Tuesday, 29 June 2004
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Feighan: I wish to highlight the need for the Minister for Education and Science to outline the reasons for cutbacks in the post leaving certificate, PLC, sector and the extent to which there was prior consultation with the partners. I raise this issue because the service from the post leaving certificate sector, particularly for the disadvantaged, was tremendous. There is a need for people to upskill and the PLC sector has given most students a sense of purpose, confidence and self-esteem, as well as providing a second chance in education. Many students have moved on to gain further educational qualifications.
The cutbacks have deprived people of the opportunity to upskill and to get a second chance. Moreover, there was no consultation with the partners — the VECs, students, learners and providers. It is a draconian measure. In my county, Roscommon, there are now 50% less rural PLC places and five of the best and most committed teachers no longer have jobs. While it is accepted that there have been some problems in urban areas such as Dublin and Cork, a sledgehammer has been used to crack a nut and a very good PLC system is being attacked and undermined.
Miss de Valera: I welcome the opportunity to address the Seanad and thank Senator Feighan for raising the matter of post leaving certificate course provision. The PLC programme was introduced in 1985 with aid from the European Social Fund to provide integrated general education, vocational training and work experience for young people who had completed upper second level education or equivalent. PLC programmes are also provided for adults who return to education to obtain a qualification prior to returning to the workplace. The primary purpose of PLCs is to enhance the prospects of students of gaining employment. PLCs also provide an alternative route to entry to higher education in the institutes of technology through the National Council for Vocational Awards-Further Education and Training Awards Council links scheme.
Since 1985, PLC courses have been developed in a wide range of disciplines supporting industry and community needs and have significantly widened the scope of educational provision. For example, during 2003-04, PLC courses were delivered in over 220 centres around the country in both second level schools and stand-alone colleges, mainly in the VEC sector, and the actual number of participants grew to over 29,000 from 12,000 in the 1989-90 academic year.
The sector plays a key role in meeting skills needs. Government commitment to the sector is evident in the introduction of maintenance grants for students with effect from September 1998, recognition of programmes and national qualifications from the Further Education and Training Awards Council and with regard to the McIver review of the sector.
In dealing with the question of PLC numbers, my Department is not in a position to approve all the PLC places applied for in any particular academic year. For example, a total of almost 41,000 places were sought nationwide for 2003-04 from a planned pool of approximately 28,500 places. Similarly, for the 2004-05 academic year, schools and colleges sought approval for some 40,000 places from a planned pool of 28,500 places. For the school year 2004-05, allocations for PLC courses have been made on the basis of the number of places approved for such courses for the school year 2003-04, or numbers enrolled, whichever is the lesser. In this regard, enrolments on PLC courses in 2003-04 have exceeded the approved number of places.
Going forward, there will be a continuing requirement to plan and control numbers, to manage expenditure and to provide for future investment and growth, as necessary, within the context of overall educational policy and provision. My Department has been considering correspondence from VECs and schools in relation to the issues that have arisen in this regard. In addition, officials in my Department have met with the Irish Vocational Education Association and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland. Decisions regarding the number of approved places for the 2004-05 academic year will be notified to VECs, schools and colleges by my Department in the next few days.
In regard to the McIver report, one of the recommendations envisaged the formation of a council of further education colleges, the specific composition of which would be subject to further discussion. The rationale for this was that with decision making and development initiatives increasingly being centred at college level and with a very considerable amount of development work to be undertaken, there is a need for a body to represent the colleges. My Department is at present facilitating discussions with the various stakeholders to advance the establishment of the council.
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