More than 32,000 students take part each year in further education courses in the post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) sector, mostly at colleges and schools managed by education and training boards (ETBs).
But, as reported in yesterday’s Irish Examiner, an evaluation by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) found that the courses have not been fulfilling all their requirements to justify their continuation.
The further education and training authority Solas is to oversee a range of reforms arising from the ESRI research it commissioned.
Among these reforms will be a proposed new outcomes-based funding model, under which PLC programmes would lose funding if they do not meet targets set by Solas for outputs from courses. At the same time, it is planned to reduce funding over three years for PLC provision in areas such as hairdressing, childcare, and community and health services, where the ESRI identified more students completing courses than job opportunities.
“This is a sector that has the capacity to respond to changing needs, it has demonstrated that well in the past,” said Solas chief executive, Paul O’Toole.
However, he said, the question of making a case for any significantly increased funding to the sector would depend on the situation that emerges as the reforms are implemented over the coming years. That will be overseen by Solas in a PLC improvement advisory committee, although the stakeholders to be represented on that along with the Department of Education have yet to be decided.
The National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, whose members include those managing further education colleges and second-level schools running PLC courses, called for its immediate establishment to drive meaningful change. The association supports the need for closer alignment with the needs of employers, but director, Clive Byrne, said this will need significantly increased investment and more flexibility on teaching contracts and funding structures that are currently based on those used in second-level schools.
The ESRI found that PLC graduates are 27% more likely than those who leave education after the Leaving Certificate to progress to a third-level course, and 16% more likely to get work.
The Teachers’ Union of Ireland, which represents most ETB teaching staff, said the ESRI report confirms the PLC sector’s positive role as a provider of high-quality qualifications and a bridge to continuing education. It expressed disappointment that removing the €200 PLC course charge that deters many students has not been recommended. It said access to courses for young people from disadvantaged regions needs to be urgently enhanced.