Thursday, 17 October 2019

Questions (13)

Joan Burton


13. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Education and Skills if his attention has been drawn to the lack of provision for further education and the limited number of post-leaving certificate, PLC, courses available to those in the Dublin 15 and Dunboyne areas; if his attention has been further drawn to the number of young persons who lack opportunities to progress to third level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42579/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Education)

What does the Minister propose to do for the many thousands of young people aged under 25 who are unemployed, sitting at home aimless and purposeless owing to insufficient further education places or post-leaving certificate, PLC, courses being available. I cite my area of Dublin 15 where, despite major community efforts to make PLC places available, the Department appears to have an extremely negative attitude to the further development of PLC courses. It is the only opportunity for these young people to get into education, and get a career and employment.

The further education and training sector provides a broad range of options to meet the needs of over 300,000 learners. The PLC programme is the largest of the full-time further education and training, FET, programmes with up to 30,000 PLC places available annually. Each ETB determines how best to distribute and plan the programmes to meet the needs of their area.

This year, 2,697 PLC places were allocated to Dublin-Dún Laoghaire Education and Training Board, which is responsible for FET in Dublin 15. As part of a plan to establish PLC provision in this area, Dublin and Dún Laoghaire Education and Training Board has been working with two local community schools to start PLC courses in September 2019. Unfortunately, the lack of uptake for these courses has meant they were unable to commence as planned. The education and training board will continue to work with my Department and the schools in Dublin 15 to support the establishment of PLC provision in 2020.

Also this year, 2,438 PLC places were allocated to Louth-Meath Education and Training Board, an increase of over 40%. This increase gives scope for further expansion in PLC enrolment in the future, including for Dunboyne.

Opportunity to progress to third level is a national priority for the Government and my Department. A review of the National Access Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2015 to 2019 was published in December 2018. The review acknowledges significant developments in implementation, including increased investment in new access initiatives.

We have a serious problem. The construction industry cannot build enough houses because it does not have enough skilled people. As Professor John FitzGerald said this morning on RTÉ and also at a public meeting that I sponsored a short while ago in Dublin 15, we do not have the skills to do the evaluation of how householders can spend their money wisely to retrofit their homes.

There is a demand with people interested in taking up further education for personal development, but no PLC places are available in Dublin 15. PLC places are available in Dún Laoghaire but very few people in Dublin 15 or the rest of Fingal can travel to Dún Laoghaire to access a PLC place. What does the Minister propose to do?

I got a great insight into the benefits of PLC courses in Letterkenny a number of weeks ago. Looking at the transition and progression, people who finish a PLC course after two years are going on to do electronic engineering in Technical University Dublin, TUD, getting into access courses, and getting into first and second year to do degree courses in Letterkenny Institute of Technology, LIT. Obviously, there is a capacity issue and we need to provide the courses. When the courses are not taken up we need to ask why. In respect of the current leaving certificate review the big issue is progression. It is not necessarily about points and getting into higher level education or universities. This is about creating new pathways through apprenticeships and PLCs. I see the value in them and we need to continue to work on the matter. I am happy to follow up on any capacity issues in Dublin 15.

As we speak today, many young people are sitting at home looking at the four walls in their house without having any possibility of a career path to qualification, employment and potentially setting up their own business. The Government is missing a great opportunity for young people by leaving significant areas of the Dublin region without any PLC opportunity. The Minister is talking about the future and putting it out for another four or five years. That will do nothing for the people sitting at home unemployed at the moment. The official unemployment figure is about 5%. In areas of disadvantage and certain rural areas the unemployment figure, particularly for many younger people, stands at between 9% and 11% and it is even higher in areas of deep disadvantage. Without the PLC option, there is very little future for these people other than sitting at home.

I acknowledge the work of the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, in this area. We are driving towards extra apprenticeships and opportunities. Various institutes of technology are looking at building apprenticeships into their course offerings. However, now - not in four years - we need to ensure that pathways and progression and not points are central to our education system.

We have to get away from the hang-up that, in the context of the leaving certificate, it is a race to an endgame of points. Our education system has to embrace the fact that there are different outlets, options and opportunities for different people. We are all different, we are all equal and we have to acknowledge that. Central in this regard is the realisation that it is about pathways not points. That is why apprenticeships have to be at the heart of the conversation.

Question No. 14 replied to with Written Answers.