While today’s feeder school lists are an indication of the number of post-primary students who go on to shird-level, they do not include the numbers of those who progress to the further education and training (FET) sector.
This data is, for now, not available, but there's no doubt that college isn't for everyone. "Going to university is not the only marker of a successful transition from school to work and adulthood," says Dr Jennifer Symonds, an assistant professor at the School of Education in University College Dublin. "Indeed, research conducted with international colleagues found that those who left school early for apprenticeship or employment routes had reduced levels of stress and anxiety, and they found a greater reward in an environment that was less focused on academics."
While Dr Symonds emphasises she is not encouraging early school-leaving, she does suggest that routes such as further education are ideal for many students. And she’s not just referring to students from more economically disadvantaged backgrounds: vocational routes are an equally adequate choice for a pupil from a fee-paying school. “The same weighting would ideally be given to a college or to a profession, with economic resources and backing to place it on a par with a more academic education.”
Solas, the further education and training body, has made great strides here. "As a society, the CAO and college application process tends to take centre-stage when options for after school are being considered," says Maria Walshe, communications manager with Solas. "Other education routes, particularly further education, apprenticeships and traineeships, can be overlooked. But they offer small class sizes and teachers that can provide one-on-one help with the programmes. We'd encourage people to look into further education and training and consider if any of the courses might suit them."
In the past few years, we’ve seen a huge amount of change in further education and, particularly, apprenticeship and traineeship programmes. “Traditionally, people have thought of apprenticeships and thought of the craft apprenticeships, such as motors, print or construction. Now, we’re seeing finance and IT apprenticeships open up, while farming apprenticeships are in the pipeline. We’re keen, as well, to bring more employers on board. These are options worth considering for everyone,” says Walshe.
Kate Smith (20), Rathmines College of Further Education
“I did my Leaving Cert in 2016 and wasn’t sure whether or not I wanted to go college. I’d applied for a course in an institute of technology, but didn’t know if it was right for me. Really, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, except that I liked administration and wanted to work in it.
"At the same time, l lived in Kildare and felt that it would be good to study in Dublin and meet new people there. Further education seemed like a good chance to get a feel for what I wanted. I applied for the level 5, one-year course in secretarial administration at Rathmines College of Further Education and, as soon as I went for interview, I knew it was right for me: not too big, not too small either.
“I knew that, after a year in further education, I could apply to third-level if I wanted. My experience in Rathmines was so positive, with really helpful, friendly teachers who were there when I needed them. My classmates were so nice and I met one of my really good friends there. I decided to go on to the level 6 course, an advanced certificate in administration, with a view to working as a receptionist or office manager.
“There was two weeks of work experience in both the level 5 and 6 courses and I did really well on my placement – so well, actually, that I got a job with them in December 2017. The company were really accommodating of my studies.
"There can be a lot of emphasis on third-level, but university is not the be-all and end-all. It was never my goal to go to Trinity College. A post-Leaving Cert course can really help you get where you want in life without having to put yourself through five years between a degree and a masters. It felt just as much like 'college' to me as any course in one of the big colleges, except I had the benefit of smaller classes and closer relationships with my lecturers."
David Ward, training manager, Lufthansa Technik Shannon
“We’ve got customers from all over the world, with planes regularly brought to Shannon for base maintenance. At the moment, we have 120 people on our traineeship programme. Most of them are male.
“The course is both academic and hands-on. The students have to sit 12 different subjects, covering areas that include maths, physics, electrical fundamentals, maintenance practices, aviation legislation and gas-turbine engines. The programme lasts for 27 months, with about 15 of these down working with aircraft. This industry is crying out for qualified staff, so we run it in Dublin too.
“The course is State-funded and trainees may qualify for an allowance. At least 98 per cent have secured a job at the end.”
Shane Power Canavan, trainee with Lufthansa Technik
“I left school in 2013 and, when I didn’t get into the engineering course I had in mind, went to college in an institute of technology to study agricultural science. After a year, I’d seen that it lacked the hands-on work I wanted and knew it wasn’t for me.
“I applied to do this traineeship with Lufthansa Technik. After sitting maths and spatial relations tests, I got a place. I’ve really enjoyed the course and the social side of being on a team with my colleagues. There are good opportunities for advancement and different roles I could pursue in the industry. If I was in college I’d be paying out a lot of money; here, I qualify for a training allowance. I’d really recommend this as an alternative to third-level.”