Aspiration Awards 2022 - Learner of the Year Highly Commended: Caitriona McIvor | NCFE

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Aspiration Awards 2022 - Learner of the Year Highly Commended: Caitriona McIvor

The Learner of the Year category recognises individuals who are developing themselves through vocational qualifications from NCFE and making positive improvements to their lives. This year, 18-year-old Caitriona McIvor was awarded the Highly Commended award in this category. Caitriona is studying NCFE CACHE Level 3 Extended Diploma for Children's Care, Learning and Development at Belfast Met.  

Determined to succeed 

Throughout her life, Caitriona has faced many challenges. When her parents separated when she was 13, she became her dad's main carer with sole responsibility for his care and the running of their home. With the loss of her dad’s income, Caitriona sought employment at an early age to support the family and her own needs. 

Even with this, Caitriona kept her studies up and applied to college after leaving school with her GCSEs. She gained a place on the children's care, learning and development course and began her further education journey. Over the last 18 months, Caitriona has experienced further challenges, including Covid-19 and the loss of face-to-face teaching, as well as isolation from friends and her limited support network. This did not deter Caitriona. She continued to attend online classes and received support to manage her studies whilst still caring for her father and working two jobs.  

Volunteering in the community 

In addition, Caitriona volunteers in her local youth club, supporting children and young people who have experienced the same challenges as herself. She’s a valued member of this club and enjoys spending time with the children and offering her support within the community.  

Despite all the extra responsibility, Caitriona is on track to achieve her qualification thanks to her sheer determination and the support of the college staff. Caitriona has attended placement, supporting the class teacher with planning lessons and caring for children in the primary one classroom. She shines when in placement and working with the children, showing empathy and kindness.  

Caitriona commented: “I’m honoured and delighted to win highly commended in this award. I’d like to thank the team at Belfast Met especially my tutors, Judith and Jackie, who have supported me tremendously over the past 2 years. When they told me that they’d nominated me for the award, I was humbled but did not think I ever had the chance of winning. Judith and Jackie pushed me over the last 2 years to overcome struggles and ensured that they supported and encouraged my learning. 

“In the future, I’m hoping to find a job where I can work with children and young people and encourage them to reach their full potential, the same way my tutors done with me. I plan on staying in employment until my home situation is stable so I can go on to university to study to become a teacher as this has always been a passion of mine.  

“Again, I’d like to say how thankful I am for this award, and also to NCFE for this amazing opportunity which I will treasure and hold dearly with me in my travels and studies in years to come.” 

Judith Stuart, Lecturer in Early Years Care and Education at Belfast Met, said: “Caitriona never ceases to amaze me. She always has a smile on her face and a determination to push through the most challenging of times. Caitriona would do anything to support her family, as well as continuing to study to seek employment and eventually go to university to become a teacher.  

“Caitriona believes there are people so much worse off than her in life and she can make a difference to children and young people's lives by offering her experiences. Catriona feels that this journey has made her into the strong independent woman we see in college every day.” 

Catherine Sezen, Senior Policy Manager (FE) at the Association of Colleges, said: “I was honoured to be asked to judge the NCFE learner of the year award and humbled by the determination and resilience shown by all the finalists. Congratulations to Caitriona.” 

I’d like to say how thankful I am for this award, and also to NCFE for this amazing opportunity which I will treasure and hold dearly with me in my travels and studies in years to come.

Caitriona McIvor, learner at Belfast Met