Teachers from all over Ireland are going back to school to take part in a course designed to equip them with the skills required to teach pupils with special educational needs.
Teachers from schools as far apart as Antrim and Cork have signed up to take part in the first accredited course of its type in Ireland.
The Advanced Diploma in Professional Development (DipPD) Inclusive Education will be delivered by Queen's University School of Education and the Institute of Child Education and Psychology Europe.
And in another first for the School of Education at Queens, this is their first course to be delivered on-line to maximise its reach and to minimise the disruption to teachers and schools while the teachers are acquiring their new skills.
Richard Jay, director of education at Queen's University, said: "This diploma is designed to build the capacity of teachers and other professionals to enable them to respond effectively to the diverse educational needs of all pupils especially those with special and additional educational needs.
"The acquisition of additional skills is important in the professional development of teachers and makes them a much more valuable resource to their learning institutions.
"As well, it means that pupils with special or additional learning needs can be assured of high quality teaching in a mainstream setting, a very desirable objective for those pupils and their families."
Jenny Robinson, regional director in Northern Ireland and Scotland of ICEP, said children with special needs - estimated to be about 20% of the school population - have the right to attend mainstream schools and that staff must be adequately trained to work with these pupils.
"Through this course we will give teachers those skills and by delivering it online we give them the opportunity to obtain the qualification at a time and pace compatible with the demands of their busy working lives," she explained.
The new initiative has been launched in response to human rights imperatives and national and international legislation which designates inclusion as a keystone of current educational policy.
Pupils with special or additional learning needs, including those pupils with disabilities, are now entitled to a place in their local mainstream school - posing an obvious additional challenge to every teacher.
The Advanced Diploma is specifically aimed at assisting teachers to manage the increasing range of pupil needs in mainstream classrooms, including pupils with special or additional learning needs such as dyslexia or autism, and pupils who may have emotional or behavioural difficulties or other exceptional needs.
Further information about the diploma can be obtained at www.icepe.eu or by contacting Jenny Robinson on 078 2878 0567.