Some college students ‘better suited’ to vocational or technical routes, committee hears

Leaving Cert students should get credit for courses outside school, says Solas chief

Leaving Cert students should be able to complete accredited work experience or apprenticeships while still in school, one expert said. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Leaving Cert students should be able to complete accredited work experience or apprenticeships while still in school, one expert said. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill


Some of the 70 per cent of secondary students who enter higher education would be better suited to technical or vocational options, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Ireland currently has one of the highest rates of progression to third level in the world.

However, Andrew Brownlee, chief executive of Solas, the agency responsible for the further education and training, said more students could better develop their creativity or technical skills in this sector.

Key to achieving this was providing the opportunity to learn more about further education and training courses and apprenticeships while still in school.

He said reform of the Leaving Certificate could give students the opportunity to complete foundation apprenticeships or modules of vocational courses in “off-site” settings such as local further education colleges

These could be in areas ranging from engineering, ICT, care, life science, finance and business.

Such vocational pathways could have equal status with more traditional subjects and could be recognised for Leaving Cert points or entry into third level.

The idea is loosely modelled on a system in Scotland, where senior-cycle students have the option of completing courses part time in local further education colleges and accredited work experience.

The Irish Times understands that a review of the senior cycle being considered by Minister for Education Norma Foley includes an emphasis on a “curriculum for all” that includes options for secondary students such as apprenticeships, voluntary work and life skills.

The committee also heard that a key obstacle is that many school leavers do not have the opportunity to learn about further education and training courses and apprenticeships when they make their study decisions.

However, Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris confirmed that, for the first time, this year’s college applicants will be able to apply for further education and training courses and view apprenticeship options via links from the CAO website when it opens this Friday.

This means all school leavers’ options will be available to them on a single platform.

Mr Harris said the move was aimed at “changing the conversation at the kitchen table” and ensuring students have full visibility of all their options.

He also said the current Leaving Cert “does not prepare a student for life beyond education” and is not teaching students about financial literacy, digital skills, sex education, or climate skills.

Such skills, he said, would help students transition to the third-level system or employment.

Covid-19 caused “huge disruption” for the education system but it also provided the chance to change and reform education, he added.

This should include considering how to move beyond a “narrow view of options post school” and beyond the “points race”, Mr Harris said.

“We need a fair and consistent assessment system that can give students feedback and a clear understanding of their strengths and talents so they can make reliable choices,” he said.

Ireland’s future sustainability depended on the achievements of third-level learners and their “specialised knowledge, expertise and development” and on their “collective capacity to widen and deepen social, economic and cultural development”, the Minister said.

Dr John O’Connor of Quality and Qualifications Ireland, which oversees quality in post-secondary education, said many valuable learning achievements during transition year are not certified, which compromise their recognition.

“Recognised certification, including micro-credentials, should be explored as tools for enhancing the transparency, portability and recognition of transition-year learning achievements,” he said.

He agreed that vocational education and training is underdeveloped within senior cycle and could be strengthened and expanded.

“Developing and strengthening both general and vocational pathways in upper secondary education can make education more inclusive and strengthen the transition from school to work,” he said