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21 Jun 2019

Recognition of Community Education in the National Political Conversation

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AONTAS has long argued that community education has a proven track record in effectively engaging the most educationally disadvantaged learners and providing quality educational experiences that meets their needs. Through our Community Education Network (est 2007), we act as a voice for community education, advocating on issues such as highlighting the need for: a sustainable funding model; continued provision of Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) accredited programmes; and non-accredited learning. In our latest blog Advocacy Lead Ben Hendriksen outlines a collective achievement in gaining recognition of community education in the national political conversation.

Community Education at Leinster House

Tuesday, 18th June 2019 was a good day for community education in Ireland. A culmination of years of advocacy generally, and the better part of 10 months specifically, led to AONTAS Chairperson Tara Farrell’s presentation to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills. Tara was presenting about the need to provide an exemption for not-for-profit community education providers who will otherwise have to pay into a new Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) ‘Learner Protection Fund’.

 

The Background

In 2018 Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) opened a public consultation concerning proposed amendments to the Qualifications and Quality Assurance Act 2012. The proposed amendments were many, but the one of most concern to AONTAS and our community education members includes potential new payments that would be paid into a new QQI managed insurance system called the ‘Learner Protection Fund’. In response to this issue AONTAS made a submission to the Joint Committee on Education and Skills with the goal of securing an exemption for not-for-profit community education providers so that they will not have to pay into any future ‘Learner Protection Fund’. The original submission is available on the AONTAS website which you can access by Clicking Here.

From this submission written by Advocacy Lead Ben Hendriksen and CEO Niamh O’Reilly, and the support and expertise around community education provided by Community Education Network (CEN) Coordinator Suzanne Kyle, AONTAS was able to secure this opportunity for our Chairperson Tara Farrell to present to the Joint Committee.

The Opportunity

As often happens, the opportunity to present before an Oireachtas Joint Committee can happen quickly; even when the preparation to present has been months in the making. When AONTAS was invited to present to the Committee 3 work days prior to the presentation we were ready to act across the organisation. Administrative support and research support was provided from AONTAS staff Leah Dowdall, Marta Feragalli, and Sam O’Brien-Olinger. Representing our membership is a team effort and we are privileged to do this work every day on your behalf.

The Moment

On Tuesday, 18th June 2019, AONTAS Chairperson Tara Farrell presented to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills. You can watch a clip of her presentation to the Joint Committee by Clicking Here. Tara’s presentation starts at approximately 48 minutes and 30 seconds.

Next Steps

Since Tuesday AONTAS is happy to report that all members of the Joint Committee present at the meeting were supportive of the proposed AONTAS amendment. As a result Jan O’Sullivan, TD has committed to tabling an amendment which will include not-for-profit community education providers as a type of organisation exempted from paying into any future ‘Learner Protection Fund’. The Joint Committee on Education and Skills also made their support public in writing on 20th June 2019 through publication of the Report on Stakeholder Engagement on the Policy Implications of the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Bill 2018, which can be found online by Clicking Here. The section specifically referencing this issue can be found on page 21 of the report.

After more than 10 months working on this issue we believe that we are receiving the necessary political support to see not-for-profit community education providers spared from this new fee. Our work will continue until the exemption is achieved, but we are cautiously optimistic and wanted to share this update with you our members.

For more information on any of our advocacy work please contact Ben Hendriksen at: bhendriksen@aontas.com