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Life after the Leaving Cert

 For most the traditional route from school into college will be manageable, but there are others for whom traditional college courses are not the right option.

Sligo NLN offers a Level 4 Horsemanship Course where students can learn about all aspects of horse care, stable management and riding; and gain practical skills working in the equine sector. Many past students have gone on to land jobs in the industry, some within the companies where they completed their placement. For others the course gives them the confidence to pursue a Level 5 Horsemanship course.

Joanna Kearns is an instructor on the Horsemanship Course in Sligo NLN. Joanna says the course, while open to all ages, has proven particularly popular with students leaving school.

“The majority are under 25, with the youngest 18. One prospective pupil is 17 and just finishing Transition Year, she’s hoping to do a ‘sample’ of the course to see if it’s the right fit for her instead of sitting the Leaving Cert.

“We get a lot of students who have sat their Leaving Cert and not been successful or who decided not to sit it at all. Others haven’t had great experiences at school. Another situation we see is where a student has begun a course in an Institute of Technology and found the pressure just too much.

“At this time of year a lot of parents contact NLN because they’re concerned about what’s going to happen once the school year finishes.

“I’d like to reassure them that there is another way. It shouldn’t be a choice between college or dropping out. When we asked our current students what aspects of the school system were hard for them they said they struggled with the work load and exam pressure, large class sizes and had extra support in school but were worried that it wouldn’t be the same in college.

“We have small class sizes and offer as much or as little support as each student needs.

“Parents are delighted and surprised when they realise we are here to support their child.

Each NLN has a psychologist and resource teacher offering extra support with numeracy and literacy.

Meeting Casall: Stephen McIntyre meets Casall who retired from world class competition this summer. Cassall stands at the Holsteiner Verband’s stallion station at Elmshorn. Credit: Susan Finnerty
The course is aimed at equipping students with the skills sought after by employers in the equine industry.

 Joanna says, “There’s always such a change in students from when they come to us at first. Their personal and academic confidence grows in this environment and they leave with skills in place that would have seemed unachievable at first.”

Stephen McIntyre is 29 and from Sligo. He was one of the first students on the Horsemanship course in 2013, when he was 23.

“Before coming to NLN I didn’t have a lot going for me. I didn’t have any qualifications or any idea of where my life was going. I left school after Junior Cert and worked in a factory for a few years but when the recession hit the work wasn’t there anymore. My dream job was to be working with horses.

“The school system wasn’t best suited to me and the way I learn but at NLN you work on your own programme at your own pace with as much support as you need.

“The Horsemanship programme suited me perfectly. I enjoyed the hands-on practical modules and I felt there was a good balance between the practical and academic work. I found it to be a very supportive environment where my personal development and well-being were being looked after too. I found that being around horses gives me great head-space and relief from any stresses in my day. I made friends for life on the course too, which made the course even more memorable for me.”

Work placements are an integral part of the Horsemanship course. Stephen did his placement with professional showjumper Cathal McMunn at Loughan Stables in Beltra, Co. Sligo in 2015. He was offered employment there afterwards and has been working there full-time since.

Stephen says, “Working with him has given me the opportunity to travel the country to Ireland’s best shows. I have worked at the Dublin Horse Show, Balmoral, Milstreet and all of the local and regional shows. This has really broadened my horizons and allowed me to make connections both professionally and socially.

“Cathal also gave me the opportunity to care for a horse called Promise as my own for a year. During this time I took him show-jumping and competed at jump-cross events, which was a fantastic experience.”

 NLN offers a learning environment where each student is treated as an individual, with their needs, aspirations and abilities recognised. While traditional third-level education focuses on independent learning and often has large class sizes, NLN ensures every student has the one-to-one support, time and materials they need to complete their courses in small classes.

National Learning Network also offers students who may be living with a disability or who are on the ASD spectrum specific supports designed to enable them to fulfil their potential. The National Learning Network Sligo offer a range of courses; Transition QQI Level 3, Job Start QQI Level 4, Customer Service QQI Level 4, Informtion Technology & Office Skills QQI Level 5, IT & Tourism by Blended Learning QQI Level 4 or 5/ECDL, Access, Sligo Link (ASD) and Social Inclusion Programme.

For more information call NLN Sligo on 071 91 45391 / 086 6073153, email or visit our website