The Irish Examiner has learned details of a draft agreement this week between the Department of Education and representatives of teachers and managers in the Post Leaving Certificate sector, following intensive negotiations over the past two years.
The changes will involve an increase in funding to colleges from €515 to €650 for every further education student, or an extra €4 million a year for the sector, calculated on its 29,000 students.
The extra money is likely to be invested in library services, science labs, equipment support staff, and teachers. The sector is staffed and funded the same as second level, despite variation in the types of courses on offer, class structures and staffing requirements.
There will also be new management structures under the proposed deal, with the creation of positions of academic manager and middle academic manager, giving teachers appointed to the posts reduced class hours.
Extra guidance services will also be available to the larger PLC colleges to advise students on career options and course choices.
The changes are the first significant steps in implementing the 2003 McIver Report on the sector for the department, which recommended an overhaul of how further education is structured and funded. Ireland is one of a few remaining EU countries which does not have a distinct further education sector, funded separately from primary, second level and higher education.
The further education sector is almost completely under the management of city and county Vocational Education Committees with a mix of providers.
They range from vocational schools and community colleges with small numbers of further education courses to dedicated colleges with dozens of courses in a wide variety of disciplines, mostly accredited by the Further Education and Training Awards Council. The courses cater for school leavers to senior citizens, and meet the training needs of local business and industry.
The management structure changes will probably have the biggest impact on the 40 larger colleges which cater for more than half of all further education students.
The changes agreed by unions and management with department officials this week are subject to approval by Teachers’ Union of Ireland members, who make up most of the sector’s academic staff, and the Irish Vocational Education Association which represents the 33 VECs.