Developments and Current Policy Priorities
In Ireland, Further Education and Training has been mainly publicly funded through the Education and Training Boards (formerly VECs) and Training Centres. Prior to the recent reforms of the FET sector, Government policy for Adult Education in Ireland was set out in “Learning for Life – White Paper on Adult Education”, published in 2000. This document sets out a template for the development of the Adult Education Sector as part of an overall Government commitment to establishing a comprehensive system of lifelong learning for all. In addition to the White Paper, several important pieces of legislation have been enacted, including the National Qualifications (Education and Training) Act 1999, the Education Act 1998, which impact on the delivery of further education services in Ireland.
A major reform of the Further Education and Training Sector has taken place in Ireland at both national and local level in recent years. SOLAS, the new further education and training authority, was established under the Further Education and Training Act 2013, on 27th October 2013. FÁS was dissolved as part of this process. The work of SOLAS is overseen by a board whose members come from a broad spectrum of FET organisations and representative bodies.
At local level, education and training boards were established on 1 July 2013 replacing the former Vocational Education Committees (VEC). ETBs are statutory authorities with responsibility for the provision of Further Education and Training and a range of other statutory functions. ETBs manage and operate second-level schools, further education colleges, and a range of adult and further education centres delivering education and training programmes.
SOLAS is required by the Further Education and Training Act 2013 to propose a five year strategy for the provision of further education and Training. The FET Strategy 2014-2019, its first strategy, articulates a vision of a flexible, responsive, quality-driven, labour-market relevant and integrated sector that supports learner progression, transition into employment and personal development. Central to the strategy is the emphasis on provision informed by high quality data and evidence and funding prioritised according to demonstrable need and performance. The FET Strategy provides a focus for the setting of investment priorities, and to provide a framework for the establishment and development of a strong FET sector. The FET Strategy provides education and training that has a primary focus on developing skills for the economy and courses that support core skills and personal development and are aimed at increasing equity, social inclusion and educational progression.
SOLAS engaged in a detailed process of engagement with stakeholders to develop the FET strategy and engaged the Economic & Social Research Institute (ESRI), National Economic and Social Council (NESC) and the OECD to advise and assist with this work. As part of the development of the strategy, SOLAS undertook one-to-one consultations with FET stakeholders, a desk review of current research and an international benchmarking exercise as well as running 9 strategy workshops with different interested parties. Arising from that process, a draft strategy was developed and submitted by SOLAS for the Minister’s approval.
Five high level strategic goals have been identified:
- Skills for the Economy: to address the current and future needs of learners, jobseekers, employers and employees and to contribute to national economic development;
- Active Inclusion: to support the active inclusion of people of all abilities in society with special reference to literacy and numeracy;
- Quality Provision: to provide high quality education and training programmes and to meet the appropriate national and international quality standards;
- Integrated Planning and Funding: FET provision will be planned and funded on the basis of objective analysis of needs and evidence of social and economic impact;
- Standing of FET: to ensure a valued learning path leading to agreed employment, career, developmental, personal and social options.
SOLAS has also developed the first integrated Further Education & Training Services Plan in 2014 with the full cooperation and participation of the 16 Education & Training Boards (ETBs). It provides, for the first time, integrated information on a common basis, of the full range of further education and training funded by the Department of Education & Skills. This plan presents a detailed picture of how the State's investment will be applied by ETBs and SOLAS against current policy objectives. It will introduce ETBs to the new form of planning for FET envisaged in the SOLAS legislation; facilitate their participation for the first time in planning training interventions while providing valuable learning for SOLAS in respect of the further education component of its remit.