I welcome the opportunity to discuss the matter of adult and further education because there have been significant initiatives in the Department of Education and Science in recent years. The Green Paper on Adult Education and the White Paper on Adult Education were published eight years and six years ago, respectively.
Since 2000, adult and further education has been promoted by the Government and the task of prioritising further education has been mine since 2002. When I assumed this responsibility, expenditure on adult and further education was €113 million. In 2007, it will be approximately €169 million, an increase of €56 million, or 50%.
Increases in the provision for adult education have been a significant feature of every budget. I was delighted to note the figure announced in the 2007 Estimates represents an increase of almost €19 million, or 12%, as compared to the position in 2006. It compares well to the increase in the overall departmental provision of 8%.
This summer, the ten-year framework social partnership agreement, Towards 2016, was ratified. The framework takes a life cycle perspective, as it addresses the economic challenges and, in particular, the key social challenges that lie ahead. It focuses on children, people of working age, older people and people with disabilities. Within each sector, there are initiatives that directly affect further education and its development during the next ten years.
This summer, I received the adult literacy in Ireland report, which contains 28 recommendations, from the Joint Committee on Education and Science. The recommendations will be considered by my Department in the context of the overall policy of making further improvements in literacy provision nationwide as resources permit.
Adult literacy and basic education have been my top priorities in adult education, as participation in any educational programme is impossible if one is unable to benefit due to poor literacy and numeracy skills. I am providing for an increase of €7.4 million, 21% of the budget for adult literacy and community education, allowing for 3,000 additional literacy places in 2007. It will increase expenditure to more than €30 million and the number of participants to 38,000 compared to 28,000 in 2002. Following the Towards 2016 agreement, 4,000 additional places will be available until 2009, bringing the total to 42,000.
To cater for the literacy and basic education needs of immigrant groups, vocational education committees have been provided with funds to afford free access to literacy, English language and mother culture supports. Almost 10,000 students availed of tuition in English under the English for speakers of other languages programme in 2005, comprising 27% of participants in adult literacy programmes.
In addition to providing extra money, we have taken many targeted initiatives in the past eight years to cater for the literacy needs of particular groups. This year alone saw the initiation of a number of measures. An intensive programme in basic education for adults experiencing literacy and numeracy skills deficiencies was piloted last spring. In this programme, students receive six hours' adult basic education a week for a 14-week period. This is an additional option to the weekly two hours' tuition in general literacy which is available from and provided by all 33 vocational education committees, VECs, throughout the country. This intensive approach facilitates accelerated learning.
I am pleased to say that the initiative responds to recommendation 13 in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Science adult literacy report, which sought an intensive option of between four and six hours. It also responds to a recommendation in the national adult literacy and numeracy plan. The initiative has been evaluated and the findings have been very positive. Therefore, the increased literacy provision for 2007 includes €1 million to allow for a doubling of the funding for the intensive programme in basic education.
Following on from the "Read Write Now" series in 2006, the national adult literacy agency devised a new two-year multimedia literacy project, entitled The Really Useful Guide to Words and Numbers. One element of this project is a TV series of that name, which is shown every week on RTE 1, at 1 p.m. on Sundays, with a repeat just after midnight on Tuesday. The series commenced in September 2006 and will run until April 2007. It is accompanied by a learner workbook, a free telephone helpline and a website. The website includes printable sheets from the workbook, additional on-line activities and the entire video clip of each programme 24 hours after broadcast. I was very happy to participate in one of the programmes. It is important that a multifaceted approach is adopted to attract people and enable them to upskill in the comfort of their homes.
My Department has some experience of workplace literacy through a project we have been assisting for some years through which literacy tuition is given to men who are manual workers in local authorities. While the interest shown by the target group and the outcomes of the project were encouraging, they pointed up a need to develop workplace literacy on a large scale. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is responsible for workplace learning and training. I discussed with the former Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, and the current Minister, Deputy Martin, my concerns about the problems staff face in their workplace if they have low literacy and numeracy skills. In response, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment gave €2 million to FÁS in 2005 and 2006 to address the literacy and numeracy needs of staff in the workplace. I am especially pleased to have such evidence of co-operation and co-ordination between Departments and State agencies.
In May 2005, the Department launched DEIS, Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools — An Action Plan in Educational Inclusion. This action plan, which is being implemented, focuses on addressing the needs of children and young people from disadvantaged communities, from pre-school through second level. Recognising the vital role of parents and other family members in children's literacy development, a new family literacy project is being initiated. The project will take a partnership approach in that it will involve the VEC adult literacy services, the home-school-community liaison scheme, the national adult literacy agency, schools, students and parents. A holistic approach will be adopted to enable family members to become involved in enhancing their children's literacy development. I am glad to note that this initiative will address another of the recommendations in the Oireachtas committee's adult literacy report.
I mentioned earlier that further education will benefit from the Towards 2016 agreement in all the life stages. Within the children stage, additional funding has been provided to enhance the Youthreach programme. An increase of €3.5 million has been allocated for Youthreach in 2007 to cater for the expansion of the number of places by 400, bringing the total to approximately 3,700. In the following two years, 600 further places will be made available.
Youthreach provides an integrated education, vocational training and work experience for early school leavers aged between 15 and 20 years. The students are often alienated from the formal education system and mainly come from economically disadvantaged communities. They frequently present as socially vulnerable and at risk of long-term social, economic and educational exclusion.
There are 90 Youthreach centres throughout the country with 3,250 students enrolled. I have been aware that a significant proportion of Youthreach students have social and learning needs characterised by low levels of esteem and low levels of literacy and numeracy. On 27 November, I announced that I had set up a new €2 million special educational needs initiative for Youthreach. Among other provisions, it will allow for the introduction of additional staffing resources, such as community workers, counsellors, mentors or resource personnel, to address the special educational needs of Youthreach students. The initiative will begin in 20 Youthreach programmes throughout the country. Following an evaluation, it will be extended to all Youthreach centres.
I have been very happy with the success of the back to education initiative since its introduction in 2002. We are providing an increase of €1.3 million for the expansion of part-time options under the programme in 2007. The number of BTEI part-time training places will be increased by 1,000 places to 9,000, catering for in excess of 24,000 participants. In addition, a further 1,000 places will be made available in 2008-09. The overall aim of the BTEI will be to increase the participation of young people and adults with less than upper second level education in a range of flexible learning opportunities. The priority will be to target adults who experience difficulties in accessing and returning to education full-time. It will address the needs of adults with low literacy levels, and, because of its part-time nature, will provide more flexible learning opportunities. It focuses particularly on addressing the learning needs of people who combine family, personal and work responsibilities with education. The initiative aims to engage those who are difficult to reach by providing them with an opportunity to return to education at a pace that does not intimidate but best suits their needs.
As a result of child care responsibilities, many adults find it difficult to enrol in adult education programmes. To facilitate them, annual grants are given to vocational education committees towards the cost of child care support for participants in the vocational opportunities scheme, VTOS, Youthreach and senior Traveller training centre programmes. These grants will assist such people and enable them to enrol in programmes of their choice. Demand and provision have increased incrementally over recent years.
I have obtained additional funding of €900,000 in the recent Estimate for child care. Until now, child care support has been restricted to the full-time further education programmes just mentioned. Some €500,000 of this additional funding will be used to extend child care support to participants under the back to education initiative from 2007.
I have continually promoted community education and emphasised its role in encouraging women back into education. Next year, I am providing €110,000 to consolidate women's participation in community education, through the extension and mainstreaming of the AONTAS women's community education quality assurance framework project. This framework demonstrates the uniqueness of the work carried out by women's groups and provides a quality benchmark for it.
In addition, I am providing €120,000 which will enable research into adult and community education, lifelong learning and civil society to be carried out. AONTAS, the national association of adult education, will be central to these measures.
My Department is one of the co-sponsors of an adult learners' festival that will take place next January. This is organised by AONTAS. It will celebrate adult learning and the achievements of adults. This festival, along with the adult literacy awareness week, in which I participated last September, showcases the work being done in adult and further education. It raises awareness and highlights the profile of the sector.
There are many options available for those returning to education and we must ensure that those taking this step are not left without support and guidance when it is needed. For anyone to return to education as an adult requires immense courage, dedication, commitment and a willingness to make sacrifices in the short term to find fulfilment in their future. Returning to education as an adult requires immense courage, dedication, commitment and a willingness to make sacrifices in the short term to find fulfilment in the future. It is not enough to provide courses and certification. Without support, many of those committing to lifelong learning will flounder. Those who have embarked on this journey need to be guided along the way. A coherent integrated service which offers information, advice and guidance on an individual and group basis to assist people to make the best choices for learning is required.
The adult educational guidance initiative was launched in 1999 in response to the recognition of these needs. A total of 38 projects have now been established and the service is almost nationwide. In 2007, an additional €l million is being made available to further expand the adult education guidance initiative. The initiative covers a spectrum of needs ranging from initial outreach, particularly in the field of literacy and basic education, to vocational information, guidance and orientation.
The post-leaving certificate, PLC, sector caters for two distinct groups of students — young people who enter PLCs directly from second level or adults who wish to return to education to upskill and obtain certification. The increase in numbers in the PLC sector in recent years is due to the increased participation by those over 21 years, that is, by adults returning to education and partaking in lifelong learning. Certification is offered at FETAC levels five and six. We have increased the number of PLC places by 60% since 1996-97. The number of approved places in the sector now stands at just more than 30,000. There are more than 200 PLC providers located throughout the country.
Last summer, the ESRI published a report, which was commissioned by my Department, on the post-leaving certificate sector. This report provides a profile of the PLC students. It found that 72% of the students are female. This gender imbalance probably reflects greater male progression into alternative post-school education and training options, particularly the apprenticeship route. Only 35% of PLC students are in receipt of maintenance grants. Progression after completion of a PLC programme is either to higher education or directly into employment, with a 50:50 divide. Participants in PLC courses are less likely to be unemployed than most other categories of school leavers. The programme provides the students with the knowledge, skills and competence to successfully enter the workforce in their chosen specialist area or to progress to further studies in the higher education sector.
I am particularly pleased I have been able to ensure progress in the PLC sector. Provision has now been made in the Estimates which will enable my officials to table proposals and to enter into negotiations with the management and union sides in December. The aim of the negotiations will be to arrive at an agreement that will enhance the programmes and services provided. The actual scale of provision necessary in 2007 will depend on the pace and outcome of the negotiations, the implementation timescale and the scope for rationalisation and economies in the present arrangements. I look forward to a fruitful engagement by all sides on the issues involved.
I also look forward to the debate this morning in the Seanad.