13 Apr 2018

AONTAS Third National Further Education and Training (FET) Learner Forum 2018

AONTAS is the designated lead organisation in the delivery of the National Further Education and Training (FET) Learner Forum (NFLF). For the past three years, in collaboration with Education and Training Boards (ETBs), AONTAS has worked directly with learners across the country to gather information on what is working and what can be improved in the Further Education and Training sector.

The 3rd National Further Education and Training (FET) Learner Forum took place on Friday, 13th April in Croke Park, Dublin. A total of 85 learners drawn from 11 different further education and training programmes from across Ireland met to discuss their achievements and challenges in FET. In addition to these learners present at the event was another 35 key stakeholders working in the area of further education and training in Ireland.

The agenda included a panel discussion with Paul O’Toole, CEO of SOLAS, Fiona Maloney, Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI), Stephen O’Brien, University College Cork and adult learner Imani Tutu. Former prison guard John Lonergan gave an inspiring input on the Power of Education for Change. The event was officially closed by Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton TD.

Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton TD

We were delighted to have Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton TD officially close the event. The Minister payed tribute to all of the learners who gave their time to participate in this important event. The Minister noted that a key priority for the Government is to increase life-long learning participation and to provide flexible learning opportunities.  He said that in order to achieve this, we need to listen to our learners, to take on board their views, their experience and their advice, so that we encourage citizens of all ages to return to learning, to new skills, to new opportunities and more importantly so that we support the full participation of every citizen in society.

Panel Discussion

A panel compromising of key stakeholders in FET ranging from Paul O’Toole (CEO SOLAS), Fiona Maloney of ETBI, Stephen O’Brien of University College Cork and Imani Tutu (Adult Learner) discussed the importance of the National FET Learner Forum and how the Forum places the learner voice at the centre of national FET policy.

John Lonergan

John Lonergan, a former prison governor gave a captivating input on the ‘Power of Education for Change’. From John’s experience of working in the prison service he has seen first-hand the impact that education can have on a person’s life and he believes that change cannot be enforced on people and that meaningful change only comes about through dialogue, consent and agreement.

Academic Expert Group and Policy Makers

The National FET Learner Forum has a team of international academics from Ireland, Belgium and the United Kingdom who each have expertise in the area of learner voice advising on the project’s development. As part of the day’s activities, key policy makers from SOLAS, The Department of Education and Skills, The Higher Education Authority, and QQI met with this team of academic to discuss the importance of learner voice in policy planning.  

Sharing the Learner Voice

Learners made a valuable contribution on the day by taking part in two key discussion sessions about their experience in FET and how their FET programme is currently meeting their needs. Learners were also given a variety of fun spaces to share their feedback through interactive games in the Learner Voice Hub. We also captured their views through photos, video and feedback forms. 

A number of organisations offering services of direct relevance to FET learners participated in the NFLF as well. Organisations such as QQI, NALA, AEGAI, Uversity, Maynooth University, and Solas ECollege met with learners throughout the day and distributed key information for learners to bring back to each of their ETBs.

The 2017 Learner Report

The Forum also marked the launch of the 2017 Learner Report. This report, derived from NFLF events conducted throughout the previous year, outlined a list of learner-constructed recommendations on current further education and training practices in Ireland.

Next Steps

AONTAS will publish a qualitative  report based on the feedback from the learner discussions which took place at the forum. This outcomes of this report will influence future national FET policy decisions.

We are also creating a video that documents the event and we look forward to sharing this with you in the near future. For more information on the event, please email Leah Dowdall,