Belfast Classroom Assistants get top marks!

Belfast Lord Mayor Councillor Christina Black hosted a celebration event at City Hall today for 52 Belfast residents who have successfully completed the first ever Classroom Assistant Employment Academy with People 1st and the Academy team.

Belfast Classroom Assistants get top marks!


Congratulations to all who completed the Classroom Assistant Academy, some of whom are pictured here with Lord Mayor Tina Black

Held over five days, and made possible with funding by the Labour Market Partnership, Belfast City Council’s Classroom Assistant Employment Academy has exceeded all expectations, with 13 academy graduates already securing employment, and the remaining candidates going forward to interview in the coming weeks.

Belfast Lord Mayor Councillor Christina Black explains: “Our Classroom Assistant Academy is helping to meet the demand, that Belfast schools are currently facing, in relation to recruiting entry level teaching support staff. We’re also providing a direct link to a new talent pool of entrants into the education sector, and we are meeting the employers’ supply demands for vacant roles, whilst also supporting our residents to develop the skills they need to secure quality employment within the city’’. 

“In addition to this we’re meeting our Belfast Agenda commitments and supporting inclusive growth by providing free training to enable people to apply for roles they otherwise wouldn’t be equipped to do. Thanks to this new academy, people can enter the labour market, perhaps for the first time, or people who’ve been unemployed for a long time are getting the support they need to re-enter the workplace. Belfast’s children are also benefitting – particularly those with Special Education Needs.’’

With the help of Labour Market Partnership and Belfast City Council funding, those who gain employment will also complete a six-week OCN Level 3 course in ‘Working with Children and Young People with Special Needs’ and have the opportunity to start a NVQ Level 3 in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools this month. These qualifications will help learners to progress from an unqualified classroom assistant position to a qualified role which offers improved terms and conditions, permanent contracts and better pay. 

Brenda Kernaghan, Director of People 1st spoke about how delighted the team is with this first pilot scheme for Belfast City Council residents.

” At People 1st, our overall aim is to help each participant to achieve their employment goals by providing individual tailored support. We work closely with local employers, creating strong industry networks to provide the much-needed employment interventions and to fill local skill shortages and employment gaps “

People 1st has been facilitating academies on behalf of the Council since 2018, in the areas of childcare, playwork & Health & Social care. There are two distinct academy strands: Employment Academies – for those who are unemployed or working 16 hours or less per week and Upskilling Academies – for those who are already working but want to advance in their career by gaining a qualification.

To date the People 1st Academy Team has assisted over 900 council residents to find employment or upskill within their current role.

Whilst speaking with local schools, the challenge of recruiting classroom support staff continually raised its head.The demand for the role of classroom assistants has trebled over the last decade and is set to treble again in the next decade, this is applicable to both mainstream the special needs sector.

Without the support of a classroom assistants many children cannot access the support they need, they and reach their full potential. Classroom Assistants often provide additional literacy and numeracy support and embeds support given by other interventions such as speech therapy, physio and occupational health.

Both Belfast City Council and the Labour Market Parnership are committed to reducing educational inequalities for all children across the city, especially for children with additional needs. Since January this year, 52 participants have participated on the academy, which involves tailored workshops, one to one employment support and mentoring. 14 individuals have secured employed with the remaining candidates are going forward to interview in the coming weeks.

The feedback from the participants and schools has been exceptional and the job outcomes to date is testament that this rapid response model is successful. It is heart-warming to hear individuals relay their appreciation for assisting them to enter the labour market for the first time or helping them return to work and equally as great to hear how rewarding they are finding their jobs and in particular, working with the children.

With the help of Labour Market Partnership and Belfast City Council funding, participants have also been provided with the opportunity to complete a Level 3 Vocational qualification or an OCN NI Level 3 in Working with Children with Special Needs.

All the team have no doubt we will be hearing of some great up-skilling stories over the coming months, some of the participants have mentioned aspirations of teaching, university courses and specialist support services.

We would sincerely like to thank the Economic Development team for always being open to new interventions and responding to the need of the local environment, the Labour Market Partnership team and the Department of Communities for funding this initiative. We would also like to warmly thank the People 1st Academy team who worked so hard in the last two months to oversee this pilot scheme.

We wish the participants all the best for moving forward in their careers and thank them for putting their trust in us and taking the step of moving into employment! This is a massive courageous step and we have no doubt that your journey hasn’t ended here but will continues to flourish!

For information on how to apply for a future Employment Academy, go to or also visit the Academies page on our website linked here:

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