 80 guests from the field of education. 

The occasion was the celebration of the work of the College’s Associate Placement Assessors as well as the presentation of certificates to those who had taken part in the Stranmillis Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programme during 2015/16, and the Annual CPD Lecture.

The Associate Placement Assessors (APAs) support the College by giving their time to help staff as they visit and assess our students in their placement schools.  This has not only been invaluable to Stranmillis tutors in confirming their professional judgements of student competence, but is instrumental in enhancing the student experience.  In addition, feedback from the APAs themselves indicates the personal and professional value which they place on the opportunity to visit other schools and learn about and share good practice with other principals.

The CPD Annual Lecture was delivered by Madeleine Brennan and was a stimulating and thought provoking reflection entitled “Continuing Professional Development: An Essential Investment for Leading and Managing.” Madeleine Brennan was a primary and secondary school principal for 26 years, 18 of these as the founding Executive Principal of large joint co-educational Kindergarten to Year Twelve school in Adelaide, the first joint venture in Australia of the Anglican and Catholic Churches.

The event concluded with Madeleine presenting certificates to those who were able to attend in person, representing the 330 teachers who took part in CPD events this year. Of this number, 92 attended courses at the College’s outreach ‘hubs’ around Northern Ireland.

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July 2016 Graduation Celebrations

The annual Stranmillis University College Graduation Celebration event and the graduation ceremony at Queen’s University took place on a very rainy July 4th.

The event at Stranmillis recognises the achievement of those who are being awarded undergraduate degrees, postgraduate degrees, certificates, diplomas and special prizes. It also provides the opportunity for graduates to receive well-deserved applause from parents, partners and friends. The special guest speaker was Dr Peter Hamill, who is the Secretary to the Church of Ireland Board of Education in Northern Ireland. Peter is a Stranmillis graduate and has a PhD in Education and Religion. He spoke about his own time at Stranmillis and encouraged all present to keep on with their learning journeys and to explore all possible career options.

Dr Hamill presented Special Awards and Certificates of Achievement to graduating BEd, BSc, BA and PGCE students.  The College Principal, Dr Anne Heaslett, also presented graduating PGCE Early Years students with a commemorative stole to mark of the successful completion of their year’s study.

The Principal concluded the ceremony by adding personal words of congratulations and wished students success and fulfilment as they moved to the next stage of their career journey. Some 150 graduating students, accompanied by their families and friends, joined staff and special guests for a buffet lunch in College Hall.

The graduation ceremony for the conferment of degrees took place in the Whitla Hall at Queen’s University later in the afternoon. At that event the Honorary Graduand was Dato’ Lim Si Boon, a former graduate of Queen’s University and owner and Director of Tenby Schools in Malaysia. He spoke not only of his long standing partnership with Queen’s but also with Stranmillis University College. For the past eight years the College has provided professional development for teachers in Malaysia. This has now resulted in the development of an International Postgraduate Certificate in Education delivered through a partnership between Stranmillis University College, Queen’s University and Tenby Schools.

The wet weather didn’t relent after the Whitla Hall ceremony, meaning that the new graduates and their families had to shelter in the cloisters on the Lanyon Building or inside one of the large marquees on the lawn. However this did not put too much of a ‘dampener’ on what was a very happy occasion! Congratulations to all of our graduating students!!

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Outdoor Learning is Fun!

PGCE student Naomi Shannon reports on an exciting outdoor learning event on campus with local school children:

Outdoor learning: are there any benefits compared to indoor learning? Well, 26 enthusiastic Primary 3 pupils from Fane Street Primary School joined 15 Stranmillis PGCE students to find out! The students were responsible for planning sets of cross-curricular outdoor activities, designed to be relevant to the NI Curriculum, to be of educational value and so that children’s interests would be captured.

One group grabbed the children’s attention straight away through planning a Dinosaur exploration.  After following a number of suspicious footprints outside, the children were excited to find they had stumbled across dinosaur remains!  However, before examining them they agreed to learn more about dinosaurs through quietly listening to a story about dinosaurs. Then the group began exploring the outdoor area. Much to the children’s excitement they came across various bones and fossils, which were sorted according to length and weight; natural materials such as leaves and twigs were used to measure length and a homemade 'balance pan' was used to determine weight. The excitement did not end there, as the children came across dinosaur eggs! It was agreed that they should test the dinosaur eggs on different surfaces to see what natural materials would best protect them on their journey to the museum. As predicted, the eggs survived being dropped onto leaves and twigs, but a giant dinosaur mess was left on the ground after an egg was dropped onto the hard path!

A second group opted for the theme of 'Stick Man' based on the character from Julia Donaldson's book. The children were initially shown a short news clip explaining that Stick Man's family had been kidnapped by a bird and Stick Man was requesting the children's help. Outside, the children were given a series of challenges aimed at helping them find the Stick Man's family. Firstly they had to use natural materials to construct a cosy nest for the bird. They excitedly rushed around the grass hunting for twigs, soft grass and leaves.  Following the nest build, the children engaged in some rhythmic chanting to try to attract the bird to the nest. On their return to the nest, to their surprise, an 'egg' had been laid, which when opened revealed a riddle which the children had to solve, leading to a series of other riddles around the outdoor space. The final riddle led to a tree, where at last the children found the stick family, locked in a box!  The children used excellent problem solving and mathematical skills to deduce how to find the correct key to unlock the family and they were delighted to reunite the family!

The third group listened to a breaking news report which also involved kidnapping! This time it was Little Red Riding Hood who was in peril. Officer Ollie (a puppet) presented them with the challenge of investigating the crime scene area to identify who was guilty - the Big Bad Wolf, the Gruffalo or Goldilocks? A determined group of nine pupils quickly put on their white CSI suits, got their black case and went outdoors to investigate the scene. After measuring footprints with sticks and stones it was concluded that either the Big Bad Wolf or the Gruffalo were guilty. Through further investigation the children came across fur, nails and horns which were closely examined through the use of magnifying glasses and an Easi-Scope. It was concluded that the Gruffalo was guilty of this terrible crime. The pupils then became artists, creating a wild art impression of the Gruffalo through the use of sticks, leaves, grass and flowers. Photos were taken of the pupils’ wanted poster creations, and they were posted to Officer Ollie to inform him that the crime had been solved.

After much fun and hard work, lunch was enjoyed by all. From the smiles on their faces as the bus pulled away it was evident that the Fane Street children had had an amazing time. The student teachers all had a great time too, concluding that outdoor learning is a fun and educationally valuable way to extend pupil learning. As Margaret McMillan once said, “The best classroom and the richest cupboard are roofed only by the sky.”

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Stranmillis Enterprise Challenge
Business and Enterprise students working with pupils at the enterprise event.
Business and Enterprise students working with pupils at the enterprise event.
Stranmillis students with a team of pupils from both participating schools presenting their final design.
Stranmillis students with a team of pupils from both participating schools presenting their final design.

Stranmillis Year 2 Business and Enterprise students (aided by some willing Year 1 students) recently hosted an enterprise event, supported by Widening Participation funding.  

A total of 19 pupils from two local schools, Lisnagarvey High School and Belfast Royal Academy, attended the event.  The Year 2 students had planned a very enjoyable and engaging enterprise programme, based on the theme of sport, which aimed to help the pupils develop important enterprising skills such as creativity, decision making and team work.  Pupils were challenged to make some important marketing decisions and much creativity was clearly evident in the final design ideas for the sports t-shirts.

Following the event, Stuart Murphy, a teacher from Belfast Royal Academy, commented “Pupils were engaged from start to finish with the varied nature of the activities.  A great experience for my pupils to meet pupils from other schools and see the university college”.  Further, Stuart Thompson, a teacher from Lisnagarvey High School, remarked positively upon the excellent resources used to introduce pupils to the world of enterprise and innovation. 

Lisa McKenzie, Business and Enterprise lecturer, was delighted that the Stranmillis students had the opportunity to plan and deliver a successful event to such an enthusiastic group of pupils.




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Stranmillis lecturer Gillian Beck pauses for reflection on the recent Saphara trip to India:

‘This year it was my privilege to travel this Easter as part of a team of lecturers and students from Stranmillis and St. Mary’s University Colleges to visit a range of schools in India which provide education for marginalised communities.

Saphara is a non-profit, non-denominational Christian organisation which gives young people the opportunity to engage in issues of justice and global citizenship through working with educationally disadvantaged children in India.

The schools we visited cater for pre-school children and those aged 4-18 but also have a range of employability programmes, particularly for girls and young women. These women are themselves marginalised and undervalued. In all three schools which we visited these young women were being equipped to take important roles and were making a significant difference, not only to their own families but in the wider community.

The students had the opportunity to teach the full range of classes. Prior to our visit, they had worked together in teams to plan and resource a series of lessons for a particular age group. All were a little nervous, given the difference in language but also in setting and culture. Despite this they did an excellent job!

Some of the children led us on a tour of the local area. We met their families and they proudly showed us around their homes. While we all expected this to be very challenging; it proved to be motivational. One of the Stranmillis students, Jill Porter, said: ‘Sometimes we look out into the world and see so many problems and so much pain and wonder how we can make a difference, but seeing the smiling faces of the children we met through the work of SAPHARA showed me that making a difference IS possible.’

Dr. Martin Hagan from St Mary’s and I planned teacher training sessions for the teachers and their newly appointed classroom assistants. The sessions went well, with the staff actively engaging with the discussions and tasks. Their willingness to consider new educational approaches and to implement new practices was humbling, especially given the very limited resources they had to work with.

At more practical level, Dr. Hagan unveiled the new staff toilets which the students’ fund raising had made possible!

However, our personal learning journeys were not purely shaped by planned events. Day to day encounters with the staff, children, people we met whilst shopping and the children we met on the streets transformed our world view. One of the St Mary’s students, Maria Ann McLarnon, commented: ‘I never imagined just how much my outlook on life could change within ten days. Reflecting on this incredible experience, I can wholeheartedly say that in this world we make a life from what we give.’

I also learned a lot about the calibre of the students in our colleges. Their capacity not only to fulfil their teaching roles but to build relationships, to care and to act made them excellent ambassadors.
Stran student Sarah Hillis summed up her feelings by saying: ‘Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain. I think these children have all helped us learn how to dance.’

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Graduate Intern Celebration Event

Friday the 10th of June was the commencement of celebration events at Stranmillis University College.  The Chair of the Governing Body Education Committee, Robert Thompson, and College staff were joined by colleagues from Barnardo’s and a number of our partner schools to hear about the work throughout 2015-16 of our graduate interns.

In her welcome and introduction, Dr Anne Heaslett emphasised how Stranmillis University College values its working relationship with all partners through the Graduate Internship Scheme.  The scheme is an important development which provides excellent opportunities for our recent graduates to gain valuable experience, as well as making a significant contribution to improving the educational outcomes of our young people.

The final element of the Graduate Internship Programme requires graduates to reflect on how the internship provided opportunities for personal and professional learning.  In their presentations they shared activities and experiences from their learning portfolio throughout the year and impressed the audience with the learning they had gained from the experiences provided to them.

Adam Baird, Corey McKendry, Jonny Agnew and Claire Walsh reflected on their experiences working with Barnardo’s and their link schools in the East Belfast and Rathcoole areas.  They shared experiences from Family Learning Clubs alongside working with small groups of children in both the Primary and Post-Primary sectors. This was followed by Katy Clarke, graduate intern for Dundonald Primary School, who drew on her experience of taking on not one, but two internship roles where she assisted in both the “Step Up to Literacy” programme and also a STEM focused programme.

Lucy Backus, our very own Widening Participation graduate intern, was the final presenter.  She highlighted a portfolio of projects and outreach programmes carried out here in Stranmillis, combined with experiences working with the Erasmus and International students throughout the year.

The graduate interns were then presented with a Stranmillis Award for their contributions to their individual positions. We would like to take this opportunity to wish all of the graduate interns all the best for whatever the future holds!

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Stran SU in ‘Which?’ Top Ten!

Stranmillis Students’ Union has been shown to be in the top 10 for ‘satisfaction’ in the UK. New SU President Adam Pollock reports:

According to a study conducted by 'Which? University', the Students’ Union at Stranmillis University College came in joint 9th in the UK, tied with Hull and Winchester University with a student satisfaction rating of 80%.

One student quoted in the study said “Stran has great social spaces! The union is very active and during the day it's open so you find students eating lunch there sometimes. It's comfy and homely”. This statement is testament to the friendly atmosphere and comfortable environment that the Students’ Union strives to create and maintain for all students.

What makes this statistic event more impressive is the fact that Stranmillis Students’ Union missed out on placing in the top 5 by a mere 3%. However hopes are high for next year’s survey!

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FRONTER Competition Winners 2016

This year’s winners of the ‘Fronter Room’ competition sponsored by C2K and Capita, each receiving an HP ProBook convertible laptop/tablet, were Year 1 Primary student Kerry Burns and Year 4 Primary student Matthew Mairs.

The prizes were presented to the students at a ceremony held at the School of Education at Queen’s as reward for their winning Fronter entries. Fronter is the primary online learning tool for schools in Northern Ireland. For the competition the students were required to create an interactive online course, called a ‘room’, within Fronter which could then be used by other teachers.

Prizes were also awarded to students from St Mary's University College and Queen's. All of the students displayed their ‘rooms’ and explained their purpose and features to the other students and to the lecturers who were present and to representatives from C2K and Capita. The Fronter competition is evidence of a strong partnership between teacher education, C2K and Capita with its focus on beginning teachers who are leading the way in using emerging technologies for teaching and learning.

The level of design and interactivity from all of the winning entries was very impressive. The selection panel at Stranmillis, consisting of Richard Greenwood, Patricia Corrigan and Rose Montgomery, commended both of the winning entries for their appealing and attractive design as well as the potential of each to create an interesting and interactive learning environment. Kerry’s room is aimed at Key Stage 2 pupils, focussing on learning French. She incorporated text and images, votes and a discussion forum as well as video clips of her younger sister speaking and singing in French! Matthew’s room was also aimed at Key Stage 2 pupils and is all about the Ancient Egyptians, a popular World Around Us topic. It has sections on gods and goddesses, pyramids and hieroglyphics and features a scary mummy on the home page!

All of the winning entries have been made into ‘Ready-to-go Rooms’ so that they are available to all teachers in Northern Ireland (via the Equella content management system).

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An Unforgettable Afternoon at Montalto House

On Saturday 11th June, in glorious sunshine, fifty Stranmillis Lifelong Learners visited one of County Down's finest Georgian mansions - Montalto House near Ballynahinch - former home of the Rawdon family, Earls of Moira. Lifelong Learning tutor and Ulster-Scots writer and broadcaster Laura Spence describes a wonderful afternoon:

‘On arrival at the private estate, guests were welcomed by David Wilson, son of the present owners and grandson of manufacturing giant, F.G. Wilson.  David outlined the family's plans to develop Montalto as a public attraction from late 2017, with a tearoom and garden trails.

Local historian Horace Reid delivered a lively talk on the Rawdon family - exploring their political and military exploits.  The 1798 Battle of Ballynahinch was actually fought within the demesne grounds, and Wolfe Tone himself visited Montalto in 1792.  Horace also discussed Betsy Gray, the famous flame-haired heroine of ‘The '98’, who was killed nearby.

Following a guided tour around the house, the Stranmillis visitors enjoyed a superlative afternoon cream tea before making the most of the weather as David led a walk round the lake and grounds; all in all, it was an unforgettable afternoon.’

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Let's Talk About Number

Dr Pamela Moffett, Sarah Mathison (Millennium IPS, Saintfield), Pauline Beattie (Holy Family PS, Downpatrick), Rachel McClements (Millennium IPS, Saintfield), Maria Rogan (St Joseph’s PS, Carryduff), Ciara Delaney (St Joseph’s PS, Lisburn) and Dr Patricia Eaton
Five Primary 1 teachers recently took part in the PENT (Promoting Early Number Talk) partnership project with lecturers Dr Pamela Moffett and Dr Patricia Eaton.

The project is based on ‘Number Talk’, a resource book for teachers to support their planning and teaching in early number. Research evidence suggests that a focus on mathematical talk in the early years has the potential to support the development of children’s understanding in mathematics. The aim of the PENT project was to evaluate the impact of teachers implementing the Number Talk resource ideas and activities in their classroom practice.

Comments from the participating teachers include:

‘This really takes you back to basics…. They have started to talk back to me much, much more in number language…. I found it invaluable.’

‘It really did focus my attention on number and the talking around it, making it incidental and part and parcel of the day.’

‘The difference was unbelievable in terms of dialogue with the children…. There were more opportunities for them to explain their thinking…. Then all this language rolled out.’

‘It worked well with the classroom assistants. It has even given them more confidence. We are giving them more clarity on what we want observed and what questions we want asked. It has really improved practice.’

The ‘Number Talk’ resource book is available online from the Stranmillis e-Shop:

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Double Success for the Docendo Racing Team

Student teachers have discovered a unique and exciting way to introduce school pupils to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).  ‘Docendo Racing’ is a motor sport inspired STEM initiative from students of Stranmillis University College. Head of Mathematics, Science and Technology at Stranmillis, Dr Irene Bell, reports:

‘Using an education programme where children design, build and race single seat electric vehicles as inspiration, the Docendo Racing team have been assisting teachers in local schools to explore topics such as road safety, materials, electric circuits, gears and ratios.  Students produced innovative teaching materials for pupils aged 9 to 11 years, and led practical sessions to show the relevance of STEM subjects using a kit car. Pupils raced their kit car at an all-island race festival on Saturday 11th June at Kirkistown Motor Racing Circuit. The Stranmillis students were thrilled to receive the ‘Greenpower Cross Community Award’ for this work.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Formula Goblin, IET Formula 24 and IET Formula 24+ encourage primary school pupils to build kit cars using simple tools, and this leads on to pupils using cutting edge computer aided design software, materials and building techniques in post-primary school, college and university to build their own highly efficient electric cars.

With their exams completed, the Docendo Racing team turned their attention to finishing the efforts of their own racing team which they established last year. The students built their own single seat electric car to compete in the IET Formula 24+ competition against other colleges and universities and gained 1st place.

Student teacher Anthony McGill said: “competing in the university category, IET Formula 24+, is an opportunity to use what we have learned in running educational outreach projects, to develop skills in further resourcing our support for schools, and in doing so, developing our technical capabilities in a highly charged, fast paced, and competitive environment.”

Stuart Christy, Regional Ambassador for Greenpower in Northern Ireland and Ireland added: “The Docendo Racing team will compete against international teams, including household names like Jaguar Land Rover and Lockheed Martin. They have displayed exceptional and selfless leadership in STEM education, having established new programmes and provided support to schools, all in their spare time. We are grateful to the team, and excited to see what they will innovate next.”’

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Buongiorno Italia!

Lifelong Learning Italian language tutor Stefania Faraone waxes lyrical about how much she enjoys teaching Italian at Stranmillis!

‘My job as an Italian tutor at Stranmillis started back in 2012. Since then my classes have grown and consolidated - a sign of the increasing interest around the Italian language and culture here in Northern Ireland.

I absolutely love teaching at Stranmillis as it offers outstanding facilities in a relaxed and comfortable environment where students feel at ease and learn while having fun. My classes are packed with interactive activities, games, role-plays and facts about the Italian society at large. The enthusiastic response from the students gives me a great sense of fulfilment.

Over the years, the students have achieved a great deal in terms of linguistic competence and each of them has contributed to the courses with some precious feedback. My lovely Italian students keep coming back term after term and some of them attend Italian cultural events together outside Stranmillis. This proves that the Lifelong Learning programme plays an important role in the social life of its students, which makes me feel even more privileged to be part of it.’

On the right is a photo of the Italian class enjoying a taste of Italy at the end of term ‘Pranzo Italiano’ (Italian dining evening) in Ambrosia on the Ormeau Road.

Starting next October and running until December there are no less than five Italian Language courses held at Stranmillis as part of the Lifelong Learning programme. The courses range from an ‘Absolute Beginners’ course to an ‘Advanced’ course, and all are taught by Stefania. Hard copies of the next Lifelong Learning programme booklet will be available at various outlets from Wednesday 29th June 2016 or in digital form on the Stranmillis web site at:  



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Chinese Health Qigong Delegation at Stranmillis

Due to a recently formed partnership between the Health, Physical Activity and Sport Department at Stranmillis and the British Health Qigong Association (BHQA), the College recently assisted with hosting a delegation of professors of Qigong from China.

Qigong is an integration of physical postures, breathing techniques and focused intentions which can contribute to overall health and well-being. The delegation was comprised of: Madam Tao Su Xiu (PhD), lecturer at Cheng Du University; Master Faye Yip, president and founder of the BHQA, and executive member of the International Health Qigong Federation (IHQA);  Suzanne Vaughan, NI rep for the BHQA; and Madam Wang Jing,  associate professor at Tong Ji University (pictured right).

On the first day of their visit to Ireland, the delegation attended a welcome reception hosted by the Irish President, Mr Michael D Higgins, and his wife Sabina at their home Aras an Uachtarain in Phoenix Park, Dublin. Stranmillis was represented by Stephen Wallace, BSc Programme Leader and Melanie McKee, Senior Lecturer.

On their second day, Stranmillis students and staff, as well as members of the public, were invited to view a demonstration from three Qigong masters and then take part in a taster session in the dance studio in the Orchard Building at Stranmillis to learn simple exercises.

Their visit ended with a one-day training course for existing Qigong instructors in Northern Ireland.

If you would like more general information about Qigong please contact the British Health Qigong Association at . If you are interested in promoting Qigong in your school, please contact Suzanne Vaughan at .

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SEN – Going from Strength to Strength at Stranmillis!

The seventh annual meeting of the Special Educational Needs (SEN) Stakeholder Group was held on Wednesday 1st June in the Orchard Building. 

The SEN Stakeholder Group includes representatives from local mainstream and special schools, the Department of Education, CCEA, ETI, Education Authority, Middletown Centre for Autism and Mencap NI. In recent years the College has worked hard to strengthen our partnerships with schools and the wider community through mainstream, special and alternative placement opportunities through staff involvement in subject-related or community-based organisations, and through guest presentations to students by expert practitioners. The bottom photograph shows Rebecca Chapman and Anna Logan with Mrs Carolyn Stewart on their Alternative Placement with Mencap Nursery Manager Mrs Carolyn Stewart.

Following a welcome and introduction to the Stakeholder Group meeting by Dr Noel Purdy, members enjoyed short presentations highlighting recent innovative developments in SEN across the BEd/PGCE (Gillian Beck), BA Early Childhood Studies (Dr Barbara McConnell) and BSc Health, Physical Activity and Sport (Melanie McKee) as well as new M-Level courses in SEN Literacy (Dr Sharon McMurray).  Dr Noel Purdy also briefed members on recent scholarship and research publications in relation to SEN and inclusion.

Perhaps the highlights of the meeting were two illuminating presentations by current students: Chloe McIlwrath (Year 2 Health, Physical Activity and Sport) who spoke of the challenges and opportunities during her recent placement in an Alternative Education Provision in East Belfast, and Rebekah McKinley (Year 4 BEd Primary) who outlined her experiences of developing sensory approaches to teaching while on placement this year in Roddensvale Special School, Larne.

One of the most important objectives of the group is to provide an opportunity for stakeholders to respond to the developments through group discussion.  Members expressed their appreciation of the breadth and depth of SEN provision right across the College and also made constructive suggestions to further strengthen work in this vital area.

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Early Childhood Education Symposium

On the afternoon of Wednesday 27th May, the two Early Childhood Education departments Stranmillis - Early Childhood Studies and Early Years Education - invited leading practitioners, researchers, colleagues and students to a symposium centred around this year’s research and scholarly activity on the theme of ‘Playful Approaches: Innovative Contexts’.

The audience heard research-informed presentations on Promoting Early Number Talk [PENT] by Dr Pamela Moffett, an EYE lecturer; Quality For Two-Year-Olds by Karen Hanna, an ECS lecturer; and an innovative final year thesis project by ECS student Catherine Murray, who investigated an early intervention resource, ‘ Talking Mats’, designed to stimulate communication with children with special educational needs. The symposium culminated in a marvellous, practically-orientated presentation on the work of five members of the PGCE year group, centred on the theme of outdoor learning in early years education.

The session was followed by a round table discussion on promoting the impact of research and scholarly activity in the field of EYE and ECS. Stakeholders were very supportive of the College’s plan to extend the dissemination of their material through a new, forthcoming section of the College’s website - WATCH THIS SPACE!

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Fond Farewells to the Erasmus and International Students

Outgoing Students’ Union President Adam Leahy looks back on the time spent at Stran by the latest group of Erasmus and International students:

‘As we come to the end of another semester, it is once again time to say not “Goodbye” but “See you soon” to our latest group of Erasmus and International students. As a small send off and a chance to present the students with their completion certificates, an “International and Erasmus Celebration Lunch” was held recently in the Craigantlet dining room at Stranmillis. It was attended by the students, College staff and representatives from the

This semester we had a total of 24 Erasmus students and five International students. The Erasmus students’ home countries included Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Poland, Germany, The Netherlands and Spain and our International students’ countries included America and China (Gaungzhou and Hong Kong).

During their time in Northern Ireland, these students were able to get involved in lectures and seminars, learning about the culture and history of Northern Ireland, to embark on teaching practice and bring their country’s insight to their schools, and get involved in the student social life through the Students’ Union and many interesting outings on the fabled SU minibus.

The Erasmus and International Programme brings a real richness to the campus through these enthusiastic, engaged and diverse students, and it is truly valued by staff and students on campus as well as being a big encouragement for those home students who are considering going on their own International or Erasmus experience. This group has been a true credit to their home universities and will be dearly missed by us all here. They are always welcome should they wish to return here to Stranmillis.’

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Tackling Underachievement and Having a Blast!

Dr Sharon Jones reports on some practical outcomes from the ‘Tackling Underachievement’ Master’s in Education Studies module:

‘Two of this year's students on the Tackling Underachievement Master’s module, Christian Glass, a teacher in Rathcoole Primary School, and Tom Lavery, Academy of Engineering STEM Teacher Coordinator for Northern Ireland, have reported that they have been able to put the learning and reflection which the module offers to excellent use. 

In an exciting joint initiative in Rathcoole Primary School they recently held an "Air - Vacuum or Compressed" event for pupils. This successful project goes to show that Master’s modules offer valuable opportunities to network and collaborate in order to improve the educational experiences of children in our schools. According to Tom Lavery, the pupils at Rathcoole Primary School enjoyed the event and worked on the activities with great focus.

Class Teacher Christian said: "The children had a fantastic day ... and look forward to more like it in the future." In fact, a second special activity day involving a "helicopter launcher" is planned soon. This activity, Thomas Lavery reports, "investigates Newton's Third Law, aerodynamics, jet propulsion, friction, momentum and inertia plus building a machine and working in groups and solving problems".

Great work by our M Level Tackling Underachievement students Christian and Tom!’

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Brain Based Learning - Book Launch

Fingerprint Learning's new book, 'Whole Brain Learning and Teaching', was launched at Stranmillis University College on Tuesday 17th May.

Dr John Kelly's book has been written to make discoveries about the brain and learning accessible to all educators and learners - at home, in school and in the community. Speakers at the launch included Stranmillis lecturer Dr Brian Cummins; Mark Langhammer, Director of the ATL NI; Bronagh Wright of EOTAS and John D'Arcy, Director of the Open University in Ireland.

Around 50 people heard Dr Kelly outline the theme of the book which includes a vision for education and practical approaches to brain based learning for parents and teachers. The book provides insights into the theory behind Fingerprint Learning’s very successful workshops that have been held in schools, colleges, community centres, places of employment and prisons. It is available on

Dr Brian Cummins of Stranmillis was delighted to support the launch and informed the audience that Dr Kelly’s work has left a lasting impression on many Stranmillis students, saying that: 'readers will gain useful insights into behaviour and attitudes to learning, and above all else gain confidence in themselves’.

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Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland Conference held at Stranmillis

L-R: Margaret Burke - SBNI, Alison Armstrong - ASCERT, Dr John Kelly - Fingerprint Learning, Sybil Skelton - EANI, Jonny Fancy - PSNI and Dr Bronagh McKee - Stranmillis University College.
L-R: Margaret Burke - SBNI, Alison Armstrong - ASCERT, Dr John Kelly - Fingerprint Learning, Sybil Skelton - EANI, Jonny Fancy - PSNI and Dr Bronagh McKee - Stranmillis University College.

In partnership with the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireand (SBNI) and Education Authority NI, Stranmillis was delighted to host and contribute to a conference on ‘Substance Abuse: Keeping Children Safe’.

The SBNI was established in 2012 in recognition of the fact that children are more likely to be protected when agencies work in an all-inclusive and consistent way.  Individual children, especially some of the most vulnerable and those at greatest risk of social exclusion, will need multiagency coordinated help.

The audience, which consisted of professionals from a range of organisations, agencies and sectors, was informed of the need for a coordinated approach from education, health, children’s social care, the voluntary sector and other agencies; the prevalence and risk factors for substance abuse locally and internationally; the impact of substance abuse on brain development; and the law in relation to substance abuse.  College lecturer and Child Protection and Safeguarding Co-ordinator Dr Bronagh McKee highlighted the child protection and safeguarding training and education provided to Stranmillis students and staff. 

Feedback from the audience was excellent and representatives from SBNI and EANI acknowledged the work of and support provided by Stranmillis University College. 

For more information on the role of the SBNI visit


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Conor, Paul and Noel – Working Hard at Stran!
Above: Conor working in Betty's; Noel portering with Gavin. Below: Paul working outdoors with Niall
Above: Conor working in Betty's; Noel portering with Gavin. Below: Paul working outdoors with Niall

Since February three sixth form students from Tor Bank School have completed a work placement on the Stranmillis campus.  The students are Conor McSherry, Paul Murray and Noel Montgomery.

Conor McSherry has been working in Betty’s Coffee Shop in Central Building every Thursday.  There he has been busy making teas and coffees, serving hot food, tidying up, and using the till, working with Linda, Kate and Pauline.  Conor has really enjoyed his time in Betty’s, as he explains: “The thing I’ve enjoyed most is meeting all the new people, and I have really enjoyed making all the different types of coffee, even though I don’t drink coffee myself.  Linda, Kate and Pauline are all spot on.”

Noel Montgomery has joined the portering team and has worked with Gavin, James, William and John in particular on Tuesday mornings.  One of Noel’s main tasks has been to help deliver the post all over the College which he has really enjoyed.  He described the porters as “very friendly” and John Tate as “a messer”!

Paul Murray has been working in the Estates Department with the gardening staff, in particular Niall.  On Thursday mornings Paul has been helping to rake leaves, weed the flower beds, rake up moss and tidy up the yard.  Paul said “I really enjoyed being outside in the fresh air and raking leaves.  All the people I work with are really friendly.”

Earlier in the semester Conor, Paul and Noel also enjoyed lunch each week with a group of student volunteers who were keen to hear about their experiences and learn more about Tor Bank.

Tor Bank has hosted Stranmillis students for many years, but this is the first year that Stranmillis has hosted students from Tor Bank and we hope that the success of this pilot project will lead to further opportunities to work together in the future.  Dr Noel Purdy commented: “This has been a terrific experience not just for Noel, Conor and Paul, but for the whole Stranmillis community, with staff and students from right across the College getting involved.”

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Jill Wins Critical Writing Prize

Congratulations to Jill Porter (Year 4 BEd Primary) whose essay has been highly commended in the ‘Critical Writing Prize 2016’ awarded by Critical Publishing. 

Jill’s essay was entitled “Bereavement in the Primary School: A critical consideration of the nature, incidence and impact of bereavement on children, and possible school responses, both proactive and reactive”. It had originally been submitted as part of her Year 4 Education Studies module “Contemporary Issues in Pastoral Care”.

As a prize Jill will receive a free book of her choice from Critical Publishing.  In addition Jill’s essay will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Teacher Education Advancement Network’s STeP journal (Student Teacher Perspectives journal). 

Commenting on her achievement, Dr Noel Purdy, Head of Education Studies, added his congratulations: “Critical writing is centrally important to Education Studies and I am delighted that Jill has received this worthy recognition for her outstanding work this year”.

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‘Clever Cloggers’ - University Style!

Between the 10th and 13th May, pupils from four schools from the Bangor area - Bangor Central IPS, Killcooley PS, St Malachy’s PS and Bloomfield PS - came into Stranmillis to take part in an event entitled “Clever Cloggers”, organised by the A3 Centre at Stranmillis.

The event was a ‘university day’ workshop for Primary 7 students to help prepare them for the next stage of their educational journey. Each school completed one day of enjoyable and interactive tasks, learning about the brain and how to prepare it for learning and making friends, and also what to do with regard to bullying. The tasks included ‘Mindset Matters’, ‘Fuel for the Brain’, ‘Memory Master’ and ‘Circle of Friends’.

The workshop was provided by Bernard Thompson from ‘Amazing Brains’ and was overall a great success with the students thoroughly enjoying the day. The aim of this event was to allow these students to experience a university day to help raise their educational aspirations; it appears to have been successful, with some of the students stating: “I would love to come here for university”!

For more information about ‘Amazing Brains’, go to  

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Stranmillis Experts Help Practitioners Address Early Childhood Trauma

May 11th saw almost over 30 delegates from 14 organisations attend a seminar at Stranmillis entitled ‘Early childhood trauma and its impact on educational attainment’, which was delivered by Dr John McMullen and Dr Sheila McConnellogue. Teresa Geraghty, Senior Research and Development Officer at NCB, reports:

'This seminar was part of the Engage programme, which is a support programme offered to all of the 67 organisations funded by the Big Lottery Fund, under their Reaching Out Empowering Young People’s programme. Engage is delivered by the National Children’s Bureau (NCB).

All of the Engage grant holders are working with young people who fall into at least one of the following categories:
• Young people who are disengaged from education (or at risk of becoming so)
• Young people who are involved in the criminal justice system (or at risk of becoming so) and
• Young people who are care experienced

The seminar was arranged in direct response to requests from grant holders, many of whom are working with children and young people who have experienced trauma in their early lives. Such trauma can include bereavement or other loss, abuse and/or neglect, witnessing or experiencing directly domestic abuse and the negative impacts of parental mental ill-health, addiction or family breakdown, to name but a few.

During the morning John and Sheila explored how early childhood trauma can affect children’s ability to cope in an educational environment and reach their full potential. This involved the discussion of complex/developmental trauma - that is - children's exposure to multiple or prolonged traumatic events and the impact of this exposure on their development. In addition, attachment theory was applied in order to understand better how these children may experience school, and some consideration was given to relevant findings from neurobiological research into aspects of child development. Suggestions regarding how we can best support children who have experienced trauma were also made.

Evaluations of the session were very positive as the following feedback from delegates indicates:

It was great to attend training that catered for experienced workers.’
‘Gave me a few ideas on how to change practice with young people who suffer from trauma.’
‘The seminar spoke to both the experienced and inexperienced – the lecturers gave a broad scope for all participants.’

In fact really the only complaint from delegates is that the session was too short! So it is fair to say that John and Sheila left their audience begging for more!'

You can find out more about the Engage programme at  or contact Teresa Geraghty at NCB

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Adam’s ‘MindWise’ Marathon Triumph!

Post-marathon support from the First Lady – girlfriend Sarah Houston!
Post-marathon support from the First Lady – girlfriend Sarah Houston!

Students’ Union President Adam Leahy reflects on a gruelling marathon this past May Day bank holiday:

‘Each year, the Students’ Union selects a charity to support and raise funds for throughout the academic year. This year, we have chosen to support ‘MindWise’, a local mental health charity, as promoting good mental health remains a core value for us in the Students’ Union and MindWise do fantastic work in an attempt to provide support and reduce stigma.

The Belfast City Marathon was my most recent, most painful and most successful attempt to raise funds for the charity. The marathon distance - 26.2 miles - was a figure that meant very little to me on paper, something which I feel was reflected in my training, which due to the busyness of work only started around a month and a half before the day! It may have meant very little on paper but my word did I feel the reality hit hard on the day? Definitely one of the most difficult and yet best things I have ever done.

One thing that really hit me (other than searing leg pain and buckets of sweat) was the amount of people out pushing hard for so many different charities and causes, not to mention the thousands of supporters who provided encouragement, sweets, water, orange slices and high-5s to keep complete strangers going. It brought a real and very humbling sense of community.

I’m very, very happy to say that this one event raised £700 for MindWise, and I would like to say a very sincere “thank you” to the many students and staff who showed their support through their giving and their encouraging words.'

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‘music@stran’ – ‘Nocturne’

Thursday 12th May saw students from the Music Society take to the stage for the annual ‘music@stran’ event, this year entitled Nocturne.

A quiet and contemplative evening, the theme involved music associated with the night and give rise to some evocative and emotive performances from individuals, ensembles and the College Choir and instrumentalists.

Compered by Students’ Union President, Adam Leahy, the production featured piano solos from Sara Beattie and Beatrice Kane, a violin piece from Rachel Gamble and an impressive vocal performance from Naomi Dodds. Ensemble highlights were provided by Year 4 music specialist students, ladies’ and men’s choral groups, with the Staff Chorale returning for another offering.

As has been the custom at this event, the ongoing professional work of a former student has been recognised, and this year it was a privilege to welcome back former students, Graham Hawthorn and Vice-principal Heather Stewart, along with two other colleagues, with their award-winning choir from Roddensvale School in Larne. The enthusiastic pupils treated the audience to a wonderful selection from their repertoire, and were given a rapturous reception.

The evening was another triumph for the students and the university college, and a testament to the support and commitment of music staff Jayne Moore, Frances Burgess as well as Norman Richardson, and lighting technicians and artistic director Andy Brown.

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Twilight GCSE Maths Revision @ Stranmillis

On Wednesday 27th and Thursday 28th of April a number of Year 12 pupils were invited to Stranmillis to get some additional support in their GCSE Maths.

The pupils arrived to a hot supper in ‘Chatz’ followed by a number of revision sessions which were coordinated by Lee Kelly, a former Stranmillis student whose main subject was Technology and Design and whose subsidiary subject was Mathematics, alongside nine of our BEd Maths and Science students. The students ran small group sessions, focusing on areas that the young people were struggling with. They spent some time looking at past exam questions and were provided with a relaxed environment to get any questions answered.

Some very positive feedback was received from the pupils.

“If school was like this, I would live there!”

“The revision session was good as I learned new things and the students were friendly.”

“It was really helpful and fun. I would do it again and highly recommend others to come along.”

“The student teachers were very impressive in how understanding they were. I loved the way in which they approached teaching us!”

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Bill Connor – From The Outback to Oil Rigs to Sentinus
Sentinus Chief Executive Bill Connor
Sentinus Chief Executive Bill Connor

Former Stran Student and Union President Bill Connor explains his career ‘journey’ from Enniskillen … to the Australian outback … to North Sea oil rigs …  to becoming the Chief Executive of science education organization Sentinus:

‘I graduated from Stranmillis in 1980 and, after serving as Students’ Union President for a year, took up a teaching post in Enniskillen High School (now Devenish College), teaching Technology & Design and Maths.  In addition to normal teaching duties I got involved in other aspects of school life, including after school sports and the school production.  After 18 months I left the High School to fulfil a boyhood ambition to visit Australia, where I travelled and worked for a number of months in the outback and spent some time in Sydney and Melbourne.

On returning to Northern Ireland, I decided I was not yet ready to return to teaching and headed for Aberdeen, the oil capital of Britain, to seek employment in the offshore oil industry.  This was to be a temporary measure as I had a real desire to go back to Australia.  Nine years later, however, I found myself still working in the hostile environment of the North Sea, 100 miles north of Shetland.

In 1993 I took up a temporary teaching position in Park School and a short time later was appointed Field Officer with NISTRO (later to become Sentinus) to organise and deliver  programmes engaging young people in science and engineering and raising awareness of the value of the STEM subjects.  After a period of four years I was promoted to Projects Director with responsibility for management and delivery of all of the organisation’s programmes, engaging more than 50,000 young people each year.  My experience of both education and industry were invaluable in bringing science and engineering to life for pupils, as well as understanding the needs of employers.  In 2013 I was appointed Chief Executive of Sentinus, charged with overall responsibility for the running of the organisation.  The organisation continues to engage young people of all ages in hands-on science, technology, engineering and maths activities and demonstrates the relevance of classroom learning.  A key objective is to enhance young people’s STEM skills and qualifications and prepare them to make a full contribution to the economy when they enter employment.  So far, I have enjoyed the challenge the role presents.  

Since graduating with a BEd from Stranmillis, I have only spent a couple of years in the classroom.  However, my degree has equipped me well for the variety of roles/careers I have undertaken and having worked for Sentinus for almost 23 years now I definitely feel I have given something worthwhile back to the education system and have helped set a lot of young people on the correct career path for them.

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From Florida to Belfast – a Busy Few Weeks for Tampa Students!
Sarah, Sariah, Saran, Autumn and Matthew on the Outdoor Learning course and at St Joseph's PS
Sarah, Sariah, Saran, Autumn and Matthew on the Outdoor Learning course and at St Joseph's PS
At CCEA, at Saul Church, Downpatrick and in an intercultural workshop
At CCEA, at Saul Church, Downpatrick and in an intercultural workshop

On 20th March we were delighted to welcome five teacher education students from Tampa University in Florida to join us for a 7-week study visit entitled: 'Professional Studies: NI Culture and Education'. This new IfSA partnership was established following a visit from Dr Merrie Tankersley, IfSA’s Clinical Education Director, in summer 2015.

As soon as they arrived, Sarah, Sariah, Saran, Autumn and Matthew participated in a series of 'Outdoor Play Expert Practitioner Workshops', joining in with 19 lower primary teachers and Early Years practitioners who were embarking on a new Master’s module on Outdoor Learning. In order to showcase 'learning outdoors' in practice the students visited St Joseph's PS Carryduff, an Eco Primary School.

The students are spending three weeks observing and teaching in two local primary schools - Dunmurry and Harmony Hill. As part of their preparation for the placements, Dr Norman Richardson shared his perspectives on the 'unique' NI Education system and David Gardiner provided a workshop called 'Dealing with Diversity in the Classroom'. Their busy programme continued with inputs from Dr Brian Cummins - 'Working with Underachieving Learners' - a session on child protection with Dr Bronagh McKee, conversations with curriculum specialists in CCEA and a lunch with our chaplains and host school principals. They have had other inputs on Special Educational Needs and on bullying and cyberbullying from Gillian Beck and Dr Noel Purdy as well as workshops on intercultural learning from Suzi Breslin.

In order to add 'NI Culture' to the 'Educational' experience, over the Easter weekend the students toured Downpatrick with Dr Norman Richardson,  visited the Giant's Causeway and the Mournes accompanied by the SRC President, Adam Leahy.  Lucy Backus, Widening Participation Graduate Intern, has 'guided' students to the local eateries and night-life activities, ably supported by Laura McKeown from the International Office!

Below you can find a link to a story about the Tampa students on their University's web site, and at the bottom of the article are links to blogs about their experiences by Sariah Cafiero and Sarah Miller: 

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Peter Hamill – The Story So Far

Stranmillis graduate Peter Hamill is the Secretary to the Board of Education to the Church of Ireland in NI. He explains below how he got to where is today:

‘I graduated from Stranmillis in 1988, with an upper primary / lower secondary degree. This gave me the opportunity to teach in both primary and secondary schools; however I quickly realised that actually secondary teaching was where I wanted to be. Even back then, permanent contracts were hard to come by and I spent a few years subbing in local schools in North Down.  I then took a turn into more informal education and took a job with the education department of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, running their then brand new residential facility.

This began a career in the youth sector and I have worked for the youth department of the Church of Ireland, the South Eastern, and the North Eastern Education and Library Boards. I still maintained a love for teaching and I gained further qualifications in vocational training. I had a short spell in business training, using those skills I learnt at Stranmillis in the context of commerce. In 2003, I brought all this experience together in a new role as training co-ordinator for Connor Diocese in the Church of Ireland.

In truth I really was not the most conscientious student at Stranmillis, but later on I gained a love for personal development and learning. I achieved a Master’s in Education in Lifelong Learning and this became the platform for me to go on to doctoral studies. My PhD from Warwick University is about the psychological ‘type’ of those who work with children and young people in faith based contexts. I was very fortunate that Connor Diocese sponsored me through this qualification and that the work carried out in Connor led to the appointment of a full time children’s officer. I believe in learning that is applied and makes a difference.

In 2015, I was appointed as Secretary to the Board of Education to the Church of Ireland in NI. This role involves representing the Church of Ireland in Education, supporting Children’s Ministry and the management of Safeguarding issues. It has been a challenging and exciting year. Education in Northern Ireland is for ever changing and this makes it a demanding environment to work in, but being able to make a difference and lobby for the rights of welfare of our children is a privilege.

At home I have a wonderful wife in Dawn and three lively boys under 10 (Charlie, Felix, Sebbie). I have always put my family first and believe that the responsibility I have been given to raise the boys is the biggest and most rewarding in my life. I am blessed that I enjoy my work and can use my skills and knowledge to benefit others.’

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Beth Takes a Bite out of the Big Apple!
Beth and Pearse in Central Park; Beth with her 7th Grade class
Beth and Pearse in Central Park; Beth with her 7th Grade class
Sighseeing in New York City and outside Doane Stuart School
Sighseeing in New York City and outside Doane Stuart School

Year 3 BEd Post-primary Religious Studies student Beth Davis reports on what she got up to during her time at the Doane Stuart School in New York:

‘After an interview last January, I was delighted to have been accepted to represent Stranmillis and complete three weeks of my teaching practice at the Doane Stuart School in Albany near New York. The school prides itself on being a school that celebrates all of the major world religions and as a trainee Post-primary Religious Studies teacher, I knew this would be a beneficial experience for me. On Saturday 27th February I set off on my New York adventure for what would soon become the experience of a lifetime!

It’s fair to say that my trip definitely got off to an interesting start! Arriving at Belfast International airport, I checked in for what I thought would be a relatively straightforward day of travelling. After leaving Belfast on an 11:10 flight to Newark, I reached Manchester an hour later due to the plane losing a hydraulic system and having to make an emergency landing. After a 9 hour wait in Manchester, we finally boarded a new plane and touched down in Newark. Having missed my connecting flight to Albany I was then directed to a hotel for 3 hours of sleep and a shower that wouldn't work. The adventures continued when I was then booked on to a 9am flight the next day from Albany to Washington DC. However, my Washington flight was delayed causing me to be rerouted once more as I had missed yet another connecting flight to Albany. One mad sprint between terminals and twice through security saw me arrive at the boarding gate for a flight to Philadelphia with 5 minutes to spare. My luggage enjoyed a flight to Washington whilst I enjoyed the sights of Philadelphia. Between the two of us we had a whistle stop tour of America. After 38 hours of travelling and 4 flights, at long last I have arrived in Albany and it was finally time to begin my trip!

I was accompanied on this adventure by Pearse Knocker from St Mary’s University College and it’s safe to say that we have become good friends. The school were really impressed by just how well we got on and I feel we showed just how far Northern Ireland has come. We were even referred to as the ‘Irish duo’! With the school being integrated, the students were eager to learn about the history of Northern Ireland which is so often known for negative reasons. Pearse and I were keen to use this opportunity to share not only about the past but also the future of Northern Ireland. We attended a high school class where they interviewed us on Northern Ireland and our experiences of growing up in a community that was divided. We especially enjoyed presenting in Morning Meeting where we gave a presentation on our experiences of our time in America and teaching the Middle School a traditional Irish dance- ‘The Waves of Tory’ - which they later performed on St Patrick’s Day!

Alongside sharing about Northern Ireland, I was able to teach lessons in Middle School Religion, ICT, Maths and English. It truly was surreal to think I was teaching in New York! When I wasn’t teaching, I was able to observe a wide range of subjects and learn lots of new teaching strategies. I even had the chance to touch a human brain in Biology- something you definitely don’t do every day! I certainly did become a part of school life and was made so welcome by everyone at Doane Stuart. I especially loved staff meetings where I shared about the differences between the Northern Irish and American education systems and even got a piece of Patty’s ice cream pie!!

Of course no trip to New York would be complete without a visit to New York City! Pearse and I were able to use our weekend to stay in ‘the city that never sleeps’. We had a busy and fun filled weekend exploring the Empire State, Times Square, Rockefeller Centre, Ground Zero, and even squeezing in a Broadway show! We especially loved cycling around Central Park!

During my stay I was hosted by both the Hetko and Nakushian families who made me feel very much at home and very quickly helped me to settle into life at Doane Stuart. In just three and a half weeks, this incredible school, with its amazing staff and students, has come to hold a very special place in my heart. I never thought I could become so attached to a school in such a short space of time, but I have made so many friendships and I know that I will definitely be back! A massive thank you to my host families, Doane Stuart and Pearse for a truly unforgettable experience. Finally, I want to thank Gail Eason from Stranmillis for allowing me to take part in this once in a lifetime opportunity.

Below are links to the Doane Stuart YouTube where you can see videos of the Middle School learning the Waves of Tory and of Pearse and me giving our presentation.

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Playful Chemistry at the NI Science Festival
Making a density tower from kitchen ingredients .... and an explosion in a bottle
Making a density tower from kitchen ingredients .... and an explosion in a bottle
Nick making clouds with solid carbon dioxide … and dancing raisins!
Nick making clouds with solid carbon dioxide … and dancing raisins!

Over two hundred primary school pupils from Harmony Hill, Dunmurry, Cranmore Integrated and Holy Evangelist primary schools recently attended a ‘Playful Chemistry’ event here in Stranmillis as part of the Northern Ireland Science Festival. College Science lecturer Dr John McCullagh reports:

‘The event, organised by the Primary Science Teaching Trust’s Academic Collaborators at Stranmillis and supported by the College’s Widening Participation programme, consisted of an enthralling demonstration lecture from Nick Barker from the University of Warwick and a hands-on chemistry workshop facilitated by the Year 2 (Primary) and Year 1 (Post-primary) science specialists. Nick had the pupils transfixed as he treated them to a wonderland of colour changes, eruptions, and even explosions, alongside an engaging and fascinating narrative. After a well-earned break, the pupils used household materials to create bubbles in a range of contexts including density towers and effervescent mixtures, and even made their own lemonade!  - all to help poor ‘Bobby Bubbles’ make some friends of his own! As all of the workshop activities could be performed (safely!) at home, the pupils were excited at the prospect of transforming their kitchens into chemistry laboratories.

The feedback from the teachers on the day and in follow-up emails was extremely positive as they described the excitement of the children back at school and how the event had given them great ideas for their own future practice. The opportunity to be involved in the festival proved equally invaluable to our student teachers as they experienced first-hand the organisation and management, as well as the educational value, of out-of-school visits. We are very grateful to Nick for his professionalism and fun and hope to extend this approach to chemistry in our ongoing work with primary schools on behalf of the Primary Science Teaching Trust.’

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Jacqueline’s Nursery School Celebrates 50 Years!

Former Stran student Jacqueline Coulter is principal of Ballymena Nursery School. She explains below her ‘journey’ to her present position, and is looking for some help to celebrate the nursery school’s 50th anniversary. Especially if you are a past pupil of the nursery school or know someone who is … read on:

 ‘Ballymena Nursery School was founded after the war in an Orange Hall in Harryville in Ballymena for children of mothers who worked in the mills and factories. It then moved to the existing site of the Old Ballymena Castle Adair estate. It was comprised of two temporary classrooms which it was hoped would be replaced by a permanent building within twenty years. Now, almost 50 years on, we are still in the temporary buildings! Despite the less than modern premises we have managed to embrace all of the educational and ‘Educare’ challenges.

But how did my career begin? My first job was as a playgroup leader with Broughshane Community Playgroup, of which I was very proud, and we were the first pre-school playgroup in Europe to achieve the ‘ECO Schools’ award for environmental work with pre-school children. I completed my NVQ III in childcare with NIPPA (now the Early Years organisation) and I completed two years with the Open University to gain enough qualifications to gain access to the first cohort of BA Early Years part time degree course at Stranmillis in 1996, graduating with a 2:1 in 2000.

I have very fond memories of my time at Stranmillis and I have maintained strong friendships with fellow students. We had a reunion of ‘Cohort 1’ after ten years in 2010 where we recalled our time at Stran and talked about where we had all "ended up".  It was lovely evening going back down memory lane!!!
That year I was invited back by the current head of the Early Childhood Studies degree programme, Sheelagh Carville, to speak at the Graduation Celebration event and present the ECS prizes. I believe the photographs of me doing so are still up in the corridor near the new coffee shop!!

I completed my PGCE in Queen’s the next year and later my MA in Special and Inclusive Education by distant learning from University College Worcester. I was head of Nursery at Ballykeel Primary School until May 2014 and became teaching principal of Ballymena Nursery School in June 2014. I am thrilled to be ‘back home’ in Ballymena Nursery School as that was where I completed my teaching practice during my PGCE in 2000/2001.

I am currently looking for help to create a brief ‘Happy Memories’ historical booklet to mark 50 years of the nursery in Ballymena in May 2017. Are you a past pupil of the nursery school or do you know someone who is? The children who would have been the 1st in Nursery would be approximately 52/53/54 now. The first principal was Miss Acheson, then there was Mrs. Clarke, then Mrs. Sempey and now me! Adverts have been placed in the Ballymena Guardian newspaper and banners have been put up outside the nursery. We have links on our nursery web site ( ) and hope to create a Facebook page.

The nursery’s site has an interesting history.  It was built on the former grounds of a castle belonging to the Adair estate which was erected in the reign of James 1 but it was burned down in 1740 and replaced by a Scottish baronial building in 1868, which was itself burned down and demolished in 1957. I would like the "Happy Memories" booklet to reflect some of this older history. Perhaps someone has some old photographs of the castle before it was knocked down. Because of this history we would like to have a ‘Castle’ theme for the anniversary with knights, princesses etc..'

If you are able to help in any way, please contact me at at Ballymena Nursery School Trostan Ave., Ballymena. BT43 7BL Tel 028 2565 2011.

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Stran Hosts Doane Stuart Students

College lecturer Gail Eason reports on a partnership event with a school from New York State:

‘Stranmillis University College has had a partnership with Doane Stuart School in Albany, New York since 2009. Doane Stuart was formed when a predominantly Catholic school and a predominantly Protestant school amalgamated. Currently the school has a diverse cultural background as it embraces pupils of all faiths and none.

The project began when a former student, Tony McGaharan, persuaded us to develop an exchange programme with them. We teamed up with our sister college, St.Mary’s University College and one lecturer from each college paid a visit to the school in December 2009. Since then we have sent one Year 3 BEd student from Stran and St Mary’s on an annual basis to Doane Stuart for a 3 week period of teaching practice. This year Beth Davis, who is a Post- primary student, was our representative.

Each year pupils from Doane Stuart pay a one week visit to Northern Ireland and Stranmillis hosts a lunch for them while they are here. We also organise a social event for them, and this year we sent then to prison! A visit was organised to the Crumlin Road Gaol, which we all enjoyed immensely. We look forward to continuing our partnership link with Doane Stuart in the future.’

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A Life that Shone through Teaching at Home and Abroad…

Former student and part-time ECS and RS lecturer Jill Magennis looks back on the life of another former student, her friend Sarah Reynolds, who graduated in 2007, but sadly passed away in January of this year.

‘Family and friends of Sarah Tai (née Reynolds) have been remembering an inspirational, compassionate and creative woman who brought blessing to the lives of many around the world. Sarah died peacefully at her Banbridge home on Wednesday, January 13th after an illness. She was dearly-beloved wife of Timothy, much-loved daughter of Jennifer and the late Roy, and loving sister of Zelda, Gemma and Charlotte. Born on 11th April 1985, Sarah attended Glaskermore Primary School, followed by Banbridge Academy. Sarah trained as a primary school teacher at Stranmillis University College, graduating in 2007 with first class honours with a Bachelor of Education, main subject Art and Design.

When Sarah began her studies at Stranmillis in 2003 she lived in the Halls of Residence - Navan, Flat 8. Her time at Stran carried many fond memories and laughter along the way including: dinner at Chatz; Chinese takeaways delivered to the Cleaver Gate; the ‘Back 2 School Bop’; sitting up to all hours making resources for teaching practice; CU Weekend at Whitepark Bay; playing rounders out in the sun … and many more. Sarah was a wonderful friend, she was energetic and unassuming – she loved her time at ‘Stran’ and often reminisced over funny stories and memories of her student days. She spoke of her friends as ‘Stranny Grannies’ and this was even the table name at a wedding we all went to in 2012, almost a decade after meeting in Stranmillis Halls - testament that the friendships she built at Stranmillis were life-long. You meet many budding teachers while studying at Stranmillis, but there was something special about Sarah, something different. Yes, she was a beautiful girl, inside and out, who always had a beaming smile, but she also carried a presence. Sarah was not someone you would easily forget.

After graduating Sarah worked as a substitute teacher for a short while before applying to work with Metro Ministries in New York, a post that would see her teaching underprivileged children and teenagers in Harlem and Brooklyn and also running Sidewalk Sunday School. Sarah’s minister Rev. Raymond McKibben gave a fitting tribute about her work when family and friends gathered to celebrate her life. He shared: “It was long hours and difficult work but Sarah loved it and she loved the kids. She had been to Uganda and Canada before with PCI mission teams, but was astounded at the poverty in the richest nation on the earth.”

It was during her time with Metro Ministries that Sarah met Timothy Tai from Malaysia, and they announced their engagement in 2011. Shortly before Sarah and Tim were married in November 2012 she received the devastating news that she had a brain tumour. Sarah’s first reaction was not ‘why me?’ but rather ‘How can we serve God now in Malaysia?’ as that is where Sarah and Tim hoped to move and work with children. Undeterred and determined to serve others in the face of adversity, the couple began youth work in Glascar Presbyterian Church, out of which ‘Ignite’ was born. “Malaysia’s loss was our gain,” said Rev. McKibbin. "It was ‘Ignite’ by name but also in reality. They ignited a fire in the hearts of our young people and also the hearts of the young married and singles.” In spite of adversity Sarah continued to make a difference in the lives of children and young people – this was one of her greatest strengths: in spite of her own circumstances, she was always thinking of how she could help other people.

Sarah loved sunsets,” Rev. McKibben continued. “She has been like the sun, burning and shining radiantly for God. Her sun has set - it is not gone, but only dropped below the horizon to shine on in another land.”

On the night Sarah passed away her husband Tim sent out this fitting verse to friends and family across the globe:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”. 2 Tim. 4:7’


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Imagine that! Pastoral Public Symposium

Joined by the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, Mrs Koulla Yiasouma, Stranmillis University College hosted a lively public symposium on Monday 14 March 2016 as part of the Imagine! Belfast Festival of Ideas & Politics.

Entitled ‘Are Schools Failing Our Kids?’, Dr Brian Cummins chaired a panel of experienced Stranmillis teacher educators who drew on the latest policy, research and best practice to discuss what schools can do to address some of the most pressing issues in pastoral care currently facing schools in Northern Ireland.

To a full capacity room, Dr Noel Purdy discussed how Northern Ireland schools are tackling the problem of bullying with reference to the recently introduced Addressing Bullying in Schools Bill (2016), while Dr Bronagh McKee reviewed how schools and Stranmillis itself are working to improve pastoral care for looked after children.

Drawing on his fieldwork in Africa, Dr John McMullen explored the complex pastoral needs of war affected children both abroad and in the Northern Irish context in relation to newcomer children, while Dr Sharon Jones examined how NI education policy and practice should tackle underachievement both with newcomer children and disadvantaged local communities. Taking on the role of discussant, Mrs Yiasouma spoke of her passion for children’s rights and the work undertaken by NICCY with reference to the panellists’ talks, and this was followed by a lively Q&A session with the audience.

Now in its second year, the Imagine! Festival took place at venues across Belfast from 14-20 March 2016, with the aim of providing a high quality showcase for events promoting new ideas on politics, culture and activism in Northern Ireland, encouraging the participation of under-represented groups in political/cultural debate and discussion, and stimulating reflection and debate on difficult and controversial issues.

More details and the full programme of events can be found here:



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Down High Triumph in Schools’ Analyst Competition

The winning team from Down High with their teacher Heather Hamilton, with Chris Laird and John McCullagh from the N.I Analytical Division of the RSC.
The winning team from Down High with their teacher Heather Hamilton, with Chris Laird and John McCullagh from the N.I Analytical Division of the RSC.

The team of Sixth Form pupils representing Down High School emerged victorious in this year's Schools' Analyst Competition held at Stranmillis University College.

This annual event, organised by the N.I. Analytical Division of the Royal Society of Chemistry and sponsored by Actavis, tests sixth-form pupils’ accuracy and precision as they carry out a range of chemical analyses relating to both the food and the pharmaceutical industries. This year's investigations had a local flavour by including the analysis of ' Milk of Magnesia', invented by Ulster scientist John Murray. The other analyses were a 'value for money' comparison of popular household bleaches and a quality control assessment of a health supplement. In addition to developing students' laboratory and team working skills the competition seeks to highlight the vital role of analytical chemistry in our everyday lives and profiles the various STEM career pathways.

The winners, Down High, who attained one of the highest scores in recent years, received a cheque for £200 to support the teaching of Chemistry. They now go on to represent the Northern Ireland region in the UK final at Keele University in June. Last year’s winners, Lumen Christi College, came a close second this time, and received £100, with Royal Belfast Academical Institution coming third (£80). The pupils from Belfast Royal Academy and Friends School Lisburn were jointly Highly Commended, with each receiving £50.

All the participants were judged to have attained the required level of precision and accuracy in their analysis and were awarded a certificate of attainment and a book token. Heather Hamilton, Head of Chemistry at Down High, expressed her delight with the team’s success saying, "This competition really lets our students get first-hand experience of chemistry in action. It breathes life into our chemistry curriculum. We always love taking part but to win is extra special!"

We wish Down High well for June!

If you would like to find out more about the competition or get involved next year, please contact Dr John McCullagh at: .

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Master’s Students get a Taste of the Outdoors

A group of teachers and Early Years practitioners who are embarking on a new Master’s module at Stranmillis called ‘Learning Outdoors in the Early Years’ paid a visit to Pond Park Nursery School in Lisburn to get inspired at the start of the course by examples of good practice.

Mrs Lois Wilson, principal of the nursery school, warmly greeted the Master’s students and College lecturers Dr Glenda Walsh and Dr Richard Greenwood, and after a brief introduction, she opened the doors and allowed them all to escape into a natural world of adventure which encouraged a multitude of childhood memories to unfurl.  Opportunities for learning pervaded all that was seen, along with much fun and excitement. In the outdoor area the children can cook up a Masterchef recipe in the ‘mud kitchen’, they can test their scientific skills in the huge covered sand pit area, they can explore their physical dexterity as they negotiate the undulating landscape, or they can simply enjoy a moment of relaxation away from the bustle of all around them, enclosed within a mass of natural beauty.  

Lois then described the school’s outdoor work – the emphasis that they put on it, the resources required and how they as staff work with the children’s parents so that maximum educational benefit … as well as fun … can be gained.

This was the group’s introduction to outdoor learning– an experience fully enjoyed by students and tutors alike, and although the PowerPoint presentations, the readings, the discussions and the assignments which are all part of any Master’s module have to follow, what was learned at Pond Park Nursery School exposed the students to the true essence of outdoor learning in action.     

The rest of the module’s input includes sessions on definitions of outdoor learning, its scope and curriculum context, outdoor mathematics, using the outdoor environment for science education, international perspectives, and a session on the Forest School approach by Brian Poots from the Northern Ireland Forest Schools Association.

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‘Incredible Years’ in Schools

Deirdre McAliskey and Gillian Dunlop
Deirdre McAliskey and Gillian Dunlop

Staff from Early Childhood Studies and the Research Office invited the National Children’s Bureau to present on their involvement with the ‘Incredible Years’ Co-ordination Project.

Over 40 staff, students and visitors attended the College’s lunchtime seminar to hear about the Incredible Years in schools. Deirdre McAliskey, Head of Sector Support at the National Children’s Bureau (NCB), along with Gillian Dunlop, Principal of Largymore Primary School, presented on the benefits to children, parents and staff when a school invests in the Incredible Years programme. Deidre presented an overview of the research and demonstrated the lack of co-ordination and equity of access to the Incredible Years programme across Northern Ireland. She noted how important it is for the sector to continue to invest in this evidence-based programme, highlighting how important it is for organisations to ‘buy into’ the need for mentoring and continued professional development of staff, to ensure fidelity of implementation.

Gillian Dunlop provided an interesting case study of how her school became an ‘Incredible School’. She described the academic, social and emotional benefits for the children and families in her school who had engaged in the programme. She convinced the audience of the advantages for schools and staff, and alluded to how ‘Incredible Years’ has played an instrumental part in transforming behaviour management in her school.

At the end of the presentations the audience was left to consider the role that Incredible Years training might play within initial professional training; Stranmillis University College is considering how it can play a role in providing training opportunities of this type for its students.

Dr Barbara McConnell, Senior Lecturer within Early Childhood Studies and the College representative on the Incredible Years Co-ordination Project, stated: “We would like to thank the Stranmillis Research Office for hosting this research seminar. Incredible years is one of the signature programmes within the Programme for Government ‘Delivering Social Change’, and the Public Health Authority, through the National Children’s Bureau, have been considering how best to support the effective implementation of Incredible Years in Northern Ireland . Early Childhood Studies students in Stranmillis have been learning about the Incredible Years Programme for several years now, and we are delighted to be able to look at how best to continue to provide training and continued professional development for students and teachers in this effective programme.”

For information on the co-ordination project, please refer to  

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‘The Fall’ Filmed in Stran!

Stran’s new foyer area in the Central Building became ‘Belfast General Hospital’ for a day as scenes from Series 3 of BBC2's police drama ‘The Fall’ were filmed on campus.

The campus car parks were full of production vehicles as dozens of production technicians and crew got to work. Hospital signs were put in place outside and inside the Central Building and the main star, Gillian Anderson, who plays Superintendent Stella Gibson, was filmed getting out of her car and entering the ‘hospital’, and scenes were shot inside Betty’s café, doubling as a hospital interior.

To the disappointment of some students (and staff!) looking on, the other star of the previous two series, Jamie Dornan (serial killer Paul Spector), was nowhere to be seen!

The series is being filmed at various locations in and around Belfast and it is planned that it will be aired later in 2016.

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Students ‘Sell Stran’ in Denmark!

Year 3 Primary BEd student Hannah McCann reports on what she and three other Stran students have been up to in Denmark:

‘For the past fewweeks, Copenhagen in Denmark has been home for Naomi Sharpe, Rebecca Agnew, Emma Blair and me. We are studying here for four and a half months and have fully immersed ourselves in Danish life! As well as attending class at UCC Zahle to learn about the Nordic Model of Education, we have spent time exploring the city, eating a few too many Danish pastries and getting involved in the local International Baptist Church!

Wednesday 2nd March 2016 saw our international class descend on the cafeteria of UCC with the intention of persuading some Danish students to spend a semester at our home universities. We set up our PowerPoint, ready to sell Stran! As very keen “Stranny Grannies” this was a task we relished, and each person we spoke to was amazed by the very special community that we described. Many Danish students showed interest, visiting Erasmus lecturers enquired about setting up links, and our classmates asked why we would want to leave such a unique campus for a semester!

We have had many adventures in Copenhagen so far and are excited about the prospect of 11 more weeks of Danish life! We would recommend anyone considering Erasmus … to just go for it!’

Students going away on the Erasmus or International programmes are required to keep a formal blog to summarise and reflect on their personal, cultural and professional experiences on a regular basis. Stranmillis students and staff can read all of the blogs being written by the students currently abroad at

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Castlereagh AEP Unit’s Trip to Stran

Tuesday 1st March saw an exciting event for the pupils of Castlereagh Alternative Education Provision unit, when they had the opportunity to visit Stranmillis University College and avail of the sports facilities, in order to complete the practical element of their Prince’s Trust ‘Participating in Sport’ module, Level 2.

They engaged in different football skills games, such as passing, shooting and dribbling, finishing off with a short match. They were then able to utilize the gym facilities for a circuit-training programme, which gave them the chance to try out all of the available machines.

The event was organized as part of a Year 4 placement and all of the pupils commented on how much they enjoyed the day out!

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Creativity Storm at Stranmillis

One of Alfie's new homes!
One of Alfie's new homes!

Judy McPherson, Year 3 part-time ECS student, explains how her group of students developed their ideas about the creative process … while rescuing Alfie from homelessness in ‘the enchanted grounds of Stranmillis’!

On Thursday 25th February, thirteen Year 3 part-time Early Childhood Studies students participated in a clay workshop as part of their module ‘Curiosity, Creativity and the Child’, led by Paula Carlin, Module Co-Ordinator.
The module aims to develop knowledge and understanding of the concept of creativity, the relationship between creativity and the development of children’s learning, and the role of the professional in developing creative experiences in children.

We were welcomed into the Orchard Building and presented with the narrative: ‘Alfie the miniature teddy bear lives in the enchanted grounds of Stranmillis; however, due to the terrible weather in Northern Ireland, Alfie’s house was washed away!’ We then had approximately two hours to use our imaginations to create a new home for Alfie from clay and a range of natural materials.

The finished pieces included: ‘Alfie’s Tropical Rainhouse’; ‘The Fort with a Jacuzzi’, ‘Cosy Corner’, ‘The Bachelor Pad with Car’, and ‘The Floating House’.  Other creations were ‘Alfie’s Living Room’ and his family (who were all reunited after the storm).

We all thoroughly enjoyed the workshop, and on reflection could identify the stages and processes the brain goes through when thinking creatively.

What was interesting was that everyone’s finished piece was unique as it was based on each person’s own feelings, experiences and perceptions.  Creativity is something unique and satisfying as a means of self-expression.  It is the ability to bring into existence what you picture in your mind (Gardner, 1998).  Throughout the whole session, the emphasis was not to concentrate on the end product, but on the process, and to concentrate on our own creative thinking and behaviour so that we will be able to develop it more effectively within children.  It was a great way to connect the theoretical to the practical.

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Colin Looks Back and Forward

Business and Management Studies graduate Colin Atkinson looks back over his many and varied experiences in education since leaving Stran:

I graduated from Stranmillis University College in June 2004 with a BEd in Business and Management Studies with Physical Education as a subsidiary subject. I look back very fondly on my time at Stranmillis and fully appreciate how that time helped to inspire and transform me from a student into a teacher/lecturer, but not only that, it helped me to develop as a person too.

Outside of the academic studies I feel it was the school placements completed during my four years that were essential in preparing me and giving me the experience to apply to the working world with confidence. I tried to maximise the variety in my placement options from Secondary to Grammar to Further & Higher Education. I completed my placements in: Downshire Community School in Carrickfergus, Ashfield Boys’ High School in East Belfast, North Down & Ards Institute (now South Eastern Regional College) in Bangor, and Down High School in Downpatrick.

These placements gave me an unbelievable breadth of knowledge and understanding of how the education system works in Northern Ireland and the sheer variety of course options available to students, especially within the FE/HE sector. When I went on placement I ensured I was given a timetable that had a 50/50 split between my main subject area - Business Studies - and my subsidiary Physical Education, again maximising my experience in both areas.

After my graduation in early September 2004 I received a call from the placement supervisor at my Year 3 hosts – NDAI. They were offering me one month’s work, which I gratefully accepted. At the end of this month a full-time post came up which I applied for and, to my amazement, was offered the job and have never looked back since. The college has changed immensely over the years, now forming one of the province’s six ‘super colleges’ - South Eastern Regional College. During my twelve years at the college I have taught at a variety of levels and subject areas: Level 2 Sport, Level 3 Sport, Level 3 Public Services, Level 4/5 FdSc Sport Exercise and Fitness.

For six years I was Director of the Ulster University validated ‘FdSc Sport, Exercise and Fitness’, and this experience was invaluable. I took the course through revalidations and formed strong links with the University and external stakeholders across the sports sector.

In February 2015 I was successful in gaining promotion within SERC to Deputy Head of School for the School of Sport and Applied Sciences. This role has seen me gain further management responsibility for Level 3 Sport across our three main campuses - Bangor, Downpatrick and Lisburn, L4/5 Sport on the Lisburn campus and Horticulture in our Holywood campus (yes a little left field but my farming back ground qualifies me, and is an area I really enjoy managing!).

In recent years the pace of change within the college has intensified, and this is something that I have learnt to embrace. Currently our main focus is on further embedding ‘blended learning’ within our programmes through synchronous and asynchronous delivery. We are always looking at ways to improve and broaden our reach and I am leading the launch of our Level 3 ‘Elite Athlete pathway’ from September 2016 for aspiring elite athletes to get support to achieve academic and sporting excellence. A key part of developing this programme has been the collaborative work done with Sport NI, and a range of sports’ National Governing Bodies to get the design of this programme correct. I feel in education that working with a range of external stakeholders is essential to ensure you are current and at the cutting edge of industry requirements.

I am in discussions with Audrey Curry about expanding the links with Stranmillis to further embed the opportunity for Stranmillis students to do work placement in SERC. This will give a greater number of current students an opportunity to experience the FE/HE sector, which I feel really broadened my experience and helped me achieve what I have.

I am very appreciative of the job I have and the people I work with, and I firmly believe that Stranmillis gave me the best possible start to my journey, not only in work but also in my personal life. After all I did meet my beautiful wife Alison at the Stran ‘Freshers’ Fair’! I look forward to what the future has to bring!


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