Further Education and Training in Ireland: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, the Future

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Further Education and Training in Ireland: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, the Future
2013 saw significant change in adult and further education in Ireland, with the establishment of an official Further Education and Training (FET) sector. This paper will present the findings of a PhD research project which considered the impact of the various changes that took place in and after 2013 on the professional identities of adult educators operating within this new sector.

The Irish FET sector came into being at a time when ideologies and technologies associated with neoliberalism were greatly impacting governments’ aims and priorities. The sector was formed through the amalgamation of numerous diverse learning and teaching environments and contexts. Each context had its own ethos, aim and purpose, which had developed somewhat organically over a long period, and these different contexts had largely operated autonomously prior to 2013. FET practitioners (e.g. adult educators, teachers, tutors, facilitators, trainers, instructors) who had worked in these contexts prior to 2013, and who post-2013 found themselves working within one official, all-encompassing FET sector, were as diverse as the various contexts in terms of their own education, training, professional qualifications, career goals, and values and beliefs about learning and teaching. The level of diversity within and between FET contexts and FET practitioners has led to much confusion about what FET is and what it means to be a FET practitioner.

The scenarios recently and currently playing out in the Irish context are not unique in the international context and the complexity of Irish FET mirrors that found in comparable sectors internationally, including those in the UK, Finland and Australia. However, equivalent sectors and activities may be described by different terms including Vocational, Technical, and Continuing Education and Training.

This paper will give an overview of the 3-stage, mainly qualitative, PhD research project and its findings. The methodological design for the research project was underpinned by a critical realist position and involved an inductive approach to the investigation of the research issues. The theoretical approach was informed by the work of the social realist Margaret Archer (1995, 1996, 2000, 2003, 2007, 2012) in relation to identity, agency and structure.

The data collection methods included a small consultation event which utilised Open Space Technology principles, a larger scale on-line survey, and narrative interviews. A process of content analysis was used to analyse the data generated. The research population consisted of Irish FET practitioners.

The paper will reflect on the impact of neoliberal ideologies and technologies upon the aims and structure of Irish FET and upon the lives and identities of FET practitioners. It will draw attention to ‘the good’, the positive outcomes of sectoral changes as identified by research participants, such as a more cohesive, national offering of FET opportunities to adult learners. It will also consider ‘the bad’ and ‘the ugly’, the negative aspects of the changes as highlighted in the data. These included the loss of valued ethoses and practices and the loss of local provider identities. Lastly, the research participants’ fears and hopes for ‘the future’ will be conveyed. Fears were expressed for the future of unaccredited, community-based education and for the role of adult education in social justice movements. However, hopes that a balance would be found between the current economic and accreditation focus of much further education and training and the traditional aims and values of adult education were also articulated. This would involve a balance between a focus on the one hand on increasing the social capital of learners by increasing their employability, and on the other, viewing learners as more than potential employees - as individuals with unique needs, wants, interests and potentials, and as potential agents of change within their wider communities.

The findings from this project add significantly to the limited bank of knowledge on the Irish FET sector, from both a practice and policy perspective. They also add to the still somewhat limited bank of international research on the identities of educators working within Further/Vocational/Technical and Continuing Education and Training sectors.

Within an Irish context, findings related to practitioners’ identities will be used to inform stakeholders as to ‘who’ the people are that are working within the sector. It is hoped that this research will increase stakeholders’ knowledge and understanding of FET practitioners’ identities and that this will impact policy decisions going forward, particularly in relation to how the sector is professionalised.

• Archer, M.S. (1995) Realist Social Theory: the Morphogenetic Approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

• Archer, M.S. (1996) Culture and Agency, Revised Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

• Archer, M.S. (2000) Being Human: The Problem of Agency. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

• Archer, M.S. (2003) Structure, Agency and the Internal Conversation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

• Archer, M.S. (2007) Making our Way through the World: Human Reflexivity and Social Mobility. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

• Archer, M.S. (2012) The Reflexive Imperative in Late Modernity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Original languageEnglish (Ireland)
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2020
EventAspiration and constraint in the post-COVID post-compulsory crisis: , British Educational Research Association (BERA) ‘Post-compulsory & Lifelong Learning’ online event - Online
Duration: 05 Oct 2020 → …


ConferenceAspiration and constraint in the post-COVID post-compulsory crisis
Period05/10/2020 → …


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