Inclusion is one of the core strategic goals for my Department, and my ambition is to ensure that we provide supports and opportunities for learning to all. This means recognising the needs of vulnerable learners, people who are most marginalised and people with special and additional needs. This means assisting people in accessing and progressing through higher and further education and training. The further education and training (FET) sector is committed to increasing levels of inclusion through the provision of high quality, more accessible and flexible education and training programmes and supports suited to the identified needs of individuals, including persons with a disability.
There is ongoing engagement and monitoring in relation to provision and support within FET, including for persons with a disability, through the Strategic Performance Agreement process between SOLAS and the 16 Education and Training Boards. SOLAS is also currently overseeing an independent evaluation of Specialist Training Provision programme, which provides training for persons with a disability with higher support needs, to examine the quality, effectiveness, on-going relevance and overall value of training that is currently delivered by specialist training providers, and to propose any recommendations for future practice. A number of websites have been developed to assist prospective students to choose the course that best suits their needs. “Fetchcourses”
(www.fetchcourses.ie/) was developed by SOLAS in partnership with Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI) and other Further Education and Training providers as a Further Education and Training Course Hub. The Right Course
(www.gov.ie/en/campaigns/f205a-the-right-course/#) provides details on course and training opportunities available, including information on grants, other financial supports and career guidance.
The Action Plan for Apprenticeship 2021 – 2025 was launched in April 2021. The plan includes a target of 10,000 new apprentice registrations per annum across the further and higher education sectors by 2025. One of the five unambiguous objectives in this plan is ‘Apprenticeship for all’, meaning that the profile of the apprenticeship population will more closely reflect the profile of the general population. On March 24, I launched the National Apprenticeship Alliance. The Alliance will have an advisory role in relation to the development of the apprenticeship system and will oversee and sanction the development of new apprenticeships over the coming years. There are plans to establish an equity of access subgroup of the National Apprenticeship Alliance which will look at addressing underrepresentation on apprenticeships from groups such as: socio economically disadvantaged, Travellers and Roma, migrants, persons with disabilities and women.
In addition, shortly I will bring proposals to Government on how we increase the number of people with an intellectual disability engaging in higher education. I believe that my Department can and is playing a leading role in terms of improving opportunities for people with disabilities.
My Department will continue to play its part in improving opportunities for persons with disabilities to engage in education, undertake apprenticeships and gain meaningful employment.