Adult Education in Ireland

Berni Brady

What is meant in the country when you talk about Adult Education?
Systematic learning undertaken by adults who return to learning having concluded initial education and training. As such it includes aspects of further and higher education, continuing education and training, community education and other systematic deliberate learning by adults, both formal and non formal. (White Paper, 2000)

What is typical for Adult Education in the country?
Adult and community education comprises a number of funded programmes including the National Adult Literacy Programme, the Back to Education Initiative, Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme, Youthreach, Senior Travellers Training Centres, Community Education and the Adult Educational Guidance Initiative. In addition FAS, the National Training Agency provides vocational training including apprenticeships. There is also a range of non-formal community -based providers catering for the needs of local and marginalised groups. Local schools and colleges also deliver self financed adult education courses usually in the evening.
Legal basis
Government policy on adult education in Ireland is set out in the White Paper, Learning for Life published in 2000. In addition several important pieces of legislation have been enacted which impact on the delivery of adult education services in Ireland e.g.
– The Education Act 1998
– The National Qualifications Act, 1999
– National Skills Strategy, 2007
– National Plan for Social Inclusion,2007
Responsible public bodies / ministries
Department of Education and Skills
Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs
Department of Social Protection
Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation

Relevant umbrella associations and national (service) organisations
AONTAS, the National Adult Learning Organisation, AONTAS is a non-government membership organisation established in 1969. Its mission is to ensure that every adult in Ireland has access to appropriate and affordable learning opportunities throughout their lives, thus enabling them to contribute to and participate in the economic, social, civic and cultural development of Irish society. It is a registered Charity and a company limited by guarantee. It is core funded by the Department of Education and Skills and receives project funding from other sources from time to time.
NALA, National Adult Literacy Agency, The National Adult Literacy Agency is an independent charity committed to making sure people with literacy and numeracy difficulties can fully take part in society and have access to learning opportunities that meet their needs
Providers of Adult Education
The key statutory providers are the Vocational Education Committees (VECs) 33 in all across the country. They are sub committees of the local councils and have a network of schools and colleges across the country. They are responsible for the delivery of the funded programmes mentioned above. They are also responsible for public secondary education and more recently for a new public primary education.
Independent community based groups provide a wide range of programmes for local communities and many marginalised groups. Religious institutions, trades unions and NGOs also deliver education and training programmes
Third level providers deliver a range of courses through the Institutes of Technology and the Universities.

Funding in the Education sector is provided through the Exchequer (i.e.) taxation. In 2009 €9.3 billion was allocated to Education and Skills. Of this €420 million or 4.37% was allocated to adult, community and further education. This equates to .22% of GDP. This budget is allocated to the VECs to provide the programmes outlined above. Adult Education and Training Services are also part funded through the European Structural Funds.
There is a broad range of self-financing adult education available to learners through schools, colleges and private institutions. Fees are charged at the discretion of the provider.
Adult and community education in Ireland covers a wide variety of topics and areas ranging from basic education, personal development, hobby and leisure courses, skills training, further and higher education. See AONTAS Information Booklet available on the AONTAS website
The adult and community education sector in Ireland has grown organically over the past forty years but the major changes have been in the past ten years. Funded programmes have attracted a range of professionals as well as volunteers. The table below categorises the types of personnel engaged in the delivery of adult and community education and training. The numbers of staff are indicated where data is available. Complete data about the numbers of teachers, tutors and volunteers working within the sector is unavailable although a large number of volunteers work in the literacy service. The sector contains a variety of personnel with a mix of qualifications ranging from informal training to accredited courses at third level including certificate, diploma and masters awards in adult education. No specific adult education qualification is required to work in the sector but such a qualification is desirable. Statutory providers have small budgets for Continuous Professional Development of their staff.

Quality system / insurance
Following the establishment of the National Qualifications Framework in 2003 and the establishment of the Further Education and training Awards Council (FETAC) in 2000 all providers offering accredited courses are required to comply with the FETAC Quality Assurance system ( see FETAC website). The NFQ is a system of ten levels, aligned with the European Framework of Qualifications which incorporates awards made for all kinds of learning wherever it is gained. Quality assurance systems are also in place for adult literacy as are benchmarks for participation which have been surpassed in 2010. AONTAS in collaboration with its women’s community education groups has developed a Quality Assurance Framework for Women’s Community Education which can be accessed through its website.

Relevant links 

EAEA Country presentation: Ireland
Euridyce: Structures of Education and Training Systems in Europe – Ireland

General country information: