19 Dec 2019

National FET Learner Forum 2019: A Year in Review

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In this blog, Research Officer Eve Cobain, reviews the National FET Learner Forum in 2019

This year saw the largest National FET Learner Forum campaign to date, with 1001 learners participating across 14 events, 13 regional and one national. These learners came from 14 ETBs and 14 different FET programmes. Each learner participated in a one hour long focus group in which they shared their thoughts on what is working well and what can be improved in FET. The result was 108 hours of recorded discussion that was used to create 13 regional reports, sent directly to ETBs, and one national report, used to provide learner input into the new FET strategy. As part of this project, learners also completed a survey that addressed key topics identified by stakeholders and topics that had emerged at previous Forum events.


Learner Profile

The main objective of the Forum is to provide a welcoming and inclusive space in which learners whose voices often remain unheard can be shared. One of the greatest indications of the success of the Forum in achieving this aim is that when asked, ‘Have you ever been asked to share your views on FET before’, 77% of learners responded ‘no’. This means, the Forum was the first opportunity these learners had to share their thoughts on FET.

Some of the learners who participated in the Forum voluntarily shared information on their background to ensure the Forum was inclusive and representative of the profile of learners participating in adult education. This year, 14 different programmes were represented, with 451 learners enrolled on full-time courses and 361 studying part-time. Adult Literacy represented the largest learner population (with 176 learners), and was closely followed by VTOS (145) and PLCs (116).

In reviewing the highest level of education attained by learners, it emerged that 38% of participants held a Level 5 or higher, while 62% of respondents had attained Levels 1 to 4 (Leaving Cert). Before entering FET, 2% of learners had received no formal education.

In 2019, the Forum also documented the voices of members of a number of other important target groups. 17 learners voluntarily identified as Travellers, while 25 claimed refugee status. A further 128 learners were from outside Ireland, with 51 also identifying as non-native speakers of English. As demonstrated by these findings, the Forum provides an important space for interaction between people from diverse backgrounds.

Learner Reaction to the Forum

Overall, learner satisfaction with the events was high. While AONTAS is still processing evaluations from the final 3 Forum events of 2019, evaluations collected at 11 Forum events across the year demonstrate that 56% of learners found the Forum to be “excellent”, while 34% rated it “very good.”  Learners who participated described the Forum as “very informative, both for young and old” and enjoyed the opportunity to “express my opinion” and “hear the views and experiences of other people.” Learners also highlighted a number of wider benefits of the Forum, such as fostering a sense of community among adult education learners; as one learner commented, “we could share with others what we are doing and also hear what other groups are doing.” Additionally, learners noted that the Forum allowed them to “learn about new courses.”

Next Steps

The information gathered at events across the year is now being analysed and will be turned into a report in 2020. We will share this with members as soon as it is complete. The National FET Learner Forum events will resume in February 2020 and we are excited to meet a new cohort of learners. We hope to hear from even more learners next year, and to host an event in all 16 ETBs. There will be a number of exciting developments to the forum in 2020, including a revised survey for participants. We are also looking into plans to action learner recommendations and new ways for learners to engage with AONTAS beyond the forum events. AONTAS is grateful to the ETBs who hosted an event and to every learner who took the time to share their voice.


For More Information:

Contact Eve Cobain, Research Officer at: