ALOA AGM 2019 Celebrating 20 years

The ALOA had their annual AGM in Piper’s Hill on 9th May, 2019. At the AGM, following the Secretary and Treasurer’s reports, we thanked Tara Kelly and Margot Walsh for their outstanding work on the Executive and welcomed new members, Aidan McCloskey and Kevin Kelly. Alison Jones, as Chair, thanked all members of the Executive for their hard work over the year and briefed all ALOs present on the activities of the ALOA Executive and the national position regarding associations. The exemplary work of Marian Lynch, Adult Literacy National Co-ordinator, was also acknowledged and a presentation made to Ciarán Lynch on her behalf. There were no resolutions this year. For the first time Mentimeter was used to ask ALOS to best describe their role. Here is the result:

The event marked our 20 year anniversary as an association so was followed by a celebration of our success with presentations from ALOs past and present. Frances Ward and Pat Ayton presented their short history of Adult Literacy Provision and the foundation of the ALOA from the early days, explaining step by step all the events that have led up to the present day Literacy Service. A copy of their short book was distributed and is available to download.

Four other presentations detailed areas of success across the country and included:

  • Family Learning, Mary Flanagan LCETB
  • ESOL, Michael Donohoe, CMETB
  • Integrating Literacy and TEL for Apprentice Support, Alison Jones, GRETB,
  • Finally, A History of Adult Literacy in Donegal, presented by Adele McElhinney, captivated the audience with this short video:
Vocational Education and Training week in Brussels (November 2017)

Alison Jones, ALO from GRETB, went to Brussels to receive the special award from the EU as part of the Vocational Education and Training week in November 2017. The award was given in the category of Innovation in recognition of the project to establish literacy and numeracy supports for apprentices. The jury said that:

The jury considers the effective method of improving literacy and Math capabilities in apprenticeships a good practice. Remedying numeracy and language skills as soon as possible will foster participation in future schooling activities that are necessary for continued employability.

The support takes the form of tailored Maths assessments, Maths support classes, Study Skills using a dedicated Study and Learning Handbook for Apprentices, as well as individual study help in reading, comprehension and language as needed. Technology Enhanced Learning is also being used in the programme and new literacy friendly materials and resources developed. An ‘Ideas for Integrating Literacy’ book for craft instructors and tutors has also been produced which includes a section on TEL and Dyslexia.

A Window Into The Creative Talents Of Portlaoise Women

Live original performances of spoken word and music from a Portlaoise mother and son rounded off the launch of a special exhibition of work in the Dunamaise Arts Centre last Thursday, March 2.
‘Window of Opportunity’ is a new project comprising artwork and storytelling, showcasing the talents of eight local women, all parents of children who are attending Scoil Bhride in Knockmay.

The project was run in Scoil Bhríde Knockmay in association with the Home School Community Liaison Officer in the school and Portlaoise Further Education and Training Centre.

As part of the project, the women wrote and illustrated short books for their children.
One of the talented first-time authors, Rhona Walsh read out her work at last Thursday’s launch, which saw a huge crowd turn out despite the inclement weather.

Rhoda dedicated the story, ‘The Buddy Bench’, to her five children, and at the conclusion of the event her 16-year-old son, Curtis, performed his original track, ‘Million Dollar Shakes’. Curtis, who attends the Academy of Popular Music in Cork, represented Laois at the Irish Youth Music Awards recently, and is the youngest person ever to have played at the Electric Picnic.

Besides Rhoda, the other women involved in the project are Ellen Momo, Karla Jordan, Deirdre Redmond, Edel Phelan, Nicole Delaney, Sabrina Bowden and Nicole Redmond.

Michelle De Forge, director of the Dunamaise, said that ‘Window of Opportunity’ was a fantastic project and the Dunamaise was really excited to have the group exhibiting on the wall of the centre used to host local artists.

Giving the women and their families complimentary tickets for a forthcoming show in the Dunamaise, Michelle expressed her hope that everyone would come back to the centre often.
“The door’s always open for you,” she said.

Deirdre Delaney, home school liaison officer with Scoil Bhride, congratulated the women on their achievement, and said there were tears of joy when they handed over the finished pieces.
Praising their hard work, she said she hoped the women continued to engage with future projects.

Kathleen Dunne, Adult Literacy Organiser with Laois Offaly ETB, congratulated tutors Denise Dunne and Mary Delaney, who gave their hearts and souls for the project.

Muriel Wall-Coughlan, principal of Scoil Bhríde, received copies of the women’s books for the school, and there are also copies for the county library.

The exhibition runs at the Dunamaise Arts Centre for the month of March.


Ryan Dunne

Successful Meeting with Minister Halligan

Aoife McCormack, Chair, Tara Kelly, Vice-Chair and Alison Jones, Secretary, met with Mr John Halligan, TD, Minister for Training, Skills and Innovation in Leinster House today.



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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ALOA Website Launch

The ALOA, Adult Literacy Organisers’ Association, today launched their new website at their annual Forum which is being held in Cork. Minister of State for Training, Skills and Innovation, Mr. John Halligan, officially launched the new website at the opening of day two of the conference entitled ‘Leadership and Innovation’.

Adult Literacy Organisers work within ETBs nationwide, managing adult literacy and basic education services. The Association provides collective representation of the Adult Literacy Organisers. The new website will provide a platform for collaboration, learning and sharing practice as well as promoting excellence.

ALOA Members at New Website Launch Oct 2016