General Teaching Council Northern Ireland

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STAR Teachers recognised


(L-R) Alice Hamilton, Dr Clifford Boyd, Rachael Jess 


The General Teaching Council  for Northern Ireland Student Teacher Award of Recognition (STAR) was created to celebrate the outstanding achievement of student teachers who have excelled in their courses and teaching placements in our local schools. Rachael Jess and Alice Hamilton were this year’s recipients of the two Stranmillis University College GTCNI STAR prizes.  The Award includes a bursary to be used for professional development activities and further educational experiences. 

“Rachael and Alice epitomise the type of teachers  we need to be producing at Stranmillis,” says Dr Patricia Eaton, Director of Teaching and Learning at Stranmillis University College. “Teachers who think innovatively and who go beyond the classroom.  Teachers with a passion and heart for making the most of every child’s potential and often prepared to go the extra mile.”

Rachael Jess - Alongside Rachael’s studies and professional placements, she has been volunteering with the Special Olympics for the past 6 years; she is a volunteer with Barnardos Willowgrove Saturday Link Programme; and she completed an Alternative Placement in a Special School with a class of pupils with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties. Through talent and hard work, she managed to do all this and still achieve a First Class Honours degree!

Rachael commented, “Through my time at Stranmillis, I developed a love and passion for Special Education and completed the Certificate of Special Education. Working in this field requires a special type of person; one who has real empathy, is a carer, is patient and, perhaps more than anything else, is a determined individual, something I hope I have displayed in my studies, placements and volunteering to date.”

“I am very fortunate to have been offered a post in a Special School starting in September where I will have a small class of pupils with severe learning difficulties and sensory needs. The curriculum I implement will need to be specifically tailored to each pupil’s needs, particularly in relation to sensory provision. To determine which resources and approaches will be most effective, I will be analysing the pupils’ sensory profiles. For example, if a pupil is hyposensitive to visual input, a light box would be beneficial to engage them in a lesson activity. If a pupil is hyposensitive to tactile input, a range of sensory materials such as moon sand, hand putty or water beads would be beneficial to help them explore. Resources for this type of teaching are very costly and it is highly unlikely that there will be enough in the budget to cover what is needed if these children are to maximise their learning outcomes. My plan therefore is to use the bursary money to buy extra sensory resources for the classroom and the multi-sensory room. I can’t think of a better or more lasting legacy for the £400 bursary. The resources will not only support the education of and benefit these extremely special children, but will also be hugely beneficial and treasured by their parents, the fantastically dedicated team at the school and by myself.”


Alice Hamilton - the joint recipient of the STAR Award with Rachael has been working at Clayrazy alongside her professional studies.  Clayrazy is a creative, art-based after school programme which is part of the Extended Schools initiative, which works with children from areas of multiple deprivation to help develop their fine motor skills and foster creativity.

Alice has also been volunteering with a primary school in a slum area of Kampala, Uganda during College holidays for the last three years delivering a social and emotional well-being programme. She attained a first class Honours degree and has now secured a teaching position in Kampala International School in Uganda where she will be teaching Primary 5 and will be responsible for developing the extracurricular activities.

Asked what she would spend the award‘s bursary on, Alice said, “I would love to introduce an after school clay club in Kampala. I have received training and have had a wealth of experience in delivering sessions. I have seen first-hand the benefits of developing fine motor skills, creativity and listening skills as they create these air drying brightly coloured models. Unfortunately there is no space for resources like these within the school budget and I will therefore be using the £400 bursary to buy clay as each kg of this bright coloured air drying clay costs £30.  Using the bursary I will be able to provide enough clay to run 3 afterschool sessions a week with 20 children for the entire year.”



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