Education and Training Boards to Replace VECs

education training boardsOn July 1st, Ruairí Quinn, The Minister for Education and Skills, announced that 16 new Education and Training boards (ETBs) are to replace the existing 33 Vocational Education Committees (VECs). Commenting on the decision, Minister Quinn said that it “marked a new era for education and training” and that the new ETBs would “strengthen locally managed education and enhance the scale of local education and training.” The new ETBs will have 21 members including 12 local authority representatives, 2 staff representatives, 2 parents’ representatives and 5 members representing community and business interests.

VECs were established in 1930 by the Vocational Education Act with their original purpose being to provide continuation and technical education to 14 to 16 year olds. Over time the responsibilities of VECs increased particularly in the area of adult education, such as post-primary education and further education. In September 2008, County Dublin VEC opened its first community National School in Porterstown, Dublin 15 and this was the first time the VEC had been involved in primary school education. There are currently five VEC primary schools in Ireland; four in Dublin and one in Kildare.

VECs now provide second level education to nearly 100,000 students in 247 schools and more than 200,000 adults participate in VEC adult and community education programmes each year. Through local VECs there has been a wide range of learning opportunities available to people who want to improve their qualifications and skills and to those wanting a second educational chance. Courses and training include full-time and part-time adult education programmes, night classes, skills for work programmes and adult literacy services.

As well as taking over the responsibilities of the VECs, ETBs will also be responsible for SOLAS; a new further education and training authority that is to replace FÁS. The Department of Education said that they hope to have SOLAS set up before the end of the year.

Until now, each county had its own VEC, with some counties having more than one. Now, however, the number is almost halved and most counties are sharing ETBs. The new list of ETBs is as follows:

– City of Dublin ETB
– Donegal ETB
– Kerry ETB
– Cork ETB
– Galway and Roscommon ETB
– Limerick and Clare ETB
– Cavan and Monaghan ETB
– Dublin and Dun Laoghaire ETB
– Kildare and Wicklow ETB
– Kilkenny and Carlow ETB
– Laois and Offaly ETB
– Longford and Westmeath ETB
– Louth and Meath ETB
– Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim ETB
– Tipperary ETB
– Waterford and Wexford ETB

With this increase in responsibility and decrease in the number of ETBs, there is the obvious question as to whether there will be sufficient support to cover all the areas that the VECs had previously covered. The changes are drastic; Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim are now all sharing one ETB when they used to have one VEC each and Limerick and Clare are now sharing one where there used to be three VECs between them. City of Dublin, Donegal and Kerry are the only headquarters to remain unaffected by the change.

The government has estimated that these changes will result in savings of €2.1m annually and only time will tell if these departments can run as effectively as they hope. Minister Quinn acknowledged that now, more than ever, is an important time for training and re-skilling and that the aim of the reforms is to “provide appropriate programmes and courses that offer students and learners the best opportunities to progress.” Let’s hope that the government will deliver on its promises and that these changes don’t turn out to be nothing more than an unfortunate cut in important educational resources in an attempt to save money.

Fiona McBennett

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