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.


For additional information, visit: or contact

Clare Family Learning Project

Here is a letter from a mother who attended an Introduction to Second Level Maths course when her children were moving into First year.


Dear Ms Flanagan

I recently attended the North Clare Opportunities Event in Ennistymon and was introduced to you by an Adult Literacy Tutor.

I first met the tutor in September of 2008 when I attended a series of evenings to introduce parents to the mathematics that their children in first year of secondary school would experience. One of my daughters had been identified as having dyscalculia and although she wasn’t due to go to secondary school until September 2009, I felt the funding may not be available 12 months on, and so I should seize the opportunity and go in September 2008. I was aghast at the detail in mathematics which my children would face and quickly realised that I would be quite useless should they ask me anything related to the course when they were doing homework. The tutor provided a number of supports that we could use once the course was over – relevant websites as well as an extremely useful book: Usborne’s Dictionary of Mathematics. These have since come in extremely useful.

However, I think one of the most useful things to come out of the course was that it caused me to assess my own position both in terms of parenting and what I could achieve when returning to the workplace. I was feeling quite inadequate and particularly out of date and out of touch with modern education. This resulted in me deciding to return to full-time education and I went on to apply for a FETAC Level 5 business course in North Clare. I took eleven modules, one of which was mathematics. The mathematics part of the course took place after Christmas, so I had plenty of time to change my mind about taking that module – the longer I had to think about it, the more determined I was not to do that part of the course. However after trying to ditch it several times, the two administrators on the course – convinced me that there was no harm in trying – and that I should just give it a go.

Day one only reinforced my view – the first subject we were to tackle was algebra – something I had completely skipped because I had a fundamental disconnect with the logic – I couldn’t follow the process and after trying in secondary school, I just gave up and said it was something I would never understand. So I just parked it, avoided any questions related to it in my exams, never went back to it and never gave it a second thought. Until the Spring of 2011.

I was delighted to get my results of the FETAC Level 5 business course and all the additional modules I tackled. But I was completely and utterly over the moon to realise I had achieved a distinction in my mathematics. For me, this was a mountain I had to climb. But the teaching was more modern, the teacher understood exactly how we felt, and I was delighted that no question I asked was too foolish – no matter how many times I asked it. Once I had learned and understood algebra, I felt the rest of the mathematics course would be less of a struggle, and I gained a huge leap of confidence from that alone.

In the autumn of 2011 I decided to take the FETAC Level 6 Business course – again in North Clare. I will happily sing the praises of the adult education facility at the school because of my own personal experience. That was the reason I was invited to the North Clare Opportunities Event to represent the adult student body of the school and I can definitely say that I am 100% more confident now than I was in September 2008 and I would certainly stand a much better chance when applying for work.

All the success I have achieved, can be directly attributed to the initial course which the Adult Literacy service ran back in 2008.

So I would like to say a huge thank you to you and the Adult Literacy Tutor for opening the door and lighting the path to what, for me, will be a much more fulfilling and rewarding future.


Kind regards,


March 2012.

MSLETB: Innovative Responses to Referrals from DSP

In February 2016, MSLETB met with DSP to explore ways to refer clients who had low levels of education or very little formal education. Through discussion, it emerged that there were very few courses for men who wanted a job. They didn’t want to study or return to education. If this group were to be engaged, it would have to be a ‘Hands On’ practical course.

The Adult Learning and Education Centre looked at apprenticeship courses at Level 5/6 that were offered in Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim. It was felt that many who applied for apprenticeships didn’t have enough grounding in maths to complete the apprenticeship phases successfully. Level 5 and 6 was a step too far for many who left school with little or no formal education.

We decided to bridge the gap between what was offered at Level 5/6 and to offer a pre-apprenticeship level. Many learners were afraid of maths but were interested in practical subjects so ALEC combined Maths QQI level 3 (3N0929) with Electrical skills QQI Level 3 (3N0527).

We started this in April 2016 and ran it until July 2016 for 6 hours per week Mondays 2-5pm and Thursdays 2-5pm for 14 weeks and based it on the ITABE model. We aimed at recruiting 6-8 men but sixteen men signed up. Twelve completed the course with two gaining employment during the course.

The class combined Maths and Electrical skills rather than having set times and days for each module. Sometimes Electrical skills were first up, followed by maths and on other days the reverse happened, depending on the particular objectives for the tutorial.

Students learned the basic concepts of electricity by taking a plug apart. Another lesson given was where two lemons, a few coins and a few nails were connected together to make a simple ‘lemon battery’ which in turn was used to power a simple kitchen clock/timer. (The tutor got a clap when the clock was seen to be working from ‘lemon power’). This simple experiment appeared to captivate students and the range of questions arising from this set the tone for the course.

Electronic kits were used and allowed the students to test different circuits that were drawn and discussed on the whiteboard. In addition to the electronic kit, students were shown a number of experiments from an ‘electricity and magnetism’ kit. This kit demonstrated the key role in /electricity and electronics.

On the maths side, there were lots of discussions on topical items, economy, budgets etc. while data collection was a practical experience where students carried out a survey of cars and the findings were examined with great interest.

Every student was very interested in electrical skills so attendance was guaranteed in the class from the outset. Students gained confidence; there was energy in the class with many questions being asked. There was integration between different nationalities with everyone helping each other. By combining subjects, boredom and lack of interest was never a problem.

Ten of the twelve have gone on to Level 4 electronics.


electronics_kit3              magnetism_kit_box


Integrating Literacy and Numeracy in GRETB Training Centre

picture1The Adult Literacy Service is active in supporting apprentices in Training Centres across the country and a number of initiatives to integrate literacy and numeracy are underway. Here in Galway we have incorporated support that aims to help apprentices with maths, comprehension and reading skills. We also support those who are in the first phase of becoming an apprentice (those who are on the job), in order to help them to prepare for phase two, which is in the centre.

Our initiatives in the centre are as follows:

Study and Learning Guide for Apprentices: this is a tailor-made workbook which covers aspects of study, taking notes, how to learn as well as exam preparation. It also gives details of what to do to get extra support. The workbook is taught as a classroom activity in three sessions and is done by all apprentices.

Drop in support: we have a dedicated room with resources on site. Apprentices can drop in or make an appointment and typically receive help with reading, taking notes and comprehension.

Maths support: Each group is assessed for maths skills at the start and following this, small group classes are offered as needed to each trade group. Topics covered are specific to those trades e.g. Ohm’s law for Motor Mechanics.

Ideas for Integrating Literacy booklet: this booklet is for instructors and is full of examples of different types of worksheets that can be used to good effect for those who are struggling with following the course texts and the theory side of their work.

Phase One: help is offered at induction stage of phase one and any apprentice can start classes in their local ABE centre. Apprentices are taking us up on this offer of help, with classes taking place in Galway, Roscommon and Castlebar to date.

Feel free to contact Alison Jones on 091 706289 or for more information on any of this.