AONTAS News: All the Latest News from the Field of Lifelong Learning 
January 2021 – Newsletter        

Welcome to AONTAS News

A very warm welcome to our first AONTAS News of 2021. In this issue, we look at some dates for your new diary and upcoming events including the 15th AONTAS Adult Learners’ Festival.

We hear from Niamh O’Reilly, CEO of AONTAS on the focus for the new year and we highlight the great work of AONTAS member Ballyfermot Adult Learn Together (BALT).

At this time we wish everyone good health and encourage you to follow the government’s advice and directions to help protect your family, friends and the most vulnerable in society.

The AONTAS Team 


AONTAS Supporting Members in 2021
Dear AONTAS Member,
I hope you, your colleagues and learners are keeping well. We in AONTAS understand the challenges you are facing at present and are here to help and support you in 2021. Our upcoming work will focus on advocacy, support, recognition and a celebration of adult learning.
1. Advocacy
Last year AONTAS had great success with our advocacy campaign for additional funding for community education during COVID-19, resulting in the €8 million Mitigating Educational Disadvantage Fund (MAEDF). Based on our members’ feedback, there is still a huge need to provide further supports, and we will lobby for additional funding. We now want to learn about your experience of the Mitigating Against Educational Disadvantage Fund (MAEDF) in order to inform our future advocacy work: the impact of the fund and challenges of the funding process. Please engage in our survey – detailed below in this ebulletin.2. Support
The AONTAS weekly membership webinars have been hugely successful. Please feel free to come along and tap into the community of support that engaging in AONTAS events can offer.

A number of Further Education and Training (FET) Learner Forum events are coming up with Education and Training Boards (ETBs), this research project is vital in offering insights into issues which FET Learners are facing. The more we understand the problems learners face, the better we can act to support them.
To visit our events page and book your place for one of our upcoming events please
click here.

3. Recognition 
The AONTAS STAR Awards are fast approaching, and we were delighted to announce the shortlisted groups earlier this week. As 2020 was a year like no other, the STAR Awards not only reflect the achievements made by adult learning initiatives, but the resilience, innovation and commitment demonstrated by the nominated organisations and their learners. The exceptional nominations this year show how adult learning providers have adapted to ensure that the learners’ needs continue to be met during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Find out more details below.
4. Celebration
The Adult Learners’ Festival will be different this year. Whilst we know adult learning during COVID-19 has been a challenge for both educators and learners, it has also been a lifeline to many learners thanks to the massive collective efforts made. Do join us and get involved from 1st – 5th March – this is your week to highlight your work, so let us join together to raise the profile of adult learning across Ireland. To find out more about the Adult Learners’ Festival please click here.

We deeply value your engagement with AONTAS, please encourage other organisations to join our organisation. In trying times like these, we are here to share the load so that learners can get the best learning experience. As the theme of this year’s Adult Learners’ Festival states, we are #BetterTogether. Stay in touch, get involved and reach out to like-minded people in the wonderful, supportive adult learning community that comprises our membership.

All the very best for 2021,
Niamh O’Reilly  


AONTAS Adult Learners’ Festival 2021 – #BetterTogether
We are delighted to announce the 15th annual AONTAS Adult Learners’ Festival will take place from 1st – 5th March 2021. This celebration of adult learning is an opportunity for you to promote your organisation, showcase your learners and connect with your community. While the festival usually sees adult learning organisations across Ireland open their doors for free open days and workshops, this year will look a little different as we adapt to the current COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, and run our first-ever virtual festival online.The theme of this year’s festival is collaboration and “Building Back Better Together – #BetterTogether”. While we can’t come together for our usual in-person events, we are excited to collaborate with our members and organisations in the sector to deliver an exciting calendar of virtual events and opportunities to engage with online. We hope you will join us to promote and acknowledge the incredible work you, our members, have done in adapting to the challenges of the past year.Please look out for our Festival newsletter which will arrive in your inbox next week. You can also keep up to date with our

Adult Learners’ Festival page and social media on how you can get involved in the Festival.
If you would like more information on how you can get involved in the Festival please get in touch with Katie O’Rourke, AONTAS Head of Communications at:
[email protected]

Network for Adult Learning Across Borders – Policy Day Event
A Shared Vision for Educational EqualitySAVE THE DATE: As part of the AONTAS-led events for the 2021 AONTAS Adult Learners’ Festival this policy event will bring the members of the Network for Adult Learning Across Borders (NALAB), Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales, together to discuss our shared vision for educational equality and explore the variety of approaches taken by each in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Information on registration will follow next week.Date: Friday, 5th March 2021 (Closing event of the AONTAS Adult Learner’s Festival 2021)
Time: 11am – 12.30pm
Location: Online Via Zoom

21 Adult Learning Initiatives Shortlisted for the AONTAS STAR Awards 2021
The STAR Awards recognise the very best in adult learning in Ireland. This year we are celebrating and acknowledging the incredible work that adult learning providers have done in adapting their provision during COVID-19 to ensure that the learners’ needs continue to be met. Winners will be announced during the Adult Learners’ Festival 2021 (1st – 5th March).Nominations for the 15th AONTAS STAR Awards were received under five categories for adult learning initiatives that support:
  • Health and Wellbeing
  • Learner Voice
  • Social Inclusion
  • Sustainable Development through Education
  • Third-level Access and Engagement

Twenty-one initiatives were shortlisted in five categories with some categories divided into Small/Medium and Large subcategories.
In addition to the above two Special Awards will be given for Mitigating Educational Disadvantage through Innovation (during COVID-19), and a European Social Fund Special Recognition Award.

The STAR Awards is judged by an independent judging panel comprising of adult learners, tutors, and adult learning experts. The judging panel will meet online with the shortlisted groups in mid-February before choosing the overall winners. Winners will be announced during the week of the Adult Learners’ Festival 2021.

To view the full shortlist please click here.

The STAR Awards is proudly sponsored by the Open University in Ireland and the Open College Network Northern Ireland (OCNNI), the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI), Concern Worldwide, Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) and the European Social Fund (ESF). Sponsors will be offering special prizes to all 2021 STAR Award winners.

For more information please contact Barry Dolan, AONTAS Communications and Membership Officer at: [email protected]


One Step Up ( – Promote Your Events Online
If you have an Online Open Day, Virtual Information Session or Webinar which you would like to promote to thousands of potential learners for free why not add it to the One Step Up online calendar?You can promote your events online throughout the year and AONTAS will also share them across our communications channels and during our targeted Information Campaigns. We will also be using the One Step Up platform to share events taking place as part of theAdult Learners’ Festival 2021.
To add your event now please
click here.
For more information please contact Sam O’Brien-Olinger, AONTAS Information and Policy Officer at: [email protected] or call our Freephone Helpline 1800 303 669

One Step Up is part of the EU-funded project ‘2020-2021 Adult and Community Education: Supported Learner Pathways’. AONTAS as the national coordinator for Ireland runs this project as part of implementing the European Agenda for Adult Learning (EAAL).

AONTAS Advocacy in Action
AONTAS advocates on behalf of the adult learning sector representing our members, adult learners, practitioners and relevant stakeholders. Our focus in 2021 will be to build on the success of last year as we work directly with Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris TD as part of the Tertiary Education Steering (TES) Group and highlight immediate issues and long-term concerns with the Connectivity Working Group and the Wellbeing and Engagement Working Group that form part of the Governments’ COVID-19 response.Key Priority Areas:
  • Representation of members including the impact of COVID-19 on learners, practitioners, providers and the sector
  • Continuing to build relationships with government, state agencies, political parties, policy makers, and key stakeholders that can influence and create change for our members
  • Advocate for continued Mitigating Educational Disadvantage (MED) funding and sustainable multi-annual funding for the community education sector
  • Implementation of areas in Programme for Government relating to educational equality
  • Advocate for the establishment of an Educational Equality Structure in Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (as per Pre-budget submission)
  • Ensure learner voice is at the heart of policy development

To keep up to-date with our latest policy submissions please click here

For more information please contact Dearbháil Lawless, AONTAS Head of Advocacy at: [email protected]

AONTAS Community Education Network (CEN)
In this challenging time for the sector, the AONTAS Community Education Network (CEN) continues to provide support for community education members through webinars, training, the Quality Assurance Community of Practice and advocacy work.Please save the following dates in your diary:
  • 18th February, 10am – 1pm: CEN meeting (more information and agenda to follow)
  • 10th March, 10am – 12.30pm: QQI Programme Development Training with Finola Butler of the Further Education Support Service (FESS). Topic: Writing learning outcomes and mapping them to QQI standards
  • 12th May, 10am – 12.30pm: QQI Programme Development Training. Topic TBC

Registration for the CEN meetings will open next week so keep an eye on your emails and the
AONTAS website for more information.

To become a member of the CEN please click here.

For more information please contact Suzanne Kyle, AONTAS CEN Coordinator at:
[email protected]

AONTAS Members are #LearningForChange
This month over 70 AONTAS members participated in a two-part webinar series titled #LearningForChange. These workshops are part of the ‘Adult Learning and Global Citizenship: Sustaining European Cohesion and Challenging the Politics of Fear’ project funded by the Communicating Europe Initiative.
Exploring the topics of anti-racism, critical thinking, false information and solidarity. The aim of this programme is to address the politics of fear in Ireland and build social cohesion within communities.
AONTAS launched a new animation video as part of the second workshop which we hope will be used as a teaching and learning resource for the sector. We will also be launching a methodology handbook with practical adult learning activities in the coming week.
True to AONTAS’ roots in social justice, the adult learning sector plays a vital role in working towards an equitable and inclusive society. In addition to this work, we’re currently developing an Anti-Racism and Social Justice Forum in 2021 that will provide a space for learning, reflection, and advocacy.Learners as Leaders Advocacy Series
In other European related news, we had a second workshop with [email protected] in Cork on Monday, 25th January as part of the Learners as Leaders Advocacy Series programme under the European Agenda for Adult Learning (EAAL). This fantastic group of adult learners are developing an advocacy campaign, creating art pieces on the theme of democracy, and will present at our international Democracy Education event in March this year as part of the FutureLabAE project.

For more information on our EU Projects please

click here, or contact Dearbháil Lawless, AONTAS Head of Advocacy at: [email protected]

Share Your Experience of the Mitigating Against Educational Disadvantage Fund (MAEDF)
AONTAS has launched two surveys to capture the processes and impact of the Mitigating Against Educational Disadvantage Fund (MAEDF) through the perspective of community education groups and Education and Training Board (ETB) representatives who administered the fund.The survey takes 5 – 10 minutes to complete and will remain open until Monday 8th  February at 5pm. The purpose is to help us take a reflective view on this valuable fund to both advocate for further funding moving forward and help inform future processes.This piece will be shared with relevant stakeholders, including SOLAS, Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI), and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Science and Innovation.

Please help inform our future advocacy by completing the survey today through the relevant link below:
You can find the Education and Training Board survey


You can find the Community Education Organisation survey

For more information please contact Eve Cobain, AONTAS Research Officer at:
[email protected]


The National Further Education and Training (FET) Learner Forum – A Successful Start to 2020-2021 Events
The National Further Education and Training (FET) Learner Forum is a nationwide project aimed at ensuring that FET learner voice informs Education and Training Board (ETB) and FET policy. This year, the Forum has moved to an academic year model with events held in collaboration with: Mayo, Sligo, and Leitrim Education and Training Board, Laois and Offaly Education and Training Board and Kilkenny and Carlow Education and Training Board
To find out more about the National FET Learner Forum please
click here.
I’m a FET Learner Booklet
The final AONTAS event of 2020, was the launch of a new booklet entitled I’m a FET Learner. The booklet celebrates the impact of the National FET Learner Forum by sharing the stories of 10 FET learners.
To read the booklet please
click here.
To read the new blog about the launch event please click here.Events for 2021
If you are a FET learner, or know a FET learner who would like to take part in one of these upcoming events, please register at the links provided below:
  • Longford and Westmeath Education and Training Board: Tuesday, 9th February, 11.00am – 12.15pm and Wednesday, 10th February, 3.00pm – 4.15pm. Register here
  • Waterford and Wexford Education and Training Board: Wednesday, 24th February, 2.00pm – 3.15pm. Register here
  • Galway and Roscommon Education and Training Board: Thursday, 25th February, 11.00am – 12.15pm and Friday, 26th February, 11.00am – 12.15pm. Register here
  • Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board: Tuesday 2nd March, 11.00am – 12.15pm and Wednesday, 3rd March, 2.00pm – 3.15pm. Register here

For more information please contact Kalianne Farren, AONTAS Project Officer at: [email protected].

Membership Spotlight: Ballyfermot Adult Learn Together (BALT)
Ballyfermot Adult Learn Together (BALT) is a community group, over three years in existence, formed with the objective of providing lifelong learning opportunities for adults living in Dublin 10 and its surrounding areas. It has, at present, over 30 members managed by a learner steering committee.The group meet in the Ballyfermot library Wednesdays from 10:15 am to 12:15 pm for lectures in university subjects such as sociology, anthropology and philosophy with lecturers from Maynooth University, University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin. By design, the sessions do not involve assignments or essays; the model is discussion-based with an emphasis on lived experience.The key aspect is that group discussion is priority; lecturers do not simply lecture, they engage in a dialogue with the learners in accordance with the learner’s agreed guidelines for lecturers.

Community Activity
In addition to their programme of learning, BALT also engage with the community through collaborative projects. The group have worked with local primary schools on an inter-generational story project, Ballyfermot College on a ‘Local Faces’ portrait project and recently a print-making workshop with the Job Plan programme.

BALT was originally affiliated with the Maynooth Communiversity Programme with support from Ballyfermot Chapelizod Partnership Education and Community Development Departments. The group made the move to become autonomous in 2019. They have their own learner chair and co-chair, constitution, treasurer, bank account and have secured their own funding from Dublin Bus and the BCP Community Group Nexus fund. The group have a community outreach objective and have worked with BCFE, Ballyfermot Heritage Group, Men’s Shed, Job Plan, primary schools and the DCC resident historian. The group also hosts guest speakers open to non-members and representatives from Trinity Access Mature Student Route.

“I’ve learned I can make a contribution; I can make more effort to help other people in need” –BALT Learner

BALT membership has always been at 30-36 participants with a core group of 15 who attend every lecture. Participants over the years have come from a variety of backgrounds; new immigrant communities, parenting groups, drug and alcohol rehabilitation programmes, local employment services, the local Disability Activism community group. The group are warm and welcoming, people from all walks of life are welcomed without reservation.
The feedback from lecturers is always overwhelming positive; the lecturers appreciate working with a group that actively engages; asking questions, challenging ideas and sharing experiences.

Managing through COVID-19
BALT managed to maintain its schedule in 2020. Their determination against the odds with the majority of their members considered high risk in terms of COVID-19 is inspirational. It has been a source of pride to have a community group respond so fast and effectively to these unprecedented circumstances. When the libraries closed the group moved to the local Civic Centre and held socially distanced lectures. When the Civic Centre was forced to close, the group organised a walking history lecture of ‘the Ranch’ area of Ballyfermot. When Level 5 restrictions were introduced, the group switched to Zoom, completing a module on Economics with Lecturer Tony Weekes.
The group are delighted to be nominated for a Star Award in both 2019 and 2020 and look forward to working with AONTAS to share ideas and good practice in 2021.

AONTAS Membership Benefits
For Ballyfermot Chapelizod Partnership, AONTAS membership has been invaluable. The organisation has broadened our understanding of the scope of adult education and allowed us to network with other learning providers in order to share ideas and good practice. For BALT, AONTAS has given the group recognition on a national level and a chance to share their unique learning model with learners across the country. The group are looking forward to the AONTAS Adult Learners’ Festival 2021!

How to contact
To learn more about BALT please contact Antoinette Patton, Education Officer at: [email protected] or Una Rafferty, Community Development Officer at: 01 623 5612.


AONTAS Membership
AONTAS continues to support our members through this extremely difficult time. This year we aim to bring more opportunities for our members to connect, learn and share their stories and successes.We want to spotlight your work through our webinars and monthly newsletter, if interested, pleaseclick here.In addition our membership webinars this year will look at the very real issues facing staff and learners during COVID-19 including blended learning, health and safety, critical thinking, mental health, funding, learner recruitment, social media development and of course some of the lighter subjects such as online ice breakers, fun networking events and much more.

Membership Webinar
This week Shane Dunphy from AMPM safety will lead the session focusing on the major safety issues to consider when returning to the classroom and some key safety tips for working at home.
Date: Wednesday,

3rd February 2021
Time: 2pm – 3pm
To register for this event please
click here.
Questions can be submitted to AONTAS Communications and Membership Officer, Barry Dolan: [email protected] ahead of Monday, 5pm.

Finally, if you are not a member and wish to become a member of AONTAS, or you require more information on our membership work please contact Barry Dolan, Communications and Membership Officer at:

[email protected]


External Resources and Events
Please find below resources that you may find useful for your organisation.

Higher Skills Ambition Needed for Northern Ireland – OCNNI Commissioned Report

This week AONTAS Members and STAR Award Sponsor Open College Network Northern Ireland (OCNNI) launched a new report, from the Learning and Work Institute, looking at how the skills of Northern Ireland’s workforce are likely to compare to other countries by 2030.

According to the report, by 2030 Northern Ireland will have the fourth highest proportion of low qualified people out of 16 OECD comparators.
To read the full report please click here. 

Membership Offer – Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed (INOU)
The Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed (INOU) are currently offering people who are currently unemployed free membership. INOU members have access to expert welfare rights information officers; invitations to meetings; information on training courses and jobs; copies of their ebulletin and networking opportunities.
To find out more please
click here.

Solidarity membership is also free for people in work who would like to show their solidarity with unemployed people and the INOU.
To find out more please
click here.
SAOLTA – Change Maker Recruitment 2021
Do you want to join Ireland’s network of Active Citizens and create long-lasting change within your community whilst also contributing to achieving the Global Goals? Saolta is recruiting 26 change makers to become Ireland’s SDG Advocates 2021.

Development Perspectives has partnered with AONTAS, Concern Worldwide, Irish Rural Link and the Department of Adult and Community Education at Maynooth University to design and deliver SAOLTA. “Saolta” is a new strategic partnership with Irish Aid. Other elements of the journey include coaching and mentoring as well as the design and delivery of innovative action projects across the country.

Closing Date for applications is Friday, 26th February 2021 
To find out more information and view the application form please click here.


Keep up to Date with AONTAS
The AONTAS Communications team continue to keep our members informed of new activities and promotional opportunities during the pandemic.Through our member communications which include Weekly Webinars, blogs, publications, news pieces, social media updates, monthly newsletters, direct emails, presentations and videos, we continue to promote lifelong learning and the fantastic work of our members.You can find all the latest updates on our social media channels listed below. We also have a range of information and resources available on our website

If you would like assistance promoting your organisation or would like to be part of the many activities of AONTAS please contact our communications team at: [email protected].

Don’t forget to follow us on social media for all the latest updates!