Further Education: an established route to higher education

Post-Leaving Cert (PLC) courses now a first choice for students of all ages

Harry McCann: ‘A Post-Leaving Cert course would give me the chance to work part-time and learn too.’

Harry McCann: ‘A Post-Leaving Cert course would give me the chance to work part-time and learn too.’


Once a fall-back option, Post-Leaving Cert (PLC) courses are now a first choice for students of all ages. What prompted this change in attitude?

For Harry McCann (22), entrepreneur and founder of the Digital Youth Council and Trendster Media, a PLC course was an obvious choice – despite the fact that he had enough points to get into University College Cork.

“I applied to study Government and Politics in UCC and I was incredibly lucky to receive a full scholarship from UCC for my work as an entrepreneur,” he says. “But I spent that summer in Australia and it made me realise that I didn’t want to go straight into university. I just wasn’t ready. Academically I had never been top of my class and I feared jumping straight from one intense academic environment into another.

“A Post-Leaving Cert course would give me the chance to work part-time and learn too. I went to Ballyfermot College of Further Education where I studied broadcast presentation skills for a year. The facilities and teachers were really good and we got that personal attention a lecturer with 150 students just can’t manage.

“The jump from school to college is huge, but a PLC was a bit of both worlds. So when I did go to UCC, I found that I was more prepared than a lot of my class-mates: I knew how to put together a bibliography, what to expect in an essay, how to quote people and what was expected in the learning environment.

“Ultimately, I realised that I didn’t want to study government and politics at all and so I changed my choice to digital humanities and IT. The PLC helped me to understand that this was a better fit for my learning style.”

Andrew Brownlee, chief executive of Solas, the further education and training authority, says that high achievers should think about further education and training (FET) options.

“It can’t be right that 100 per cent of school-leavers in some schools go directly to higher education. It’s very possible that some of those academic high achievers may be more served in a creative, technical or practical role, which will help them to develop the skills that can take them anywhere.”

For others thinking of a PLC course – who perhaps didn’t get the college course they wanted – Brownlee points out that further education is an established route to higher education. “There are a range of pre-university foundation courses including nursing, arts or business where, if you get certain results, you have a guarantee that you can progress onto a third-level course.”

Beauty industry

And for others, a PLC course is simply the best option – and the best route into employment. If you want to work in the beauty industry, for instance, a PLC is the entry route. Animal care is another area you can’t learn about at third level. And bear in mind that PLC graduates could always spend a few years working and then return to education – whether through a traineeship, apprenticeship or in higher education.

“While the overall profile of PLC students tends to be within the local catchment area, there are good specialist further education colleges,” says Brownlee. “Ballyfermot College of Further Education is known for its film, animation and media studies courses. In Kerry College of Further Education, there’s a unique wind turbine engineering course.”

Studies have shown that participants on PLC courses have an advantage over their peers in college, because they’ve had that extra year between school and college (although some courses run for two years) to take stock, grow as a person, develop soft skills like teamwork, independent thinking and critical analysis.

Students can inquire with the College of Further Education, which runs the PLC courses, as to progression routes.