AONTAS News: All the Latest News from the Field of Lifelong Learning 
July 2020 – Newsletter        

Welcome to AONTAS NEWS

In this month’s AONTAS News we look at the some of the key talking points in adult and community education including the new FET Strategy, member activities and the Experience Community Ed. campaign.

As part of our AONTAS Member Spotlight this week we visit Gorey Youth Needs Group based in the heart of Gorey, Co. Wexford. The Local Training Initiative continues to adapt and change to the needs of the greater community offering learners opportunities and support to achieve their personal goals.

If you would like to see your organisation highlighted in the newsletter or a particular topic covered please contact our Communications and Membership Officer, Barry Dolan at: 
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.

This Month’s theme: Summertime Reading

AONTAS engaging with new Ministers and raising voice of community education
(A message from CEO, Niamh O’Reilly)

Over the course of July, we have sought to engage with the new Government and the new Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, and to promote the value of community education through our #ExperienceCommunityEd campaign. July was a very busy month before we all take some well-deserved time off in August.

AONTAS Board Member Joy-Tendai Kangere and I welcomed the opportunity to meet Minister Simon Harris TD on Thursday 2nd July. With the establishment of a new Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, meeting Minister Harris during his first week of tenure was an important step towards our future engagement with this new Department.
We discussed educational equality, community education, learner voice and anti-racism in education. Read more about our meeting


AONTAS advocated strongly for a firm commitment to community education and learner voice in the new FET Strategy. From SOLAS’ engagement at our AGM last year, submissions and ongoing dialogue with SOLAS, we were happy to see a commitment to developing a Community Education Framework. We see this as laying the foundations for addressing the ongoing issues for community education providers and releasing the potential of community education across the country.

I was happy to attend the launch of the new FET Strategy last week and will keep our members up to date on its implementation. I was also happy to share the Roscommon Women’s Network

UpCycled face masks with participants at the launch, from Ministers to the CEO of SOLAS. Supported by GRETB and Roscommon Country Council, this initiative is just one example of the innovative responsiveness of community education.

This week, myself and AONTAS Chairperson Tara Farrell met the Seanad Further and Higher Education Spokesperson Malcolm Byrne, followed by a meeting with Minister of State for Skills and Further Education, Niall Collins TD. This meeting gave us the opportunity to discuss our key areas of focus regarding the shape of the new Department, from a need for supporting FET learner voices and educational equality to community education.

AONTAS welcomed the financial support for Further and Higher Education learners including a doubling of the SAF budget and support for devices and mental health. The work of the Mitigating Educational Disadvantage Group (including Community Education), which we chair, contributed to this work. See the

announcement here. Additionally, regarding yesterday’s announcement of the July Stimulus package, we welcomed the increase in FET courses, SpringBoard+, the ability to transition from the pandemic payment to the Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) and the increase in CE spaces. The latter, we know, supports many community education organisations; see here. It is also worth noting that in the July Stimulus document overview it states: “We will also need to take a transformative approach to skills, training, and lifelong learning”.

It was timely to run our #ExperienceCommunityEd campaign as we were engaging with the new ministers, and it was great to see their engagement, including Minister Harris’ retweet about AONTAS STAR award shortlisted project, RADE. The campaign resulted in local coverage in radio interviews and press and we thank our members for getting involved in the online campaign. Sharing photos and videos of community education is very powerful and we encourage you to reach out if you need support with promoting the great work that you do.
Also this month, we wish our colleague Ben Hendriksen, Advocacy Lead, well as he moved on from AONTAS. For the first time since March 13th, we came together for a socially distant meet up to give him a good AONTAS send off.

Finally, we would encourage you to actively engage with AONTAS:

AONTAS is here for you, our members, and look forward to supporting your work in the field of lifelong learning so please do stay in touch.

In support and solidarity,
Niamh O’Reilly, CEO

AONTAS Annual General Meeting – Last Call to Register
The AONTAS Annual General Meeting (AGM) has always been a good opportunity to meet fellow members and reflect on our collective achievements for adult learning over the past year. This year, due to the exceptional challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought, we will conduct our AGM online.

During the month of July, members have registered for the event and have voted using our online independent platform.

DEADLINE FOR VOTINGMonday 27th July at 11am

We strongly encourage you to attend this year’s online AONTAS AGM which will take place on Wednesday, 29

th July at 11.00am – 12.30pm.

Registration for the event is now closed

If you would like to find out more or have not received nomination papers please contact our Communications and Membership Officer Barry Dolan:

The National Further Education and Training (FET) Strategy
AONTAS CEO Niamh O’ Reilly was delighted to attend the launch last Thursday of the new SOLAS Further Education and Training (FET) Strategy 2021-2024 Future FET: Transforming Learning.

There is a clear commitment within the new strategy to respond to many of our most pressing national and global issues such as climate change and addressing inequalities. A key element to addressing such issues is a partnership approach with community education providers. The proposed Community Education Framework, which contains seven core principles, provides an opportunity to build this partnership approach and to ‘allow the unique characteristics of community education to be reflected’.

The grassroots ethos and values of community education, which continue to be promoted by AONTAS, are reflected within the strategy when it states that:

‘FET must be cognisant of the broader purpose of learning, which goes beyond meeting the skills needs of the economy. FET also facilitates personal development, vibrant and integrated communities, and a commitment to social justice that defines Ireland today. This must continue to remain a core part of its fabric’.

Another important indication of our advocacy work behind the scenes was this week’s announcement of a €168 million package of supports by the new Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris TD and Minister of State Niall Collins TD (Wednesday 22nd July) which also saw AONTAS thanked as part of a group of stakeholders for their engagement and assistance.

We encourage our members to read the FET Strategy, it promises to offer consistent learner supports, a rounded view of further education with a strong social inclusion element, a focus on learner voice and a clear commitment to community education.

A huge thank you to everyone who has supported our Experience Community Education campaign. Whether you liked, shared, tweeted, retweeted, or attended our webinars, AONTAS greatly appreciates your support for community education at all times and, in particular, during this campaign. You can read more about the campaign here.
Look out for more #ExperienceCommunityEd content from AONTAS coming soon and keep telling us about the impact of your work on social media!

One of the highlights of the campaign included Maura Kearney from the Acorn Project described the transformative effect their work has for individual learners and society,

“Community Education is truly responsive to what’s needed in the community at that time”.

Newspapers and radio stations highlighted the campaign and encouraged their audiences to #ExperienceCommunityEdThe Clare Herald also ran a piece as part of their online service.

Many TDs stated their support for the campaign on Twitter including Simon Harris TD Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science who shared an inspiring STAR Award video that features AONTAS member RADE from Dublin.  
You can view the retweet here.

You can view more tweets and other campaign content by searching “#ExperienceCommunityEd” on Twitter or by clicking here.

AONTAS Community Education Network (CEN)
The Community Education Network (CEN) is running some very important information and training sessions over the coming weeks and months. Please keep these dates below free in your diary.
We will circulate the webinar links and further information in advance of each of the sessions.

Practical Health and Safety aspects of reopening community education centres
This excellent presentation by Shane Dunphy of AMPM Safety and Environmental is now available on the AONTAS YouTube Channel here.

QQI Programme Development Training (Session 1)
Date: Wednesday, 16th September,
Time: 10am – 12pm
Facilitated by Finola Butler, Support Officer with FESS (Further Education Support Service) via Zoom 

QQI Programme Development Training (Session 2)
Date: Wednesday, 18th November,
Time: 10am – 12pm: .
Facilitated by Finola Butler via Zoom.

To find out more about the great work of the CEN or to become a member: click here.


Learners as Leaders
Our Learners as Leaders programme has two upcoming events this summer seeking to build the capacity of adult learners and address current local and global issues. This programme is non-formal, flexible and participatory based education and open to all learners across the adult learning sector.

Black Lives Matter and Anti-Racism: What does it mean and what can I do?
Encourage your current and former learners to join this 90-minute session with experienced facilitator Rosemary Kunene, social activist. During this session, participants will:

  • Learn about the BLM movement and understand why it is necessary
  • Identify different types and impact of racism
  • Learn about racism in the Irish context including Irish Travellers and Direct Provision
  • Discuss experiences and understanding in a safe space
  • Build capacity to address racism with appropriate language and messaging to breakdown others misinformation and bias – moving towards active anti-racism
  • Identify positive actions for supporting the BLM campaign

Free Peer Mentoring Workshops
This 3-part series will provide adult learners with the understanding, knowledge and skills to act as a mentor in our future voluntary AONTAS Adult Learner Mentoring Programme, as part of Learners as Leaders.
60-minute sessions will take place on 30th July, 6th & 13th August.

If you’d like to find out more about any of our EU work, please contact, EU Project Officer Dearbháil Lawless at:

Learners as Leaders is part of our current EAAL project Adult and Community Education: Supported Learner Pathways 2020-2021.


One Step Up
The One Step Up Information and Referral Service supports thousands of adults back into education every year. The service consists of a website, information booklet and Freephone number. There are opportunities for both learners and organisations.

Referral of potential learners to their nearest Adult Education Guidance Service (AEGS), This is a free, impartial and confidential service staffed by full-time professional guidance counsellors.
Every AEGS across the country is open and serving their local community’s needs despite the current health emergency. AEGSs will be operating throughout the summer months.
For more information and contact details for your nearest local AEGS please

click here

Last year almost 450 events were promoted through the
One Step Up Calendar. Given the ongoing social distancing guidelines, many education providers are now promoting their organisations and courses via virtual Open Days being held online.

If your organisation would like to reach thousands of potential learners or engage current learners for free then you can advertise your virtual Open Day or other information events via the One Step Up Calendar.

Click here to submit your online event now.

To find out more about your education and training options visit, call our Freephone Helpline 1800 303 669 or email our Information and Policy Officer Sam O’Brien-Olinger:


AONTAS Weekly Member Webinar
The AONTAS Weekly Membership Update Webinar has provided a key space for members to come together and learn from one another during the pandemic.

To catch up on the previous 15 instalments via blogs

click here.

Webinars have covered everything from health and safety to racism, and updates on AONTAS’ advocacy work regarding the new Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.
To register for the webinars and meet fellow members across Ireland
click here.

If you would like to find out more contact our Communications and Membership Officer Barry Dolan:


AONTAS Learner Survey Report 
Last month, AONTAS’ COVID-19 learner consultation reached 959 learners through the Virtual FET Learner Forum and the COVID-19 learner survey.

We were delighted to receive 900 responses to our survey, and are currently compiling the findings of the survey and virtual discussions into a report which will be published at the end of this month and shared with SOLAS, QQI, and our members. For more information please contact Head of Research Leah Dowdall at:

Good news: the European Agenda for Adult Learning has been renewed
After intensive lobbying from AONTAS and its partners across Europe, the EU has renewed the European Agenda for Adult Learning (EAAL) as a key part of the broader EU Skills agenda.
For the last decade, the single most important European level policy as it concerns adult learning has been and will continue to be, the EAAL.

The renewed Agenda defines the focus for European cooperation in adult education policies. The Agenda highlights the need to increase participation in adult learning of all kinds (formal, non-formal and informal learning) whether to acquire new work skills, for active citizenship, or for personal development and fulfilment.

To learn more about the importance of this development for Ireland, your organisation and for adult learners

click here.


The Adult Learner 2021 – Call for Abstracts
AONTAS is inviting abstract submissions for The Adult Learner 2021. The focus of next year’s edition will be the impact of COVID-19 and Adult, Community and Further Education and Training. You can view the Call for Abstracts here.
Interested parties should submit an abstract and bio to: by Monday, 2
8th September.

The launch the 2020 edition of The Adult Learner will place on 2

3rd September and is scheduled to begin at 2pm. The launch celebrates 50 years since the publication of Pedagogy of the Oppressed in the English language. The audience will be diverse, including learners, academics and policy makers. Registration will open in the coming weeks and will be publicised on our usual media channels.

If you would like to find out more contact our Research Officer Eve Cobain at:

Member Spotlight – Gorey Youth Needs Group (GYNG)
Gorey Youth Needs Group is a Charity Organisation based in Gorey Co. Wexford.  Founded in 1995 their facility is adjacent to Gorey Community School, the largest Secondary School in Ireland. Their organisation consists of three departments:
  • Youth and community
  • Childcare
  • Adult Education

The education department of GYNG undertook a strategic development plan in 2016 and in the years since has grown from one Local training Initiative delivering a QQI Level 5 Sports and Recreation programme, to two LTI’s in different locations delivering three QQI accredited programmes. In addition to the Sports and Recreation programme are the I.T. Programme and a new Pre-Apprenticeship QQI Level 4 Pathway to Employment programme.

Students are encouraged to avail of the many services provided by GYNG including childcare, guidance and family supports.
As well as QQI training, the Centre is also ITEC Accredited, allowing students to graduate with an internationally accredited qualification in sport, business and beauty.

Their learner-centred programmes develop soft skills as well as academic skills. Many of the success stories have been in the area of personal development rather than academic achievement. Two of the current tutors are GYNG alumni who have graduated from third level providing fantastic mentorship and motivation to current students.

Teaching through COVID-19
GYNG were fortunate to have a fantastic IT Programme Leader who arranged a transfer from classroom-based activities to those suitable for online tuition through their use of G-suite. Programme delivery was carried out using google classrooms and Google hangouts. They also created a Google Classroom specifically for mental health and wellbeing.

Some of the biggest issues involved CAO result integration during COVID-19 and maintaining learner and staff motivation and morale. Staff carried out regular surveys of students to get feedback and an insight to many of the challenges students faced, both personally and academically.

Why become a member of AONTAS?
While support from WWETB is fantastic being an LTI and not officially part of an ETB can sometimes make you feel isolated and not “Part of the Conversation”. We joined AONTAS as a networking tool to chat with other members and also as an opportunity to make our voice and the voice of our learners heard. The Webinars and support from AONTAS have been a fantastic resource for us. Someone was readily available to help us answer difficult questions, and pose them to those in power. The webinars were also an opportunity for us to feel we were not alone and almost validate our issues and struggles.”

The future is very exciting for Gorey Youth Needs, as they are currently awaiting planning permission for a collaborative partnership with Gorey Rangers F.C. Schoolboys for the development of a Gorey Sports Campus.  This Exciting development would see the expansion of their sports programme, youth work, and delivery, as well as providing the only full-size Astro Pitch in Wexford.

For more information on GYNG please visit


AONTAS Membership
AONTAS members have come together in a number of ways already mentioned in this newsletter to help support each other. Membership of AONTAS has allowed members to have their voice heard on the national level while also giving them an opportunity to speak to like-minded peers at our weekly webinars. There are specific membership options that will suit individuals and organisations involved in adult education. We ask all our current members to help promote AONTAS to their peers and encourage all members to take part in the many member activities including; Weekly Webinar, Annual General Meeting, Community Education Network events (if applicable) and to make contact if there are areas of support that are needed by you or your organisation.

If you would like to find out more about how you can become a member you can visit our webpage

here or contact our Communications and Membership Officer Barry Dolan:


Keep up to date with AONTAS
AONTAS Communications team have been hard at work to help keep our members informed of and included in our work during the recent pandemic.
Weekly Webinars, blogs, publications, news pieces, social media updates, newsletters, presentations, videos and our member activity promotion work has continued and intensified over the months as we continue to promote
lifelong learning and the amazing work of our members.

Here is a list of resources and channels to assist you and your organisations:

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:

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