Context, Collaboration and Key Skills: Integrating Literacy and Numeracy Support into GRETB Training Centre

Context, Collaboration and Key Skills: Integrating Literacy and Numeracy Support into GRETB Training Centre

In September 2015, one of the Adult Literacy Organisers in Galway City was transferred to the GRETB Training Centre, charged with embedding Literacy and Numeracy support into the range of apprenticeships that were on offer there. The move was guided by the FET Strategy 2014-2019, point 2.2, which aimed to ‘devise and implement a strategy to promote literacy and numeracy across FET.’ The aim of this move was to provide a system of support that would be sustainable and applicable to all Apprenticeships in the Training Centre and, of course, one that would improve exam pass rates and reduce dropout rates.
Now, in January 2017, Literacy and Numeracy support is very much part of the fabric of Training Centre. It is embedded into the apprenticeships and the apprentices see it as an intrinsic part of what is on offer. None of them needs to struggle in their studies without knowing who and where to turn to for help. It is a natural part of the service.
Work started with just a couple of groups and with a few individual apprentices to see exactly where the difficulties lay. After three months or so, the picture was clearer and these were the findings:


  • Maths difficulties: 1 in 4 (sometimes 1 in 3) out of a group of 14
  • Literacy (reading comprehension primarily): 1 in 5 (though this figure is variable depending on the group)
  • Study Skills: needed by all in each group
  • Possibility for support at Phase 1 (on the job) prior to arriving at the Training Centre (Phase 2)


So using this information, and with the help and co-operation of the instructors, the following supports were devised in response, and they are in place currently, with the collective knowledge and experience of all concerned increasing all the time.

There are four main areas of support as follows:

  1. Maths Support

In collaboration with the instructors, specific, context related maths assessments were created which are given to each group at the start of each apprenticeship attending the Training Centre. The results allow us to see not just who needs the support, but in which specific area it is needed in. (See example result sheet). Following this, a Maths support class targets these topics and the apprentices who need it. Often these sessions are just needed as ‘warm up’ classes, but in some cases additional support is needed and this is given on a one to one basis. Attendance is voluntary, but the take up is very good and very encouraging. Classes are held at the end of the day in order not to interfere with the regular classwork, with up to five classes a week going on in the centre after class.

The apprentices themselves appreciate the streamlined, targeted classes, and are well motivated, as two of them stated recently:

‘I kind of gave up on Maths at school. Now I want to learn it because it means more to me. I can see why I need it.’

‘When you know what you’re going to use it for, it makes more sense and it’s easier to learn it.’


  1. Literacy Support

Literacy skills are certainly at a higher level than those typically encountered in the Literacy service, but difficulties do exist nonetheless. Most of these centre around reading comprehension, with text books that can include complex sentences, full of technical vocabulary. In identifying who needs help, instructors play a key role, and often send any apprentice who is struggling to meet the Adult Literacy Organiser for one or more sessions. However, to avoid feelings of stigma, the whole group is informed of the availability of this support and told how and why it is offered. In this way, any apprentices with such difficulties are invited to come forward for help, with a clear reason for doing so. They work with the Adult Literacy Organiser on a one to one basis who finds bespoke solutions for learners with particular difficulties and different techniques are used with different learners. Sometimes these involve different reading techniques or word attack skills, sometime how to create glossaries, or sometimes the learners simply need to know how to create notes. At other times, technology is used, such as Quizlet, to create flashcards or the Voice Recorder app, to record notes. If there was a motto, it would be ‘no one is left behind’. There is also a separate drop in service which is open to all.


  1. Study Skills

As a natural development from the type of literacy support outlined above, it soon became apparent that all the learners would benefit from study skills, particularly ‘learning how to learn’. So, in conjunction with the Motor Mechanic instructors and their apprentices, a ‘Study and Learning Guide’ was devised and piloted. This is now an integral part of each apprenticeship course in the Training Centre. The booklet is an interactive workbook and is delivered over three half hour sessions to each group at the start of Phase 2. It is an ideal way of imparting the skills the learners need and the instructors want them to have, and also helps with establishing motivation and identifies reasons for studying. There are tips on how to prepare for exams, how to take notes and how to be organised. Having a sense of purpose is key, as two learners attest:

‘I never studied but now I study every day. Once you’re interested, you want to study. It’s like watching something you want to watch.’

‘I’m thinking how has this happened. It’s going in and not out again. This is the first time that’s happened to me.’


  1. Support at Phase One: a work in progress

With support now established in Phase 2 (in the Training Centre) it is obvious to offer support at an earlier stage as well, in Phase 1 (on the job). So at induction, when all new apprentices are registered and meet in the Training Centre for the first time, they are given an informal assessment in Maths and Reading Comprehension. Anyone who is worried about their skills’ levels can then avail of a class such as a ‘Maths for Trades’ evening class, or a class in their local Adult Basic Education Centre. To date around a dozen Phase 1 apprentices have taken us up on this offer, and it would be an ideal nationwide initiative, one that would mean that all apprentices in Phase 1 would have had the chance to warm up and brush up ahead of time if they want to, and is something that is being worked on.


Conclusions and Observations

This has been and continues to be a thoroughly worthwhile programme, and it is important to note that it is a whole centre approach, which has the full support of management, staff and instructors. All staff in GRETB Training Centre are aware of the literacy and numeracy support that is available. Literacy Tutor Training Courses have taken place in the Training Centre and have been attended by GRETB staff from other departments, including Reception, Services to Business (STB) as well as Instructors. An additional booklet, entitled ‘Ideas for Integrating Literacy into Craft Apprenticeships’ is available to all, and is full of ideas and examples on how to adapt difficult texts or concepts to make them more accessible to those with literacy/ comprehension difficulties. Dyslexia testing using the Lads Plus disk is also available. The support is holistic, as it is in Adult Basic Education, with self-confidence and self-esteem visibly improving alongside the results. Parents have contacted the Training Centre to express their gratitude and apprentices certainly appreciate the support now available. There is a sense of purpose among them. As one said: ‘School didn’t mean much to me. But this is what I want to do and I want to learn it.’


But what about the actual exam results? There is now direct evidence to show that this multifaceted support is working. This is a snapshot from 8 groups from the Motor Mechanic department, both before and after the support was available and the figures are as follows:


  Average number achieving a Merit per class  Average number being referred (unsuccessful) per class
Four groups prior to support
(October 2013-August 2015)
31.5% 31.25%
Four groups after receiving support (October 2015– September 2016) 79.25% 0%*
*no learners have failed in any of the four classes since the support was offered




Collaboration has not only taken place within GRETB Training Centre, but with other Training Centres around the country as well, and this type of support programme is being developed in an ongoing manner. There is a wide ranging sharing of materials, such as the Maths Electrical Assessment, induction materials and the Study and Learning Guide, and this certainly increases the potential to develop and improve resources for everyone to use as time goes on.

As such, this is a model that could work in any setting for any FET course, using assessments that are devised in context, with the collaboration of all concerned, and with the key skills placed at the heart of any support.


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