This article by Caitriona Murphy is taken from the Further Education & Training section of Education Matters Yearbook 2015 – 2016.
Click to download Education Matters Yearbook 2015-2016

Caitriona Murphy, Project Manager at the SOLAS Project Office

Caitriona Murphy, Project Manager at the SOLAS Project Office

The first Further Education and Training (FET) Strategy was formally approved by the Minister for Education and Skills in April 2014. It provides a framework for the continued development of a strong integrated Education and Training sector. The aim of the FET Strategy is to deliver a higher quality learning experience that will lead to better outcomes for all those who engage in Further Education and Training in order to support the Government’s economic and social priorities.

The emphasis within the FET Strategy is equally focussed on meeting the skills needs of the economy and increasing active inclusion. A recent OECD study supports this approach.  Without the right combination of skills, people can end up on the margins of society and with the type of mediocre technological progress that fails to translate into the type of economic growth that benefits all citizens .

There are five key goals in the FET Strategy including:
• Skills for the Economy
• Active Inclusion
• Quality Provision
• Integrated Planning and Funding
• Standing of FET

The five goals have been broken down into 52 separate, yet interlinked, actions and are set out in a detailed FET Strategy Implementation Plan. This plan sets out the specific actions assigned to eight lead partners and their associated timelines for these actions. The lead partners are SOLAS; the Department of Education and Skills; Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI); Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI); Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (DJEI); Higher Education Authority (HEA); AONTAS; and Department of Social Protection (DSP).

Implementation
The implementation phase of the FET Strategy commenced in October 2014 with the establishment of the FET Strategy Implementation Advisory Committee (SIAC); the Committee has a key advisory role in ensuring the efficient and effective implementation of the FET Strategy.  Its membership comprises representatives from the sector including each of the lead partner organisations. It is chaired by the Department of Education and Skills and supported and hosted by SOLAS.

Goal 1: Skills for the Economy
The implementation phase is well underway and progress to-date under Goal 1: Skills for the Economy includes the development of the National Skills Strategy (NSS) which is informed by the FET Strategy and is guiding the development of Regional Skills Forums. The NSS is expected to be finalised later in the year. Protocols are now in place between the Education and Training Boards (ETBs) and the Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) to establish structured links to support the provision of information for enterprise development. The new Apprenticeship System is progressing and new Career Traineeships are being developed by SOLAS in conjunction with the ETBs in the hospitality, engineering and horticulture sectors.

Goal 2: Active Inclusion
Under Goal 2: Active Inclusion, the National Literacy and Numeracy Advisory Committee established in January 2015 is progressing actions outlined in the Literacy and Numeracy Strategy Implementation Plan.  NALA and ETBI are working closely with SOLAS in that regard.

Goal 3: Quality Provision
Under Goal 3: Quality Provision, the establishment of the National Learner Forum is being led by AONTAS and will take place in 2016. A Customer Charter is being developed by ETBI, while QQI are working to ensure that existing pathways to and within higher education are formalised and mapped for learners. SOLAS and QQI are working with ETBs, Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) and Universities on a project to map progression pathways within specific regions and clusters.

Goal 4: Integrated Planning and Funding
Under Goal 4: Integrated Planning and Funding, the integrated FET Services Plan for 2015, which outlines the FET provision nationally, was published by SOLAS earlier this year. The process for 2016 is underway and an outcomes-based funding model is in development by SOLAS in conjunction with the ETBs. An evaluation of the PLC programme provision has commenced and is being conducted by ESRI on behalf of SOLAS.

Goal 5: The Standing of FET
The SOLAS Communications and Branding Strategy has been approved by the Board of SOLAS and is beingprogressed under Goal 5: The Standing of FET.

Timelines
It has emerged, at this point, that some timelines in the detailed FET Implementation Plan will have to be revised. Proposed changes to timelines are reviewed by the FET SIAC and updates are recorded and managed by the SOLAS Programme Office which provides secretariat to the Committee. An important point is that the task of developing and implementing strategy is not a one-time event but always a work in progress. Adapting to new conditions and constantly evaluating what is working well enough to continue and what needs to be improved are normal parts of the strategy-making process, resulting in an evolving strategy.   So while the FET Strategy is ambitious and very challenging, it is now very clear that its success depends on committed leadership from all lead partners, taking ownership for their actions and collaborating with all of the support partners. The Strategy provides the framework to enable transformation within the FET sector where all of the partners can work together and pool their expertise and resources to make a real difference to the lives of the circa 231,000 new entrants who will take part in FET programmes in 2015.

For further information or any queries relating to the FET Strategy and the Implementation Plan, please contact Caitriona Murphy, Project Manager at the SOLAS Programme Office at [email protected] and 01-5332489.

The Further Education and Training Strategy 2014 – 2019 and other publications are available at www.solas.ie