The Adult Education Guidance Services - Free, Local, Impartial and Confidential

20 Aug 2020
At last week’s Weekly Membership Webinar Mary Stokes, Guidance Programme Coordinator for Further Education and Training (FET) from the National Centre for Guidance in Education, gave a presentation about guidance provision for adults and the role played by Adult Education Guidance Services in local communities across Ireland.

“I can help you find out what your choices are, what way they work, I’m not selling you anything, it’s impartial, it’s confidential, pick up the phone and come along, make an appointment, have a chat with me and we’ll see where you’re at and see what choices are there.” - Mary Stokes, Guidance Programme Coordinator for Further Education and Training


About the National Centre for Guidance in Education


The mission of the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE) is to develop and support quality guidance provision in the education sector as part of lifelong learning in accordance with national and international best practice. Every Education and Training Board (ETB) includes Adult Education Guidance Service provision.  

As an agency of the Department of Education and Skills, the NCGE supports the work of guidance counsellors in the FET setting. The NCGE:


Access to Adult Guidance Service

During last week’s webinar Mary outlined the importance of ensuring that everyone has access to a free and impartial guidance service. The role these services play in supporting adults to make informed decisions about their education options simply cannot be understated nor can its impact on people’s lives be underestimated.

The local Adult Education Guidance Service (AEGS) plays an essential role in empowering those who avail of their support to find their learning pathway. Contacting a local AEGS is often the first step for many adult learners in their journey to improve their own quality of life and that of their families and communities. Last year saw AEGSs provide a service to nearly 57,000 people (see table below for provision by ETB):


Guidance within Community Education

Guidance within the community education setting is provided in one-to-one, group sessions and through ‘Outreach’ service provision. AEGSs also provided seminars to community education learners. Community education can often form a very important stage of any adult learners’ journey. Many learners take their first steps back into education through community education and over a quarter of those in 2019 found the Back To Education Initiative (BTEI) part-time provision to be the most appropriate, meaningful and viable option for their needs (see page 10 of the NCGE’s Quantitative Summary Report of the Adult Guidance Management System of AEGS Report 2019). Below are more figures for provision within community education:


Mary gave webinar participants some examples of her time as a Guidance Counsellor with the City of Dublin Education and Training Board (CDETB). She highlighted how important local AEGSs and community education providers are for deepening and widening access to and participation in lifelong learning. When describing her own experience of outreach work Mary described ensuring good communication with community education providers and dealing with referrals from them. She said that her outreach could involve visits to anything from a knitting group, and people doing IT, right through to cohorts learning about genealogy.   


What is ‘Guidance’?

Mary went on to describe what guidance in education means and that it takes place across a diversity of settings, including:

Importantly, Mary said that “guidance is not about selling anything to anyone, it is about promoting an individual’s ability as a learner, or a group of people’s, and their capacity to make a good choice and to know that their choice is going to work for them”.

Guidance Counsellors can take the time that’s necessary to assess someone’s learning needs, financial circumstances, life situation, caring responsibilities and so on, and match an education and training option to their current reality and to their future aspirations.

On an immediate and practical level, Mary mentioned how AEGSs will have the most up to date and accurate information regarding social welfare payments and other supports available to potential learners and those already in learning. The service is essentially about allowing a client to explore, open up, challenge themselves, come up with ideas and solutions, plan, set goals, manage their career, identify opportunities, ask questions, and seek out new learning experiences.

Mary’s presentation certainly made it clear that every AONTAS member is likely working with learners and communities who would benefit greatly from engaging with their local AEGS. Mary also discussed the value of reciprocal referral between local providers and their AEGS, inviting everyone at the weekly webinar to consider getting in touch. To watch a short video of Mary giving an outline of the AEGS, to find out where your local AEGS is located and for contact details just click here.  


Discussion Sessions

During the breakout rooms, webinar participants had the space and time to discuss a number of topics and cover a lot of ground. Some areas and questions included making people more aware of their local guidance service; making the service more accessible; building and strengthening relationships between community education providers and local AEGSs; and considering the impact of the new SOLAS FET Strategy on the AEGSs.

Other topics raised which Mary addressed revolved around digital skills and bridging the digital divide; as well as ensuring that people already in a course, or who have found their learning pathway but are struggling, can and do contact their local service for support.   

To contact Mary Stokes about any aspect of the NCGE’s work and/or the Adult Education Guidance Service email / To keep up to date follow the NCGE on Twitter @NCGEGuidance


AONTAS' One Step Up - Information Referral Service

If you or anyone you know is curious about any aspect of returning to any form of education visit, Freephone 1800 303 669 or email Sam O'Brien-Olinger, AONTAS Information and Policy Officer at:

Registration for the upcoming webinars is available on our Events page

If you would like to become a member of AONTAS or are a member and can contribute to the weekly online gathering with your experience, suggestions and solutions to the common challenges facing the sector then please get in touch with Barry Dolan, AONTAS Communications and Membership Officer at: or call 087 114 9278.