Frequently Asked Questions
Click on the plus symbol (+) to see the answer to each question.
The Back to Education Allowance (BTEA)
The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection administers the Back to Education Allowance. This financial support is for those hoping to do an approved full-time education course. The course must lead to a higher qualification on the National Framework Qualifications (NFQ) other than that already held.
There are two options available:
- Second level option
- Third level option
Second Level Option (SLO)
You can attend a second level course of education at any community, comprehensive, secondary or vocational school.
The course must be full-time and lead to a certificate recognised by the Department of Education and Skills or approved by QQI (formerly FETAC), e.g. Junior Cert., Leaving Cert., Post Leaving Cert or foundation/access courses at Universities or Institutes of Technology or a City and Guilds Certificate.
Third Level Option (TLO)
You can attend a third level course of education at any university, third level college or institution, provided that the course is a full-time day course of study and is approved.
A single Student Grant Scheme replaced the 4 main support schemes for students. Student grants are divided into maintenance grants, fee grants and the postgraduate contribution. A maintenance grant is a contribution towards the student’s living costs. A fee grant can cover all or part of a student’s tuition fees (unless covered by the Free Fees Scheme).
There is detailed information on the range of grants and funds for students in further and higher education on the website www.studentfinance.ie.
Payment on the Back To Education Allowance (BTEA)
The Back to Education Allowance will only be paid for the 9-month academic year for those in receipt of Jobseekers payments. It is NOT payable for the 3- month summer period between academic years. BTEA participants who are unable to find employment during the summer period may be entitled to claim a jobseeker payment. They will be required to satisfy the normal qualifying conditions.
People getting a Back to Education Allowance cannot work full-time and are not eligible for Community Employment, Social Economy Programme, Tús, Rural Social Scheme, any other FET or Fáilte Ireland training programmes, Part-time Job Incentive Scheme or any other employment or training scheme or programme operated by the National Learning Network.
People getting a Back to Education Allowance are not eligible for Working Family Payment (WFP).
Who is eligible for the Back To Education Allowance (BTEA)?
You will be eligible for the Back to Education Allowance if you are:
- Aged 21 or over and in receipt of one of the qualifying payments, or
- Aged 18 or over and in receipt of a (specified) disability payment, or
- Aged between 18 and 21 years of age and out of formal education for at least two years,
- Awarded Statutory Redundancy payment and are entitled to one of the qualifying Social Welfare payments
Assessment of income from part-time employment
Since the 2016/2017 academic year, people getting BTEA who take up work during the academic year will be assessed under the rules (including means assessment) that apply to their primary payment - the payment they qualified for BTEA from. This only applies to new applicants or people who return to BTEA after a break.
The COVID Pandemic Unemployment Payment (CPUP)
The Government announced under the July Jobs Stimulus that access to the Back To Education Allowance will be extended to people in receipt of CPUP. This means that time spent on CPUP will be considered as part of the qualifying period towards the BTEA.
to see what the qualifying conditions are visit https://www.gov.ie/en/service/418e3f-back-to-education-allowance/
Based on information from the Department of Education that can be found HERE, a number of key decisions were made about the 2020 Leaving Certificate.
The decision has been taken to postpone Leaving Certificate 2020 and to offer students a system of Calculated Grades.
Calculated grades will be offered to students completing Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) or Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) in 2020. The calculated grades process will apply for the Link Modules of the LCVP. LCA students will be provided with calculated grades for subjects, tasks and vocational specialisms due to be completed in 2020.
Further advice and information on how these decisions were taken is available at: www.education.ie/covid19
For more up to date information, one-to-one support and professional guidance counselling from your local free, confidential, impartial Adult Education Guidance Service in relation to finding your learning pathway please Click Here
Every year thousands of adults across Ireland return to education, many of them succesfully apply to do third level courses in universities and colleges. Third level education is becoming increasingly accessible to adults on both a full-time and a part-time basis.
Many colleges and universities hold information events for people who want to study as mature students. One Step Up has a calendar of events that run throughout the year.
Third-level colleges reserve a small number of places specifically for learners known as 'mature students' who want to participate in full-time day programmes. If you are over 23 you can apply for one of these places. This means that you will compete for your place on a different basis to those who are just leaving school. The number of places reserved for mature students are limited, however, so it is likely that you will still have to compete with your peers. Generally, you are considered to be a mature student if you are at least 23 years of age on January 1 of the year you enter your course. If you are interested in a particular college you should check how it defines a mature student.
If you opt for a full-time course in this way, you will be expected to attend classes or lectures every day and you will be assessed in the same way as the other students on your course. However, if the full-time model does not suit you, there are other options available, including part-time courses, modular programmes and distance learning.
If you choose to study on a part-time or modular basis, you can spread your studies over a number of years. This gives you the opportunity to organise your time and to study in bursts when it is most convenient for you. It has the obvious drawback that it will take longer to complete than a full-time course, but it also has the advantage that it allows you to work at your own pace, gradually building credits towards your qualification.
University access programmes
University access programmes aim to increase the participation of under-represented groups at third-level. They do this by supporting young adults and mature students to study at third-level colleges. Students attending access or foundation courses that are on the Department of Education’s approved list of post-leaving certificate courses may be eligible for funding under the Student Grant Scheme. However, students attending a foundation or access course in any other college or university will not be eligible for funding. An access or foundation course is considered to be a second-level course for the Back to Education Allowance. You should check your options around access programmes with the university of your choice or local Education and Training Board.
How to apply
In order to apply for a third-level course as a mature student, you should first contact the college of your choice directly and send them an up-to-date curriculum vitae (CV). Some colleges require you to apply through the Central Applications Office and you must apply before 1 February of the year you start your course. You will be in competition with other mature students for a place on the course so make sure to include as much detail as possible regarding your educational background, work experience and other interests. If your CV gets through the first part of the application procedure, you will be called for interview. At this point, you may be asked to bring along work that shows your aptitude for the course in question or you may be required to sit an aptitude test.
You can find detailed information about college requirements and supports for mature students in the Mature Student Directory of Irish Third-Level Institutions (pdf).
To apply you can contact the Central Applications Office
Opening Hours: Office Hours 9:30-17:00
Tel: (091) 509 800
eCollege is a SOLAS-funded online training facility that provides a range of high quality interactive online learning courses, available any time through broadband Internet access, for those who wish to learn at their own pace.
eCollege courses are temporarily being made available free of charge as an additional support to those impacted by Covid-19 containment measures.
Why Choose eCollege?
eCollege is a leading learning platform that delivers online training courses in business, project management, information technology, graphic design, web design, digital marketing, software development and basic computer literacy.
To find out more Click Here
The Open University in Ireland
The UK's Open University (OU) in Ireland is home to more OU students than any other country, outside of Britain. So, whether you want to develop your career to a senior level, research a subject or become a specialist in your field, The Open University offers a wide range of world-class programmes that are taught in English and can fit around your other commitments.
- 10 study centres nationwide
- Over 5,000 students and 250 qualifications
- 279 tutors across Ireland
- Qualifications aligned to the National Framework of Qualifications in Ireland
- Local advisers at our centre in Dublin on hand to help
Qualifications range from certificates, diplomas and short courses to undergraduate and postgraduate degrees: View courses
Whether you’re new or returning to education, Open University Access Courses are designed to build confidence and equip you with all the study skills you’ll need to progress successfully.
For those with little or no experience of third level education the ‘Can I do it?’ section on the Open University website addresses questions around what is required to study and what supports are available: http://www.open.ac.uk/courses/do-it
The free module ‘Am I ready for distance learning?’ is also very useful for prospective students to complete: https://www.open.edu/openlearn/education-development/am-i-ready-be-distance-learner/content-section-0
Whether you want to develop your career to a senior level, research a subject or become a specialist in your field, The Open University offers a wide range of world-class programmes that are taught in English and can fit around your other commitments. The Open University does not ask for entry requirements for the majority of its degree programmes which can greatly benefit those with little or no experience of formal education.
The Open University in Ireland has an office in Dublin:
off Merrion Square North
Telephone: +353 1 678 53 99
Due to the COVID-19 health emergency Leaving Certificate 2020 has been postponed. For more information Click Here.
For more up to date information, one-to-one support and professional guidance counselling about what your options are in relation to the Leaving Certificate from your free, confidential, impartial and nearest Adult Education Guidance Service please Click Here
- Education and Training Boards (ETBs) are the main providers of education and training and offer Leaving Certificate courses in a number of ETB colleges. There are also a number of private colleges offering Leaving Certificate courses. You can search for courses on the online database of Further Education and Training Courses www.fetchcourses.ie
- Enrolment takes place from the beginning of August to mid-September each year, depending on the college. The cost of doing the Leaving Certificate varies. ETB colleges are the less expensive option, however check with your local ETB to see what exact costs are involved. If you choose a private college the cost is considerably higher.
- You should contact your local Adult Education Guidance Service based in the ETB if you are thinking of doing your Leaving Certificate. To find contacts for your local Adult Guidance Service click here.
Finding A Course
To search for Leaving Certificate courses visit: www.fetchcourses.ie
For advice on Leaving Certificate options contact the Adult Education Guidance and Information Service based in your
local ETB; for more Click Here
AHEAD is an independent non-profit organisation working to creative inclusive environments in education and employment for people with disabilities. The main focus of their work is further education and training, higher education and graduate employment.
AHEAD provides information to students and graduates with disabilities, teachers, guidance counsellors and parents on disability issues in education. Below are some useful links that can be found at www.ahead.ie
- Subject Choice
- Your CAO Application
- Dare & Other Routes
- Accessing College FAQs
- Into??? - Tips Series for Students
- Your Disability or Access Service
You can contact AHEAD with your query by Clicking Here
The National Learning Network (NLN) provides a range of flexible training courses for people who have experienced a setback, have had an accident, a mental health issue, an illness, injury or have a disability and extra support needs. work with people who experience health conditions, illness, disability, mental health difficulty, trauma, addiction, economic isolation or challenging life circumstances. We support people to make successful transitions, whatever their stage in life. We can help with transition from school to the adult environment, with access to vocational training, support with getting a job, recovery and wellness, improving people’s health, enhancing quality of life and achieving successful inclusion in the community.
Education tailored to meet your needs
National Learning Network has a wide range of training and further education training programmes that can open the door to exciting new careers and employment opportunities for you. From business and computer skills, through to graphic design, art and leisure studies, National Learning Network has the course where you can achieve your full potential. Our courses offer a variety of awards including QQI (Level 1-6), ECDL, MOS and City & Guilds. National Learning Network facilitates students to recognise previous learning in order to gain a credit towards a full award.
To find a course or get more information please Click Here
Back to Education Initiative (BTEI)
The BTEI provides part-time courses, aimed at those who have not completed their Leaving Certificate. It gives individuals the opportunity to combine a return to learning with family, work and other responsibilities. Anyone who has left full-time education can take part in a course, but priority will be given to those with less than upper second level education.
You can also take part in BTEI if you are working and on a low income. The aim is to give people an opportunity to combine their learning with family, work and other commitments.
The participants eligible for free tuition are people who (or their dependants):
- Have less than upper-second level education or
- Are getting a jobseeker’s payment or means-tested social welfare payment (there is a list of eligible payments in the BTEI Operational Guidelines (pdf)) or
- Are getting Working Family Payment (formerly knows as Family Income Supplement or
- Have a medical card or
- Are eligible to participate on VTOS or Youthreach.
All other participants are charged a fee. For information about fees, you should contact your local Education and Training Board.
Further Education Colleges also offer full-time and part-time Leaving Certificate options.
If you are looking for a specific Leaving Certificate subject check with the Adult Education Guidance and Information Service based in your local ETB, to find out if the subject(s) you require are offered. If not, they advise you further.
A number of private colleges offer the Leaving Certificate programme and you may consider applying as an external applicant. For more information Click Here.
How to apply
For further information on BTEI options in your area, contact the Guidance Officer at your local Education and Training Board (ETB) and the local Adult Guidance Service. You can also search for courses funded by Solas near you on the Further Education and Training Course Hub .
Where to apply
Apply to your local Education and Training Board.
If you would like to work, while also getting a qualification,
an apprenticeship may be a good option. There are a variety
of apprenticeships on offer from traditional crafts (Carpentry,
Electrical, Toolmaking, and Motor) to new apprenticeships in
Insurance Practice and Industrial Electrical Engineering. The
new apprenticeships are very flexible and range from two to
four years. Traditionally, an apprenticeship received a NFQ level
6 award but newer apprenticeships are offered from levels 5 to
9 on the NFQ.
Apprenticeships are managed by SOLAS. Craft apprenticeships
are a partnership between employers, trade unions and
What do I need to become an apprentice?
Depending on the apprenticeship there will be different entry
• At least Junior Certificate (or equivalent) but many require
Leaving Certificate (or equivalent)
• For some craft apprenticeships you will be required to pass
a colour vision test
• A pre-apprenticeship course or at least three years’
relevant work experience approved by SOLAS, may also be
• You must be employed in your chosen occupation with an
approved employer. A bursary is available to employers who
recruit females into designated apprenticeships
How do I apply?
Search for an apprentice position on www.jobsireland.ie or
contact the apprenticeship section in your local Education and
Visit www.apprenticeship.ie for contact details.
WITNI is an independent grassroots initiative that celebrates working Irish tradeswomen and those seeking careers in the skilled trades. Visit www.witni.ie
- For more information on apprenticeships contact the apprenticeship section in your local Education and Training Board. For contact details of your local ETB see Contact.
The Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS) is a second chance education and training programme which provides courses of up to two years duration for unemployed people.
Am I Eligible for the VTOS?
If you are over 21 years of age, are unemployed and have been getting certain social welfare payments for at least 6 months you can apply for the Vocational Training and Opportunities Scheme (VTOS). This scheme provides a range of courses to meet the education and training needs of unemployed people. It gives participants opportunities to improve their general level of education, gain certification, develop their skills and prepare for employment, self-employment and further education and training.
VTOS is operated through local Education and Training Boards and is aimed in particular at unemployed people who are early school-leavers.
What kinds of courses are available?
The courses range from basic education and training to advanced vocational training and there is a wide choice of subjects. The courses are full-time, about 30 hours a week (for example, 6 hours a day for 5 days) and can last up to 2 years. Many courses lead to qualifications such as the Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate and awards at Levels 3, 4, 5 and 6 on the National Framework of Qualifications. You can find a list of VTOS courses on the Qualifax website.
How to apply
You can participate in the VTOS scheme in one of the following ways; you can be either:
- A core VTOS student - that is, attending a VTOS centre or adult education centre or
- A dispersed VTOS student, usually attending a Post-Leaving Certificate course in a further education college.
There is a list of frequently asked questions about VTOS on the Qualifax website. Contact the VTOS co-ordinator at your local VTOS centre to find out more about the VTOS courses available.
If you don't know your local ETB you will find it on the Education and Training Boards Ireland website.
The Further Education and Training Course Hub (FETCH) is a website for adults, including early school leavers, in or out of work, to search for Further Education and Training courses. This includes full-time, part-time and online courses which are provided by a wide variety of schools, organisations and institutions. The website allows you to search for courses by keyword, location and category.
- Intreo, the point of contact for people who are unemployed, established by the Department of Social Protection has caseworkers available to inform you about upskilling and retraining options that you may be eligible for.
- The Adult Education Guidance Service based in your local Education and Training Board may also be able to assist you.
- fetchcourses.ie provides a full listing of all Further Education and Training courses available in Ireland. This includes full-time, part-time and online courses which are provided by a wide variety of schools, organisations and institutions.
- Further upskilling or education and training initiatives include Springboard, Momentum and the ICT conversion courses. Courses are offered at different times of the year, so you should visit their websites regularly for information.
- eCollege provide online courses for job ready individuals who require training to assist them to re-enter the labour market. Courses are available free of charge to unemployed clients or (for a fee) to employed individuals who wish to update their skills.
- www.qualifax.ie is the National Learner’s database of courses across the country. You can search for a course by subject, institution, qualification or location.
Special Needs Assistant Scheme
The Special Needs Assistant (SNA) scheme supports teachers in meeting the care needs of children with special educational needs, arising from a disability. Almost 35,000 students with additional care needs, such as autism, are supported by more than 14,000 SNAs to attend school each day. There is one SNA for every 2.48 students accessing SNA support.
What is a Special Needs Assistant (SNA)?
A SNA is a term used by the Department of Education and Skills to describe someone who works in primary or secondary school classrooms or special schools, assisting children with everyday practical tasks. This can include helping with activities like clothing, feeding, and mobility. It is not the role of the SNA to teach pupils or provide educational support, as SNAs are not qualified teachers. All pupils, particularly those with special educational needs, must be taught directly by a class teacher. However this year a review carried out by the National Council Special Education (NCSE) found that SNAs could play a greater role in helping students with their learning needs in the future. SNAs provide care support to children who are assessed as needing assistance to attend school. They are not appointed as a personal assistant to the individual child. SNAs are a school based resource and usually support a number of other children with care needs in the school.
How do I become a Special Needs Assistant (SNA)?
The minimum qualification necessary for appointment as a Special Need Assistant is an award of Grade D (or pass) in Irish, English and Mathematics in the Intermediate Certificate/Junior Certificate or the Day Vocational Certificate Examination however more and more schools are seeking people with a certificate in Special Needs Assistant Training Combined Level 5 & 6. Students are required to do work experience during the course if they are not already working in the area. Students may also need to obtain Garda Vetting on commencement of the course. Formal training in areas such as first aid and health and safety can support an individual’s application to work as an SNA.
Where do I find courses?
The Education and Training Board (ETB) provide a range of courses in this area which provides the learner with knowledge, skills and competence to work in a special needs setting. To find courses offered in your local area visit www.fetchcourses.ie or you can search on the Association of Teachers’ Education Centres in Ireland.
How much does it cost?
Courses are full-time and part-time, with some full-time courses running through the academic year from September to June. The cost of completing the course can vary, depending on where you do the course. Courses offered through the Education and Training Board take into account individual financial circumstances for example, for those who are unemployed or on a medical card.
Where can I find a SNA Job?
School Boards of Managements are responsible for the recruitment and employment of all SNAs. Sometimes SNA vacancies are advertised locally or on one of the following websites:
Many people are unsure of where to start when returning to education and often the first step is the hardest. The Adult Education Guidance and Information Services delivered by the Education and Training Boards (ETBs) provide information and guidance on learning options. The service:
Supports people to explore their Further Education and Training (FET) options while developing a personal progress plan
- May offer support regarding dyslexia and psychometric testing
Provides one-to-one educational guidance, information on local and national courses, help with college applications and information on funding sources
Is available to people over 18 years of age (and to those over 16 years, who are not in full-time education)
Gives priority to those who are currently unemployed
- Provides a professional service that is free and confidential
- If you are unemployed then you may contact your local Employment Services / Intreo, the point of contact for people who are unemployed, established by the Department of Social Protection who will help to inform you about your options.
www.fetchcourses.ie is a website for adults, including early school leavers, in or out of work, to search for Further Education and Training courses.
- CareersPortal which is an online resource, includes lots of articles and information for people who are in transition and looking for guidance.
What is Safe Pass?
- Safe Pass is a Health and Safety Awareness Training provided under the SOLAS Safe Pass Programme
- Construction workers must hold a valid Safe Pass Registration Card
- On completion of a Safe Pass course SOLAS give a registration card to those who successfully complete the course
- This card shows employers that the card holder has attended a formal course in health and safety awareness
Where do I find a course?
There are over 100 providers of Safe Pass courses listed on the SOLAS website. These providers offer public courses and courses specifically run for an employer/company.To find a list of course providers;
- Visit http://trs.solas.ie/
- Enter ‘Safe Pass’ into the search engine to find a list of providers
- For more information and contact details click on ‘Prog. Code’
How much does it cost?
The cost of a Safe Pass course is €100-€120. If you are unemployed SOLAS maybe able to provide support. Also your employer may be able to fund this training. There is further information on the SOLAS website here or call 01 5332310 / 01 533 2500.
- Education and Training Boards co-ordinate many of the courses happening in your area. Short courses catering to different interests ranging from languages, IT, yoga and creative writing are available depending on demand. You may have to pay a small fee to participate in one of these courses. You can search the Further Education and Training Course Hub to find courses www.fetchcourses.ie
- You should also look in your local community centre, Family Resource Centre or local area partnership as they may also organise courses at different times of the year. Your local library, local Active Retirement Association or Age Action may also provide you with informal and formal learning opportunities.
- You could also try volunteering. Volunteering often offers new, informal learning opportunities as well as the chance for you to share your skills with others. Visit http://www.volunteer.ie/ to find a volunteer centre near you.
- Remember that most courses begin recruiting in January and September each year, so keep an eye out for open days and opportunities on the One Step Up Calendar.
- Many of the Education and Training Boards offer English for Speakers of other languages (ESOL) or English for Beginners classes. To find contacts for your local Adult Guidance Initiative or ETB visit OneStepUp.ie. or contact our Freephone Helpline on 1800 303 669.
- Alison.com provide a wide range of free online courses. They offer English language courses including Conversational English and Speaking and Writing English. For more information visit www.alison.com
- Write On is an online programme by NALA to help you improve your reading, writing and spelling of the English language.
www.fetchcourses.ie provides a full listing of all Further Education and Training (FET) courses available in Ireland. The website allows you to search for courses by keyword, location and category.
- Apprenticeships are workplace and classroom training programmes for employed people aimed at developing the skills of the apprentice to meet the needs of industry and the labour market.
- For more information on apprenticeships please visit www.apprenticeship.ie
- To apply for an apprenticeship contact the apprenticeship section of your local ETB here
- The Education and Training Boards provide a wide range of courses ranging from basic and second chance education ,accredited education and training courses as well as taster and hobby courses. To find contacts for your local Adult Guidance Initiative or ETB click here.
www.fetchcourses.ie The Further Education and Training Course Hub (FETCH) is a website for adults, including early school leavers, in or out of work, to search for Further Education and Training (FET) courses.The Further Education and Training Course Hub (FETCH) provides a full listing of all Further Education and Training courses available in Ireland. This includes full-time, part-time and online courses which are provided by a wide variety of schools, organisations and institutions. The website allows you to search for courses by keyword, location and category.
- Qualifax.ie is the National Learner’s Database where you can find a list of all courses that are taking place in Ireland. Before deciding on a course check that the course is accredited under the National Framework of Qualifications.
- Springboard offer free, part-time higher education courses at certificate, degree and masters level. Courses are targeted towards people employed in areas experiencing structural unemployment.
- To qualify you must be in receipt of an unemployed payment however no qualifying period applies. Courses are suited to people who have work experience but need a third level qualification to upskill. To apply visit www.springboardcourses.ie or Freephone 1800 303 523 (May to September)
- The 33 former VECs have been amalgamated to form 16 new Education and Training Boards. FÁS has been dissolved and the training delivery functions of FÁS have transferred to the new Education and Training Boards. The Education and Training Boards will be responsible for the delivery of Further Education and Training. SOLAS , the new Further Education and Training Authority will focus on planning, funding and driving the development of a learner focused integrated Further Education and Training sector.
- Reform has also taken place within the Department of Social Protection, with the establishment of the new Intreo services. Intreo aims to provide a one stop shop for people on the live register, including advice and information about education and training.
- The Quality and Qualifications Ireland has also been established which brings together former awarding bodies FETAC, HETAC and NQAI. Existing qualifications will be awarded during this transition time.
The EU Agenda for Adult Learning outlines how co-operation between EU member states will take place from 2012 through to 2020, and outlines member states commitments to five priorities:
- Making lifelong learning a reality.
- Improving the quality and efficiency of education and training.
- Promoting equity, social cohesion and active citizenship through adult learning.
- Enhancing the creativity and innovation of adults and their learning environments.
- Improving the knowledge base on adult learning and monitoring the adult learning sector.
The One Step Up project is managed by AONTAS who have been assigned the role of National Coordinator for the implementation of the European Agenda for Adult learning.