16 Apr 2018

Number of Learners Influencing National Further Education Policy has Increased Almost Ten-Fold

 The number of learners shaping national further education policy decisions has increased almost ten-fold. That’s according to AONTAS, who today (13.04.2018) held the third annual National FET (Further Education and Training) Forum in Croke Park, Dublin.

The Government committed to the establishment of a Forum for learners in the Further Education and Training Strategy, published by SOLAS in 2014.

The inaugural Forum in 2016 brought together 70 adult learners from across the country, giving them an opportunity to voice their views on FET services. Since then the Forum has been expanded to include regional events in addition to the national event in Dublin, increasing expected numbers of learners to over 650 for 2018. Other developments include the establishment of an international academic expert group consisting of leading scholars working the area of learner voice who will also be at today’s event.

Speaking at the Forum today, Niamh O’Reilly, CEO of AONTAS, said: “Today’s Forum provides FET learners from across Ireland with the opportunity to have their voices heard, and to influence policy at a national level. AONTAS believes that learners are experts of their own learning and we look forward to using the deliberations from today’s Forum in supporting SOLAS and ETBs in creating a world-class FET system that is learner-centred.”

“We’re delighted to announce that since the establishment of the Forum the number of learners we’ve engaged with has increased year on year, helped by the regional Forums we held throughout the country.

“Through this and future meetings of the Forum, our hope is that learners will share their feedback and views with senior policymakers and contribute to the development of more effective further education policies.”

Today marked the third meeting of the Forum when 100 learners from across Ireland met to discuss their achievements and challenges in FET. The learners in attendance were nominated to join the Forum by their local Education and Training Board (ETB) and includes representatives studying a range of FET programmes including PLC courses, Youthreach and the Back to Education Initiative.

Learners in attendance heard from Paul O’Toole, CEO of SOLAS, who said: “Over the last three years, AONTAS has done an excellent job in creating a platform where learners come together to tell us about their experience of Further Education and Training.  The insight gained as a result of this forum is invaluable to SOLAS and the ETBs as we work together to ensure that high-quality FET programmes that suit learner needs are delivered. I would like to thank all of the learners for their valuable contribution today.”

Closing today’s Forum was Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton TD, who said: “The forum today provides a unique opportunity for policy makers and educators to come together with learners, to hear what learners have to say about their experience in further education and training and to learn from the learner.

“A key priority for this Government is to increase life-long learning participation, to provide flexible learning opportunities and to have the best education system in Europe by 2026.  If we are to achieve this ambition, 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.”

Also speaking at the forum was Professor Peter Lavender from the University of Wolverhampton and member of the Academic Expert Group, who said: “Learner voice is central to the education process, without it learners are silent recipients. Learners must shape education and training, and to feel ownership of learning, empowered to make change.  We need to move from compliance to commitment. From a culture that’s duty and obligation-led to a culture that’s based on values, enthusiasm and a genuine desire to change. Learners are partners with educators and policy makers, not passive recipients of services.

Further information on AONTAS can be found here: