16 Dec 2020

New Booklet Highlights Learner Voice from the National FET Learner Forum

A new booklet celebrating the impact of learners sharing their experiences through the National FET Learner Forum has been launched today (16.12.2020) by AONTAS, the National Adult Learning Organisation.

The booklet, entitled I’m a FET Learner, features the personal stories of 10 Further Education and Training (FET) learners. From Imani Tutu who attended the first ever National FET Learner Forum event in 2016 to Niamh Becton who took part in a virtual National FET Learner Forum in Spring 2020, each individual story shares the impact that taking part in the Forum has had on the learners.

As one of the largest learner voice projects in Europe, the National FET Learner Forum has helped to deepen learner voice engagement in FET. The project has become a model learner voice initiative for groups across Europe. Each year over 1,000 FET learners from across Ireland take part. Learners share their experiences of accessing FET courses, and more importantly, offer suggestions on how to improve this process moving forward. Participating in the Forum has helped learners to build their self-confidence, increase their advocacy skills, and build a broader FET learner identity.

Daniel Kenny, who is completing a Level 5 Traineeship in Barbering at the Bray Institute of Further Education through Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board,  speaks about the importance of the Forum as a vital space for learners to shape future education provision. Noel Hanrahan, from Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board, describes how building his capacity to share his experience has improved his confidence which has had a positive effect on his mental health and wellbeing.

The launch event was led entirely by the learners who took part in this booklet. Hosting the event, introducing speakers, interviewing the CEO of SOLAS, Andrew Brownlee, and facilitating a stakeholder panel, learners were at the heart of all the activities that supported the day’s events.

Speaking at the launch, Niamh O’Reilly, CEO of AONTAS said: “The National FET Learner Forum has evolved since 2016, as a one-day national event where learners could share their voice and reflect on ways to improve the Further Education and Training (FET) sector to the largest mixed methods learner voice project in Europe in 2020.”

“This booklet demonstrates, whilst learner informed policy is vitally important, in AONTAS our approach to learner voice is more than just about gaining feedback. Through facilitated discussions and deep engagement, we strive for a transformative learner voice experience which builds learners’ confidence, and capacity to shape their education journey.”

Officially launching the booklet via video link Minister for Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris TD, said: “This booklet offers a real picture of the impact that adult education makes on people across this country. Many of the featured people faced challenges. By finding the courage to take that first step, these individuals, and countless more, have opened up a world of opportunities. FET is for everyone and it is my absolute priority to support everyone irrespective of their age, background or educational experience to have access to FET.”

Also speaking at the launch was Andrew Brownlee, CEO of SOLAS, who said: “SOLAS is delighted to support this exciting new publication which highlights the voice of learners across FET. Since SOLAS and the ETBs were formed in 2013, we have worked closely with AONTAS in ensuring that the learner voice influences strategy and the nature of provision across FET.

“The learner voice has played a central role in shaping the next ambitious FET strategy, ‘Transforming Learning’. Its central ethos is that FET should be for everyone and be available in every community across Ireland. Its learners reflect the diverse and vibrant society in Ireland, and we have to use their incredible experience to inspire others to join in a FET journey which can take you as far as you want to go.”

I’m a FET Learner is available to download here.

You can access all of the National FET Learner Forum Reports here.

The National FET Learner Forum

As part of the FET Strategy, SOLAS committed itself to listening to, and consulting with, learners in FET. This commitment placed learners at the centre of the FET service, recognising the value of their contribution and offering them an opportunity to shape the national policy decisions that are made in the future. AONTAS has previously provided various platforms for learners to come together and discuss their experiences of learning including the barriers and issues that arise. AONTAS’ expertise and experience in areas such as: developing extensive learner engagement strategies, organising and facilitating learner events and focus groups and supporting representation of adult learners on regional and national boards, led to AONTAS being tasked with establishing the National FET Learner Forum.

The first forum event took place on the 26th February 2016 and reached 70 learners. In 2020 the Forum reached over 1,400 learners. The launch of this booklet will look back at the impact of the Forum through the voices of learners who have taken part in the event. The purpose is to showcase the value of adult education and learner voice.