Sunday 23 September 2018

PLC courses deliver greater opportunities

John Walshe

If proof were needed about the benefits of Post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses it came in a recent report from the Economic and Social Research Institute.

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It found that PLC students were 16pc more likely to be in employment and 27pc more likely to have progressed to higher education after completing their courses than those who left education after the Leaving Certificate and had similar characteristics.

The report says there are 110 schools and colleges providing PLC courses in the country catering for more than 32,000 learners.

The number of providers is much greater than most people realise.

There are far more students in higher education - over 180,000 full time undergraduates and post graduates - in far fewer colleges, just over 40 in all.

The report acknowledges that the perceived status of PLC courses vis-a-vis higher education presents difficulties and raises challenges in creating a valued pathway catering for a range of learners.

PLCs form a significant part of the further education and training sector which the Government is anxious to develop into a world-class system.

While the majority of learners were found to be largely satisfied with their courses the researchers identified a number of shortcomings including the following:

n Over a fifth of learners report not having taken part in a work experience placement during the course of their studies.

n Almost a third felt that their learning did not contribute to their employability and a quarter considered that they did not acquire job-related knowledge and skills.

n Financial challenges constituted the single greatest difficulty for PLC students, largely because of less financial support from family and a higher incidence of caring responsibilities (compared to higher education students) which restricted their employment opportunities.

n The types of PLC courses offered have not changed markedly over time even though there has been a dramatic shift in the kinds of jobs available in the Irish labour market.

The authors say that the sector appears to be poorly connected to the requirements of the labour market. Much more needs to be done to ensure that course provision is both reflective of and responsive to labour demand, specifically for vocational labour, for those who have recently qualified.

Overall, participants in PLC programmes are disproportionately female, from less educated backgrounds, are more likely to be older and have children, and have greater special educational needs prevalence rates than their counterparts enrolling directly in higher education.

Professor Seamus McGuinness, an author of the report, said: "The findings show positive outcomes for those who have completed PLC courses. At the same time, more could be done to ensure that PLC provision responds to on- going changes in the Irish labour market. It is also important to challenge the idea that PLC courses are 'second-best' compared to higher education."

SOLAS Director General Paul O'Toole said the further education and training authority has submitted a comprehensive set of recommendations to Education Minister Richard Bruton.

It intends to set up a programme improvement group that will report regularly to the minister and to the SOLAS board on how these are being implemented and assess their impacts.

The report found that learners are almost equally divided between those taking PLC courses for skill formation - and hence employment access - and those taking them for progression to higher education. However, principals see courses as addressing multiple goals, suggesting greater potential for clarity around the orientation and purpose of specific courses.

The most commonly cited advantage of PLC provision related to the fact that it was learner-centred where small class sizes and appropriate teaching helped the students. But principals were also concerned abut the lack of overall funding, the lack of capital investment, the approach to teacher allocation and the lack of continuous professional development for teachers.

We clearly have a bit to go before we realise the dream of a world-class further education and training sector.

Sunday Independent

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