3 Nov 2022

Our Guide to the 2023 STAR Awards Categories

Hannah O'Donnell holding an AONTAS STAR Award

The AONTAS STAR Awards (Showcasing Teamwork, Awarding Recognition) recognise and celebrate the work of adult learning initiatives throughout the island of Ireland.

The awards are open to and inclusive of a wide range of organisations, groups, projects and initiatives. Winning initiatives may help learners to progress to further or higher education or to a job, or contribute to and value the happiness and quality of life of people and communities.

Learn more about the STAR Awards nomination process in this video.

This year there are awards in five categories, with two special recognition awards. Applicants will be asked to choose a category for their nomination. This guide will explain each category, and offer some inspiration from previous winners.

Health and Wellbeing

This category is open to adult learning initiatives that support increased health and wellbeing for participants, for example mental health, physical activity, recovery from addiction, nutrition and sporting projects.

Last year’s winners were Dare2Dip, an initiative by social enterprise the LightHouse from Inishowen Development Partnership, and the Hep C programme from the SAOL Project.

Dare2Dip was created during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns to teach people about safety while sea-swimming and encourage swimming in the sea for health and wellbeing. Click here to watch their video. 

The Hep C programme treats and cures Hepatitis C and also helps people to understand the disease and be able to communicate about it with others, which decreases stigma and shame and increases wellbeing and positive mental health. Click here to watch their clip. 

Third-level Access and Engagement

This category is open to adult learning initiatives that help people from low income backgrounds or with disabilities to access third-level programmes, or it might relate to initiatives that promote partnership between higher education providers and local communities. The idea is to make education more equal for everyone.

Last year’s winners were the Cultural and Heritage Studies course from CSN College of Further Education in Cork and the Irish Refugee Council’s initiative on Education Access for People Seeking Protection.

The Cultural and Heritage Studies course from CSN looks at Irish archaeology, folklore, local history, genealogy and the arts, and involves a field-trip programme and prepares learners for university, usually in the arts. Find out more here. 

The Education Access initiative from the IRC supports people seeking protection and those recognised as refugees in Ireland to access education, especially in the face of funding barriers. To see a video about this project, click here. 

Social Inclusion

Many adult learning initiatives across the island of Ireland support people to become active participants in their local community and contribute to social and cultural life.

Winners last year were the progression programme from Aiséirí Céim Eile Secondary Treatment Programme, Waterford, which supports people in recovery from addiction and their education and career paths. For more, take a look at this short clip. The other winner was Development Perspectives’ Amplifying Voices project which provided training and a space for refugees and asylum seekers to tell their own stories about their experiences. Take a look here for more. 

Learner Voice

Lots of adult learning initiatives place the voice and experience of the learner at the heart of their work. Learner Voice is a concept in education that means that learners should have a say in decisions about their own education. It means that those who learn, not just those who teach, should influence the educational experience. This award goes to initiatives or projects that empower learners, helping them gain confidence and skills like public speaking and/or demonstrate that they have used the experiences of learners to shape their governance structures and policies.

Last year’s winner in this category was the Ability Board from Ability@Work by the Cope Foundation, where people with disabilities or different abilities lead an initiative to educate employers across Ireland about biases and to change recruitment to make it more inclusive. Click here to watch their video. 

Global Citizenship Education

This category is open to adult learning initiatives that empower people to become active in facing and seeking ways of combatting global challenges such as climate change and anti-democratic movements. It recognises organisations or programmes that help people become proactive contributors to a more peaceful, tolerant, inclusive and secure world.

Global Citizenship Education is a new category, but applicants can still draw inspiration from last year’s winners in the “Sustainable Development through Education” category. The winners were the Biodiversity Garden and Tree Nursery project by Cranmore Community Co-Op in Sligo, and the Sustainable Climate Action and Local Advocacy Youth Village in Cork.

The Biodiversity Garden encourages the local community to get involved with environmental and biodiversity awareness and climate action. The workshops give participants the opportunity to save local wildflower seeds, observe bees, and learn about the importance of wildlife in the food chain. Watch their video here. 

The Youth Village in Cork was a group of nine young volunteers who set out to educate the local community about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by creating a walking trail with facts and ideas on how people can work towards achieving the sustainable development goals, to show the small actions that individual people can take that will have a big impact for the world around us. Click here for more. 

AONTAS has been doing lots of work in the area of the Sustainable Development Goals over the last few years. Check out this video for ideas and read more about our work here.  

Special Recognition Awards

There are two Special Recognition Awards that open to applicants in all categories.

Special Recognition Award for Shared Island and Peace-Building Initiatives

This is a new special award to recognise initiatives that integrate or focus on peace-building in their work, and/or those who take a Shared Island approach to their work. Many education organisations including AONTAS are engaging in Shared Island work, and colleagues in adult learning are collaborating throughout the Republic and Northern Ireland. Perhaps working in relation to Peace IV funding, or various Shared Island initiatives, adult learning initiatives are doing extraordinary work in this space.

Special Recognition Award for a European Social Fund (ESF) Initiative

The European Social Fund helps people get better jobs and ensures fairer job opportunities for all EU citizens. To achieve this, many adult learning initiatives work towards better education and training systems in Ireland and across Europe. Organisations and projects work on providing or organising training, upskilling, re-skilling for people to have options in their job choices.

Last year’s winner in this category was Foundation 4 Life from South-West Mayo Development Company and the Western Regional Drug and Alcohol Task Force. It supports young people who are not engaged in work, education or training with accredited and unaccredited training and one-to-one coaching, which also providing help with travel and nutritious meals. It helps young people to take steps towards employment, while gaining confidence, friends and a sense of community along the way. Click here for a video. 

You can submit a nomination for the STAR Awards online until 5pm on 11th November 2022.


Click here to log in or create an account and submit a nomination. 

If you have any questions about the categories, or any other aspect of the STAR Awards, contact our Membership Engagement Officer Barry Dolan at