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

Welcome to AONTAS News

In this issue we look at our first online Adult Learners’ Festival, which was a huge success and included local, national and international events. We take a look at the work from our Advocacy and Research Teams and spotlight AONTAS members and recent STAR Award winners Ballyhoura Development from the south-west of Ireland.

We hear from Niamh O’Reilly, AONTAS CEO and highlight the many ways in which you can interact with AONTAS and our members.

If you would like something highlighted in the next  newsletter please contact Barry Dolan, AONTAS Communications and Membership Officer at: [email protected]

In Support and Solidarity
The AONTAS Team 


AONTAS Membership Support and Advocacy
Dear AONTAS Member,
The last month has been a hive of activity, and a particular highlight being our flagship annual event, the AONTAS Adult Learners’ Festival. It was wonderful to see the incredible engagement of organisations and learners throughout the week, so thank you for supporting this work. Whilst moving the Festival online was a huge undertaking, the team and our members managed to maintain the spirit of the Festival.  It was a lift we all needed, and we were delighted to see the innovative events organised, and the celebration of STAR award winners and highly commended projects; the excitement was palpable during the ceremony.
In addition to the details in this bulletin, I wanted to highlight key developments in policy and a short report that outlines what is happening in adult education in Ireland to mark the #WeAreALE 5-year global campaign for adult learning and education. We know the restrictions arising from COVID-19 have exacerbated educational inequalities, and there is a growing body of evidence that highlights the urgent need to take action;

the report captures these concerning trends.Advocacy
As part of the AONTAS Adult Learners’ Festival, our annual Policy Day event was organised to bring together policy makers, adult learners, practitioners and tutors from across the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales, through our Network for Adult Learning Across Borders (NALAB). In keeping with the theme of the Festival, Better Together (#BetterTogether), the purpose of the event was to bring together our neighbours in adult learning, to learn, discuss and work towards greater educational equality across the region. Over 80 participants from Education and Training Boards (ETBs), community education organisations, Higher Education Institutes (HEIs), academics, adult learners and policymakers discussed the key issues from a range of perspectives. Read more about the event here.

At the event,

we launched a report on the impact of the Mitigating Educational Disadvantage Fund (MAEDF). We welcomed the comments from Phil O’Flaherty, Principal Officer, Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science  (DFHERIS) and Andrew Brownlee, CEO, SOLAS regarding the focus on inclusion, and acknowledgement of the exacerbation of educational disadvantage and the need to support community education. AONTAS will continue to advocate for an additional MAED Fund.#WeAreALE – short report on what’s happening in Ireland
On Monday, 22nd March, AONTAS joined with our fellow adult learning civil society organisations worldwide to promote the understanding and practice of adult learning and education. The International Council for Adult Education (ICAE) leads the 5-year campaign and notes the central role of adult learning in attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the need for adequate funding and the value of adult learning and education (ALE) in a healthier planet and a better, more just world. The purpose is to speak with one voice in advancing the value of adult learning for all. As part of the “we are adult learning and education” (#weareALE) campaign, I compiled a short report outlining the context for Ireland, what is happening at a local level for learners, the rapidly changing policy context at the national level and notes pertinent European policy developments. Read the full report

here.We deeply value your engagement with AONTAS. Please register for our popular  Wednesday membership engagement webinars, they are free, informative, and you are sure to meet a friendly face!

Stay in touch,
Niamh O’Reilly



AONTAS Adult Learners’ Festival 2021
The 15th annual AONTAS Adult Learners’ Festival took place from 1st – 5th March 2021. In response to COVID-19, we moved the Festival online for the first year which was a huge challenge. Our aim was to ensure that we kept the spirit of the Festival in an online context and celebrated our members, learners, and the wider adult learning community, providing a sense of community and hope for the future.
The theme of this year’s Festival – #BetterTogether focused on collaboration with our members and organisations in the sector to deliver an exciting calendar of virtual events and opportunities to engage online. We were blown away by the incredible support and engagement across the sector and are finalising a report that documents the full impact of the week. In the meantime here are a few of the key highlights:
Key Highlights from the 2021 Adult Learners’ Festival:
  • Number of Local Events – Almost 160 online events and activities were promoted through and through AONTAS’ social media channels, across 23 counties and included community education groups, Education and Training Boards, Higher Education Institutions, Partnerships and museums
  • Participants at AONTAS led Events – Almost 700 participants, from across Ireland, the EU and further afield, attended seven AONTAS led events during the week of the Festival
  • Social Media Reach and Engagement – A highlight of the first virtual Adult Learners’ Festival was the incredible engagement across all of the AONTAS social media platforms:
    • AONTAS gained a reach of 500,000 people on social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, with an engagement of 10,000 people across the week
    • The AONTAS STAR Awards trended at number 2 on Twitter
  • Media Reach – Through extensive media engagement during the week of the Festival we reached 1.9 million people through press coverage (online, print and radio) both locally and nationally
  • Learner Voice – A key part of the Festival included amplifying learner voice. A number of learner videos were created that looked at benefits and challenges of adult learning during COVID-19. You can view them here.

Local Events
While we usually encourage adult learning providers throughout Ireland to open their doors for free open days, events and workshops, this year we focused on supporting members to run online events and activities. Key outcomes included:

  • Two membership webinars focused on the Adult Learners’ Festival and provided us with a great opportunity to get feedback from members on how we could support them to run online events and activities
  • Almost 160 online events and activities were promoted through and through AONTAS’ social media channels
  • Local events took place across 23 counties and included community education groups, Education and Training Boards, Higher Education Institutions, Partnerships and museums

AONTAS led Events
As part of the Adult Learners’ Festival, AONTAS collaborated with organisations nationally and internationally to deliver an exciting calendar of events. Throughout the week seven AONTAS led events took place. 

  • Monday, 1st March

The Learners as Leaders: Developing Democracy through Change-Oriented Community Education in Ireland: This event provided an energizing and inspiring start to the 15th annual Adult Learners’ Festival. We welcomed participants from across Europe for this workshop that showcased the Learners as Leaders change-orientated adult learning methodology, the Irish model of community education, and learner voice activities. Follow #BetterTogether and #LearnersAsLeaders on social media to catch up on the event.   

  • Tuesday, 2nd March

FET Learners from Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board (ETB) took part in a National FET Learner Forum Event which provided an important platform for learners to share their experience of learning. More information on this work can be found below.

  • Wednesday, 3rd March

Adult and Community Education in Northern Ireland: An AONTAS Collaboration. We were delighted to welcome educators and practitioners from Northern Ireland’s adult and community education groups to this event which that provided a space to find out more about the work of AONTAS and to share their experiences during COVID-19, outline barriers faced in the adult learning sector, build new relationships and learn from peers. Follow #BetterTogether and #SharedIsland on social media to catch up on the event.

Paulo Freire Centenary – Celebration (1921 – 2021): AONTAS hosted this fantastic event in collaboration with the Paulo Freire Institute of Portugal. The event offered a valuable space to learn about Freire and discuss the impact of his work. AONTAS is finalising a podcast and blog from this event and will share with members. There was huge interest in this topic and we will look at future events that focus on the work and legacy of Paulo Freire.

Adult Learner Wellbeing Webinar – Facebook Event: As part of the Festival, we hosted this informative Facebook event that focused on how sport psychology can help learners and tutors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Key speakers included Dr Paul Gaffney (Sport Ireland Institute) and Finola Colgan (Mental Health Ireland). This video can be used as a resource for tutors and learners and is available here.

  • Thursday, 4th March:

AONTAS STAR Awards Celebration 2021: The first online AONTAS STAR Award celebration was hosted by Colm O’Regan Comedian, bestselling author and broadcaster. Almost 150 people came together for this uplifting online event that celebrated and acknowledged 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. Twenty-one initiatives were shortlisted in five categories with nine winners. Winners were announced online on Monday, 1st March and for the first time ever judges made the decision to highly commend the other twelve groups for their amazing work. Read more here.

  • Friday, 5th March

Network for Adult Learning Across Borders – Policy Day Event: As the closing event of the AONTAS Adult Learners’ Festival, a Policy Day event was organised to bring together policy makers, adult learners, practitioners and tutors from across the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales, through our Network for Adult Learning Across Borders (NALAB). In keeping with the theme of the Festival, Better Together, the purpose of the event was to bring together our neighbours in adult learning, to learn, discuss and work towards greater educational equality across the region. Over 80 participants from Education and Training Boards (ETBs), community education organisations, Higher Education Institutes (HEIs), academics, adult learners and policymakers discussed the key issues from a range of perspectives. Read more here.

If you would like to find out more information about the Festival please contact Katie O’Rourke, AONTAS Head of Communications at: [email protected] 

One Step Up – Promoting Your Events Across Ireland
As Level 5 Public Health Restrictions continue, it is more important than ever to continue promoting your online information workshops, taster sessions and open days. Over the Adult Learners’ Festival almost 150 virtual events were promoted for free via the One Step Up Calendar to reach adult learners and their communities. Last year almost 450 events were promoted for free via the One Step Up CalendarPut your Event Online
To showcase your organisation and courses, you may like to invite your learners to attend a virtual coffee morning or an online guided tour of your centre. If your organisation would like to reach thousands of potential learners for free then you can advertise your virtual open days and other information events via the
One Step Up Calendar.

Click here to submit your online event now.

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 (


For more information contact Sam O’Brien-Olinger, AONTAS Information and Policy Officer at: [email protected] or Freephone 1800303669

AONTAS Advocacy in Action
This month AONTAS developed two written policy submissions on behalf of our members and to advocate for the needs of the adult learning sector. Our submission for the ‘Public Consultation on the Reform of the Higher Education Authority Legislation’ outlined the vital role of adult learning in building social cohesion, supporting social mobility, and addressing inequality. AONTAS urged the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research Innovation and Science to act on our recommendations particularly within the current political and social climate of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the post-BREXIT climate. AONTAS advocated for:
  1. Increased equality, diversity and inclusion of traditionally underrepresented groups in governance structures, representative groups and the academic council.
  2. Increased presence in decision-making mechanisms of representation from local communities and civil society organisations.
  3. Core funding linked to a commitment to widening access to higher education.

The second submission was part of the consultation process with Irish Aid for the new ‘Global Citizenship Education Strategy 2021-2024’. AONTAS called for flexible multi-annual sustainable funding for the adult and community education sector and voiced our commitment to development and global citizenship education. In addition, we suggested key areas for the new strategic plan that are in-line with our colleagues and partners in the Irish Development Education Association (IDEA) Community Education Task Force:

  • Communication and Advocacy
  • Policy Development and Coherence
  • Curriculum Development and Integration
  • Capacity Building
  • Programme Evaluation and Research

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

For immediate updates on policy and advocacy issues, check out the AONTAS Twitter page here.
For more information on our advocacy work or to seek support with an issue, please contact Dearbháil Lawless, AONTAS Head of Advocacy at: 
[email protected]

AONTAS Community Education Network (CEN)
AONTAS Community Education Network (CEN) meeting: Creativity and Social Change for Online Community Education Practice
Date: 14th April
Time: 11am – 12.45pm
This meeting will include an interactive taster workshop that will model creative methodologies that can be used in community education in an online context. ‘The Awesome Solution’ by Creativity and Change will use imagination and creativity, through art and storytelling, to explore solutions to global justice issues. At this meeting, we will also hear about the AONTAS FET Learner Forum and what community education participants have been saying about their experiences of learning. For more information and to register please please
click here.

AONTAS CEN Quality Assurance Community of Practice Meeting
Date: 26th April 2021
Time: 10am to 12pm
Registration will open next week.
Quality of Qualifications of Ireland (QQI) Programme Development Training with Finola Butler of FESS
Date: 12th May 2021
Time: 10am to 12pm
Registration will open in April.

Other dates for your diary:
CEN Meeting: 9th June 2021
CEN Quality Assurance Community of Practice: 17th June 2021

Léargas Three Pillar Community Education Series:
Over the past few years, practitioners from three pillars of community education have been meeting to work towards reaffirming and promoting the values of community education. The three pillars consist of practitioners, advocates and academics. It includes representation from AONTAS, Community Education Facilitators’ Association’s (CEFA) and Maynooth University. Working in partnership with Léargas there are  three workshops on the following dates:
Webinar 1: Reasserting the Politics of Community Education
Date: Wednesday 28th April 2021
Time: 11am-1pm.
Speakers: Camilla Fitzsimons and Mae Shaw
Keynote Listener: Bríd Connolly

Webinar 2: Becoming an Anti-Racist Adult Education Practitioner
Date: Wednesday 9th June 2021
Time: 2-4pm
Speakers: Lilian Nwanze and Stephen Brookfield
Keynote Listener: Amel Yacef

Webinar 3: Community Education and Climate Justice
Date: Wednesday 6th October 2021
Time: TBC

Speakers and keynote listener TBC.

For more information and to register please

click here.To become a member of the CEN please click here.
For more information please contact Suzanne Kyle, AONTAS CEN Coordinator at: [email protected]

RegALE Project
The three year-long RegALE Project kicked off during meetings held virtually on 22nd and 24th March. The meeting brought AONTAS and other project partners in Sweden, Germany, Norway, Italy, Greece and the UK together to prepare for a successful and smooth project collaboration. Work has begun to build regional adult education and learning (ALE) ecosystems.RegALE aims to increase the impact and sustainability of regional/local adult education organisations. The most significant project outcome will be an increase in the partners’ capacity to respond to challenges, build cooperation structures and to promote an adult education culture in cities/regions. For more information please

click here.
In other EU project news, TO SWITCH has made great progress with meetings and events following its inaugural meeting in December 2020. Communication materials are currently in development, with aims to be published within the coming weeks. For more information, please click here.
BLUESS Project
The BLUESS project concluded on 23rd March 2021. At the final conference and round table, a number of presentations were made and discussions held regarding the project results. To see these presentations, please click here.
For more information on our EU Projects please contact Ecem Akarca, AONTAS EU Projects Officer at: [email protected]


National Further Education and Training (FET) Learner Forum
The National Further Education and Training (FET) Learner Forum is a nationwide project aimed at ensuring that learner voice informs future FET policy. We have now reached the end of the academic year 2020/2021, finishing with our last event with Cork Education and Training Board 11th of March.Since October 2020, we have held events with seven Education and Training Boards, and have reached a total of 1,533 learners through surveys and virtual events making this year our largest engagement to date. We are pleased to have held virtual events with the following Education and Training Boards over the course of the academic year 2020-2021:
  • Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim Education and Training Board – 23rd and 28th October 2020
  • Laois and Offaly Education and Training Board – 8th and 9th December 2020
  • Kilkenny and Carlow Education and Training Board – 12th January 2021
  • Longford and Westmeath Education and Training Board – 9th and 10th February 2021
  • Galway and Roscommon Education and Training Board – 25th and 26th February 2021
  • Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board – 2nd and 3rd March 2021
  • Cork Education and Training Board – 9th and 11th March 2021

As part of the Forum, we also held learner focus group discussions on the 3rd and 8th December 2020. The results of these discussions and the related survey were presented to SOLAS as part of their Adult Literacy, Numeracy and Digital Literacy Strategy.

We know it has been a uniquely challenging year for learners, and we would like to thank all the learners who participated in these events for sharing their voices with us. We would also like to thank each of the Education and Training Boards that took part for their commitment to learner voice.

Presentation of Findings
We will present initial findings from the 2020-2021 National FET Learner Forum at the Community Education Network meeting on Wednesday, 14th April and at the AONTAS member webinar on Wednesday, 21st July.

The complete findings will be shared in our two public reports: The Annual Synthesis Report and the Learner Report. These reports will be launched in July at our national event.

National Event – Get Involved!
The Forum’s National Event will take place on the 14th July 2021. This will be a learner-led event and will focus on learners’ experience of taking part in this year’s National FET Learner Forum and share key findings from the course of this academic year.

If you are or know of a learner who has taken part in one of the regional events listed above and would like to take part in our National Forum event, please contact Laura Lovejoy, AONTAS Research Officer at: [email protected].

Educational Studies Association Ireland (ESAI) 2021 Conference
AONTAS Project Officer, Kalianne Farren, and AONTAS Head of Research, Leah Dowdall, presented a paper on the impact of COVID-19 on the National FET Learner Forum at this year’s Educational Studies Association Ireland conference. The two-day conference, which took place on Thursday 25th March and Friday 26th March, explored the theme of ‘Possibilities in Education: Re-imagining Connections with People, Purpose and Place.’ Results from the Forum were used to demonstrate how COVID-19 has impacted learner experience in FET.

As part of the conference, AONTAS also developed a collaborative E-poster with Quality and Qualifications Ireland and NStep on the experience of supporting learner voice work in a remote setting. This poster, which was launched at the event, will soon be made available through the ESAI website.

For further information please contact Leah Dowdall, AONTAS Head of Research at: [email protected]

The Adult Learner Journal: Call for Abstracts
AONTAS have launched the Call for Abstracts for the 2022 edition of The Adult Learner. This edition of The Adult Learner will explore our understanding of success in adult, community, and further education.. Potential topics for this year’s issue include: What do we mean by learner success?

  • Should we have set definitions of success or does this differ depending on the individual or the programme?
  • What constitutes both individual and collective success in adult learning?
  • Does policy dictate the measurement of success or can we use these measurements to shape adult education policy?

Abstracts can take two forms: research papers and practice papers. If you are interested in submitting an abstract, you can find more information on our website.

Abstracts should be 400-500 words. You should also include a short bio in addition to your abstract (no more than 200 words). Please send your abstract and bio to [email protected] by Friday, 25th June 2021.

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

Empowering Advocates in Further Education and Training (FET)
The Further Education and Training (FET) Learners as Leader programme is designed to empower learners to become learner voice advocates to participate in leadership roles within their Education and Training Board (ETB). This work is an expansion of the National FET Learner Forum, allowing learners to build their learner voice capacity and become leaders in FET.

In April 2021, AONTAS will launch two inaugural events in collaboration with Cork Education and Training Board and Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim Education and Training Board to prepare learners for the upcoming ETB Quality Assurance Reviews.

The following events are currently scheduled:

  • Cork Education and Training Board, 16th and 23rd April 2021
  • Mayo Sligo and Leitrim Education and Training Board, 21st and 22nd of April 2021

Our two-day training sessions focus on building capacity skills, strengthening learner communities, developing leadership and representation, and learning to engage with stakeholders.

If your Education Training Board would like to collaborate on these events or you would like further information on the programme, please contact Kalianne Farren, AONTAS Project Officer at: [email protected].

Get Involved: Community Engagement Praxis for Research in the Arts and Humanities (CEPRAH)

In 2021 AONTAS, in partnership with Trinity Long Room Hub for Arts and Humanities, launched a new project entitled Community Engagement Praxis for Research in the Arts and Humanities (CEPRAH). This project, which is funded by the Irish Research Council New Foundations Award aims to identify pathways that facilitate engagement between researchers in the Arts and Humanities and the community education sphere. The project will research methodologies and produce guidelines for the integration of the Arts and Humanities disciplines into social and civic policies at a grassroots level using democracy initiatives as a case study.

Networking Event
A Networking event for community education practitioners and arts and humanities researchers will take place on Wednesday, 2nd  June, at 1pm. The event will be participatory, providing the opportunity to present a select number of case studies; to examine what is being done and what collaborations might be useful in the future. The event will take a world café format to establish challenges, possibilities, and solutions. More details of the event will follow in the next newsletter.

If you are a community education practitioner with experience engaging with arts and humanities practitioners or teaching in this area, please contact Eve Cobain, AONTAS Research Officer, at: [email protected] 


AONTAS Members Spotlight – Ballyhoura Development 
Ballyhoura Development is a community-led Local Development Company, and a registered charity, which works with communities, families, individuals and businesses in the Ballyhoura region of East Limerick and North Cork.The company has successfully managed, coordinated and implemented a wide range of national and European projects and programmes since its establishment in 1989, and currently delivers over 30 programmes. Ballyhoura Development has a vision for an area with empowered, inclusive communities and a diversified economy.

They support communities, individuals and businesses by enabling them to design and implement services and facilities to improve the social, economic and environmental fabric of their local communities, towns and districts. Partnership and participation are the guiding principles of their work and activities, and a bottom-up approach is central to all of the organisation’s programme delivery and support in the area of Education & Training, Community Development and Business and Employment.

Education and Training Programmes supported by Ballyhoura Development include; Ability, Healthcare Opportunities for Women, WREN-Training for Female Entrepreneurs, Start your own Business, Employment focused training, Digital Skills, Community Food Initiative, Community based Training, Community Group skills, Environmental focused training.

Ballyhoura Development works closely with Limerick & Clare Education & Training Board and Cork Education & Training board as well as receiving funding and resources from SICAP, Local Enterprise offices, European Social Fund,  the Department of Social Protection and others to deliver education and training supports.

In 2020 their Healthcare Opportunities for Women project received an AONTAS STAR Award – European Social Fund (ESF) Special Recognition Award. This ESF training programme supports women who are distanced from the labour market to gain a Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) level 5 major award in Healthcare.

This year Ballyhoura Development did it again and the East Limerick Traveller Project received an AONTAS STAR Award for initiatives that support Health and Wellbeing. The East Limerick Traveller Project was established in 2021 to respond to needs identified through the East Limerick Traveller Health Baseline needs assessment.

The project works to improve outcomes for Travellers in East Limerick by
1. Supporting volunteer-led Traveller groups
2. Delivering accredited training for female travellers focused on health and communication
3. Facilitating health-focused activities, information sessions and training for members of the Travelling Community.

On Thursday, 18th March 2021 to coincide with International Social Prescribing Day Ballyhoura Development launched “The Ballyhoura Development Community Wellbeing Social Prescribing Project”. This new pilot project supported by the HSE Traveller Health Unit and Ballyhoura Development’s Social Inclusion Community Activation Programme will provide a means for supported referrals to non-medical sources of support in the community. The project aims to improve social connections in the community.

COVID-19 has impacted the work of Ballyhoura Development and has disproportionally impacted disadvantaged groups and individuals that they support. Through the ongoing pandemic, Ballyhoura Development has adapted to meet the needs of the communities and individuals that they work with including online delivery of programmes and increased supports in the area of food and resources. It is expected that these groups will experience the long term effects of COVID-19 on their economic social and health wellbeing.

If you would like more information on the work of Ballyhoura Development  please visit:
Connect through social media:
Twitter: @ballyhouradev
Linked in: Ballyhoura Development CLG
If you would like AONTAS to promote the work of your organisation through the Newsletter please contact Barry Dolan, AONTAS Communications and Membership Officer at: [email protected] 


AONTAS Membership
AONTAS continues to support our members through this extremely difficult time. This year we are bringing more opportunities for our members to connect, learn and share their stories and successes.Newsletter
We want to spotlight your work through our webinars and monthly newsletter, if interested in promoting your organisation, please

click here.Webinars
We have an exciting and diverse line up for our weekly membership webinar series. These weekly webinars are a great opportunity for our members to connect, learn and take stock with fellow educators and members. Webinars this month include presentations from Development PerspectivesAn Cosán and the Johan Cruyff Institute.
To find out about these events and to book your free place, please 
click here.

Finally, if you are not a member and wish to become a member of AONTAS, please click here. For more information on our membership work please contact Barry Dolan, Communications and Membership Officer at: [email protected]


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!






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