The VEC Sector Our Track Record in Further Education and Training

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					                                City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee

The VEC Sector:
Our Track Record in Further Education and Training
For:             National Adult Education Conference, Westport Wednesday 6th Thursday 7th February 2008
                 ‘Delivering on the National Skills Strategy. The VEC Sector – Meeting the Challenge’
Speaker:         Jacinta Stewart, CEO, City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee

What does a VEC do?                                                                                       2

The VEC is the sector that specialises in Inclusive Education:

       o   We focus on community
       o   We target students of all ages
       o   We focus on providing openings
       o   We focus on mapping different routes
       o   We focus on evaluation and accreditation
       o   We focus on choice
       o   We are a powerful agent of change

What track record do we have?                                                                             6

       This sector has published 33 Education Plans that have
       evaluated our track records and set future goals.

What sort of a future will challenge this sector?                                                         7

       o Second Level
       o Further Education (PLC)
       o Adult Education
       o the level of Educational Innovation
       o the level of Programmes for Young People
       o the level of Support Services
       o operational level

We do what we say we will do                                                                              10

What does a VEC do?
The VEC is the sector that specialises in Inclusive Education.
I understand the word include to mean ‘contain as a part of a whole’. This desire and
willingness to include, which is opposite to exclude or preclude, is central to what VECs
have always been about. We belong now in an era when the goal of education is to
embrace everyone. VECs are very good at this and are always striving to be better.
Every project that we operate centres around inclusion and on how we can ‘develop,
provide and support high quality person-centred learning opportunities for young people
and adults in Dublin City’ (CDVEC Education Plan 2006-2011 p 34).

Inclusion is about providing openings to people at every age and stage of their lives.
CDVEC manages 22 schools and colleges in Dublin City. Twelve of our schools cater for
second level students and a total of 16 of our schools and colleges offer Post Leaving
Certificate courses. Our Adult Education Service offers adults a broad range of
programmes across the city. We deliver a Literacy Service and support community
education where it is needed and our Adult Guidance Service provides critical supports for
adult learners. We are very active in the area of programmes for young people. We
organise 11 Youthreach Centres and our Youth Service Board (CDYSB) funds and
manages youth projects and services right across the city. We are active in many areas of
educational innovation.

There are 32 other VECs doing similar work across the country.

We focus on community
Inclusion is about community. Larkin Community College, for example, right in the heart of
inner city Dublin has ensured that the whole community has bought into education. The
community shows a great pride in its school and the school does it proud. One look at the
scholarships that it offers shows the dynamism that is at work. LIFE. – ‘Larkin into Further
Education’, available to currently-enrolled Larkin students, rewards academic excellence
and is intended to encourage students towards third-level education. Their ‘Learning
through Soccer’ scholarship, which started as a partnership with Shelbourne Football Club,
is an innovation that combines Junior Cycle study with extra training and coaching in
soccer and is open to both boys and girls from all over Dublin. Their ‘Learning Through
the Arts’ scholarship is a cross-curricular programme, intended for students with an ability
or interest in one or more of the areas of Art, Music, Drama or Dance.

Every delegate here knows that their VEC school or college is an integral part of the
community that it is there to serve.

We target students of all ages and stages
All VECs welcome the mature learner.
We welcome people from other nationalities, including asylum seekers and refugees.
We are constantly engaged in educational innovation.
We provide the education service to 9 prisons.
We run education programmes in the workplace.
We lead the SkillVEC project which provides work-based education programmes to HSE

                                         Page 2 of 10

We have established a series of robust services that support our activities, including a
Disability Support Service that is at work in some Colleges and will grow.
In CDVEC our Psychological Service works across the system and the CDVEC Curriculum
Development Unit hosts important projects such as JCSP.

We focus on providing openings
All VECs are committed to ensuring that the widest possible range of students can access
and participate fully in college life. Coláiste Íde CFE in Finglas reaches far beyond the
college campus with an Open Learning Centre which is 13 years old now and thriving. A
visit to this centre is an inspiration to any educator interested in inclusive education. It
caters for people who need flexibility; people such as the unemployed, lone parents,
house-parents or people with disability. It works with groups like the Visually Impaired
Computer Society (VICS), MS Ireland, Headway: the National Association for Acquired
Brain Injury, the Irish Wheelchair Association and St Michael’s House. It offers computer
courses for deaf people and offers students with agoraphobia education programmes
using a radio link. It has a ‘Computers on Wheels’ programme for students who experience
difficulty with transport, bringing the technology and the tutor to them. This year they
added to their service by setting up a ‘Silver Surfers Club’ - an out-centre for retired men
and women in Cabra who are learning ICT skills.

Again, every VEC attending this conference can provide countless examples of how we
reach out to meet our students in a manner that meets their needs.

We focus on mapping different routes
Inclusion in practice involves enabling people to move across the different sectors in
In CDVEC we have educators like Deirdre Moore who is a full-time teacher at Coláiste
Dhúlaigh CFE. Deirdre left school at 15 in the early 70s and did a secretarial course.
Nearly three decades later, with her family reared and a wealth of life and work experience
behind her, she discovered VTOS. This lead her on a journey through Leaving Certificate
and St. Patrick’s College to a career in teaching. Recently she told the Irish Times in an
interview: ‘Thank God my desire for education was stronger than my fear. I can’t explain
the joy I feel in helping students with their studies and witnessing them grow in

Many adults, when considering a course of study at third level, feel the need for a
foundation in a range of skills. We offer access programmes that prepare mature students
and young adults for the rigours of third level education right across the city now – in
Plunket College, Pearse CFE, Liberties College and Rathmines CFE - providing links to
TCD, DCU and UCD. These are programmes of which I am particularly proud.

                                         Page 3 of 10

We focus on evaluation and accreditation
As a sector we are developing our critical self-evaluation skills. I had the pleasure of
speaking at a conference last October organised by the Further Education Support Service
(FESS) and the IVEA entitled ‘Improving Programmes and Services through Self-
Evaluation’ which was targeted at key personnel working in Further Education. Séan
Haughey TD, Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, who gave the
opening address, spoke of self-evaluation as ‘a key element in achieving continuous
improvement in further education and training. It is a way of developing programmes and
related services through critical and reflective questioning, leading to positive
recommendations and systematic and structured action plans for planning and
improvement’. Professor Tom Collins, who gave the key-note address, described self-
evaluation as being about trust and accountability. He brought home to the delegates
present the necessity for a culture of trust, that presupposes a personal and civic morality,
that presupposes, as he put it, that ‘you will do what you say you will do’. He left
delegates with a keen sense of their accountability; to the taxpayer, to our peers, to our
students and to parents.

This is a progressive time for the sector. We now have a National Framework of
Qualifications in Ireland, a uniform means by which all learning can be measured, valued
and compared. We now look to FETAC to make awards for further education and training,
which were formerly made by bodies like NCVA, NCEA, FAS, Teagasc and Failte Ireland.
We are subject to quality assurance systems, awards, standards and programme
validation. All of this removes a lot of confusion for the learner and makes clear the value
of the courses we offer. A Further Education course has never been a more valuable

We focus on choice
Right across the VECs we want prospective learners to find the course that meets their
needs; the course that makes them very attractive to potential employers; or that helps
them to hit the ground running at Third Level; or that helps them to develop that special
skill, pursue that all-important hobby or interest.

In CDVEC we are working hard to make our Guide to Courses more accessible, to make
our online database more accessible – so that students can search from A-Z, and to find
the course that meets their needs, from Art and Design, Media, Technology, to Web
Design or Youth and Community Work.

And, once they find the right course, inclusive education is about a delivery that is friendly,
accessible, person centred, quality assured and accredited.

                                           Page 4 of 10

We are powerful agents of change
VECs are everywhere……….
Who else in education has our ‘market penetration’?

Why did the VEC win the contract to devise and deliver two sector-specific, FETAC-
certified courses/awards to HSE staff on a national basis? I’m referring here to the
SKILLVEC project, with which you are all familiar, which is a consortium of all 33 VECs,
led by the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee (CDVEC).

      Because we have a staff with a range of front line skills that are second to none, be
      they teachers, nurses, gerontologists, chefs…..
      Because we have staff with a range of academic experience in developing course
      content – subject matter experts – that can meet the student where the student is
      Because we all come from a tradition of questioning, analysis and flexibility of
      approach that was ideally suited to the education challenge presented – and indeed
      to the core education challenges that the next decade will bring.

Recently I was at an awards ceremony in the Mansion House is Dublin where staff from
Dublin City Council were presented with awards having completed workplace courses in
basic education skills. There is nothing ‘basic’ about this type of programme to an
educator like me. There is nothing more satisfying than to meet the student who has
returned to learning and to hear first hand about their experience. There is a whole
generation out there whose families could not afford to pay for education – we can provide
them with an opportunity to redress the gaps in their education. The joy experienced by
the adult who can now participate in their child’s homework, who can use and enjoy their
local library, who can surf and enjoy the internet. This is what makes sense of the daily
grind for those of us in management.

Meeting these learners helps me to remember my time teaching Geography in Dundalk,
teaching geomorphology to housewives doing Leaving Certificate at night, to remember
the student who got the A in honours Geography…. And to remember that to achieve the
maximum you need the opportunity.

                                         Page 5 of 10

What track record do we have?
This sector has published 33 Education Plans. This involved evaluating our track records
and setting out our future goals:

In 2006 CDVEC, like all VECs, published its Education Plan for 2006 – 2011.
We did a detailed self-analysis. As it says on the cover we examined our strengths,
weaknesses, opportunities and threats. We questioned, listened, analysed and debated.
We re-identified our purpose, beliefs, principles and challenges. We named seven goals
that will form the basis of our work till 2011.

The Plan develops our thinking on inclusion and sets clear goals.
For example:
 To provide quality assurance of teaching and learning we will ‘support the greater
development of inclusive teaching and learning practice in our schools/colleges/centres’.
To support innovation, change and creativity we will ‘support and encourage
the development of strategies designed to meet the needs of Special Educational Needs
learners . . . identify and support curriculum projects that develop teaching and learning
strategies for diverse groups, and . . . identify and apply best practice to engage
traditionally excluded groups and individuals . .’.
To develop effective communication we will ‘identify and prepare publications in Plain
English and in a variety of accessible formats. . .

VECs have a good track record when it comes to understanding and responding to
legislation like:
        the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2004;
        the Employment and Equality Acts 1998 to 2004;
        and the Persons with Special Educational Needs Acts 2004.

In March 2001 CDVEC set up a Disability Support Service for students in collaboration
with the National Learning Network. This year the two organisations published a ‘CDVEC
Disability Support Service Principals’ Manual’ which looks at topics such as inclusive
admissions policy, disability awareness, continuous professional development and

Every county in Ireland has been deeply influenced by VEC activity:
      At Second Level;
      At Further Education (PLC);
      At the level of Educational Innovation;
      At the level of Programmes for Young People;
      And at the level of support for learners.

Our challenge now is to examine each of theses areas in which we have significant
expertise and map the future skills necessary so that we can deliver programmes to meet
emerging as well as existing needs.

                                         Page 6 of 10

What sort of a future will challenge this sector?
The recent report published by Forfás ‘‘Tomorrow’s Skills: Towards a National Skills
Strategy’ sets out to identify the skills required for Ireland to make the transition to a
competitive, innovation-driven, knowledge-based participative and inclusive economy by
2020. It makes it clear that increased participation in education is imperative.

How will VECs repond to the challenges posed by this report.

      How do we ensure we have a 90% retention rate at Leaving Certificate by 2020
      What part do we play in upskilling 70,000 people from levels 1and 2 up to to 3
      How do we upskill 260,000 people up to levels 4 and 5
      What programmes at level 5 and 6 do we need to grow.
      How can we promote participation in continuous learning.
      How can we help develop a One-Step-Up Approach
      How can we promote the broader benefits of education; greater social cohesion;
      better public health; reduced levels of povery and social welfare dependency and a
      reduction in crime rates.

……….at Second Level; FETAC Levels 3-4

The present                             The future
CDVEC has 12 schools offering:          45 % of the labour force should have
Junior Certificate                      qualifications at NFQ levels 4 and 5.
Transition Year                                 Upskill 70,000 from 1and 2 to 3
Leaving Certificate                             260,000 up to levels 4 and 5
LC Applied                                      90% retention rate at Leaving Certificate
LC Vocational Programme                         by 2020

………at Further Education (PLC) Levels 5 -6

The present                             The future
16 CDVEC colleges offer over 300        Upskill 170,000 to levels 6-10
FE courses at level 5/6                        ICT, food and drink, high value
                                               engineering need to grow
                                               Services; finance business and marketing
                                               need to grow
                                               Progression rate to third level needs to

                                         Page 7 of 10

………… Adult Education

The present                          The future
VTOS                                 Generic transferrable skills such as literacy
BTEI                                 numeracy, IT and people skills will be
Adult Literacy Service               increasingly valued.
Senior Traveller Education           The report names Ireland’s relatively low
Adult & Community Education          participation rate – at 7% - in continuous
Communty Education Facilitators      learning as a cause for concern

…………at Educational Innovation

The present                          The future
ESOL                                 The report names the broader benefits of
Drugs Court Initiative               education; greater social cohesion; better public
Education Service to prisons (9)     health; reduced levels of povery and social
Bridge Project                       welfare dependency and a reduction in crime
Foundation Project                   rates.
Pathways Project
Unaccompanied Minors

…………at the level of Programme for Young People

The present                          The future
Youthreach (11 in CDVEC)             If we want a 90% retention rate at Leaving
City of Dublin Youth Service Board   Certificate by 2020 we must
Junior Travellers                    Encourage educationally disadvanted to
Music Network                        participate in achieving an award
Sports                               Encourage creativity flexibility innovation

…………at the level of Workplace Education

The present                          The future
SkillVEC                             Employees will be required to demonstrate
Workplace Basic Education            flexibility and ability to continually aquire new
PLCs                                 knowledge and skills.
                                     Need to increase employer committment to
                                     eduaction and training
                                     Need to increase and incentivise employee
                                     committment to education and training

                                      Page 8 of 10

…………at the level of Support Services

The present                             The future
Psychological Service                   The reluctance of many individuals to participate
Adult Education Guidance Service        in education and training may be due to their
Special Education Needs Support         lack of awareness of the benefits, or to financial
Service                                 or other constraints.
Disability Support Service
Curriculum Development Unit
Financial Support

Challenges at operational level
We need to be flexible and there are many operational challenges that we face.

In workplace education for example the Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment
have set up a Workplace Basic Education Fund administered by FAS. The Local
Authorities are also in partnership with the Department of Education and Science to fund
Return to Learning projects. VECs are moving into a marketplace in which we are
relatively new. In CDVEC we set up a Workplace Education Unit last year that is providing
programmes to bodies like An Post and the Mater Hospital. This is an area we need to
develop and grow.

Learners need to be taught not just during the day, but at night, on Saturdays, at
Currently our permanent whole-time staff must be deployed with full-time students in full-
time education.
Our system works on the basis that a number of full-time students = a full time teacher.
I believe we, in dialogue with our partners and unions, need to pilot a programme where
full time teachers get an opportunity to participate in a range of flexible options.

                                         Page 9 of 10

We do what we say we will do
If we look to a road map to guide us to 2020 we need:

       Innovation – to continue to provide for discussion and opportunity

       Capability Assurance – to continue to ensure staff development and a fit between
       resources and requirement.

       Progression Route / Services Review – to review courses offering methods and

       Development Function – to strengthen our Branding / quality Assurance / External

       Community – to strengthen Outreach, Promotion and Linkages,

I am borrowing from my earlier quotation from Professor Tom Collins Professor of
Education at NUI Maynooth to conclude:-

VECs do what we say we will do.

And for this to continue we need to be in continual conversation. I want to congratulate the
IVEA for organising this conference. I look forward to hearing the speakers and to
participating in the questions and answers and workshops.

Events such as this will ensure that the sector will rise to the challenges posed by the
National Skills Strategy.

                                          Page 10 of 10