Jim Jordan explains the comprehensive changes underway in the administration and monitoring of training and employment services for people with disabilities. Jim Jordan, Head of Vocational Training, St Augustine’s School, Blackrock, Co. Dublin


Among the recommendations of A Strategy for Equality, the 1996 Report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities, was a call for reform at national level of the administration of services providing training and employment for people with disabilities. A comprehensive reform of the National Rehabilitation Board (NRB), the setting-up of both a National Disability Authority (NDA) and a Disability Support Service were advocated.

The setting-up of the Establishment Group (1997) indicated a commitment to these recommendations. In June 1998 the Group proposed the dissolution of the National Rehabilitation Board (NRB) and the re-allocation of responsibility for training, guidance and placement to the Department of Enterprise and Employment through FÁS (the Training and Development Authority) and the Department of Health and Children through the health boards. This was adopted by government, which appointed a National Coordinating Committee to oversee its implementation.

In seeking to achieve the ‘mainstreaming’ of services, the Committee proposed that existing training programmes at level two and level three should go to FÁS and that level one programmes should be re-categorised as either vocational or rehabilitative training. It was deemed appropriate that vocational programmes be assigned to FÁS while rehabilitative programmes remained the responsibility of health boards. (Rehabilitative training was to be re-named ‘foundation training’, but there is no evidence of such a change so far.).

The new terms used to describe different categories of training have been defined thus:

Rehabilitative training focuses on the development of an individuals core life skills, social skills and basic work skills with the objective of enhancing their quality of life and general work capacity.

Vocational training is a process of bringing a person to a specified level of competence in a specific employable skill, through instruction and practice.

Prior to the dissolution of NRB, training programmes for people with disabilities consisted of five categories:

  • Department of Health direct-funded training (DOH)
  • Training Opportunities Programmes (TOPs)
  • Level 1 training
  • Level 2 training
  • Level 3 training.

These categories developed over a number of years and were influenced very much by criteria for receipt of European Social Fund (ESF) funding. In the new era of exchequer funding these categories are meaningless and will be absorbed into the new broad categorisation of either rehabilitative or vocational training.

A very positive, tangible outcome of ‘mainstreaming’ for trainees participating in vocational training programmes is the awarding of parity of training allowance with FÁS trainees. As a response to this decision, and in the interests of equality, health boards are proposing a ‘bonus’ payment of €31.75 (£25) to trainees in rehabilitative training.

Centre Accreditation

Many valued and critical functions carried out by the NRB were re-allocated upon its dissolution. Vocational guidance is now conducted by staff in local FÁS offices and by newly-appointed Guidance Officers in the health boards.

The Standard for Vocational Training (SI 95), previously used as the accreditation standard for training centres, has been replaced by The Standard for Training and Development of People with Disabilities (QA 00/01). This new standard was drawn up by FÁS as an integral part of efforts to improve quality standards in the field of training and development. It has been endorsed by the health boards and applies equally to centres offering either rehabilitative or vocational training. This new standard offers training providers a way to measure and have recognised the quality of programmes offered. It evaluates all the processes and procedures needed to provide an effective training service such as:

  • Policy standards
  • Service standards
  • Strategic plan
  • Programme design
  • Programme delivery
  • Management standards
  • Financial standards
  • Quality system.

The basic award level is ‘Approved Centre Award’, followed by ‘Centre of Excellence Award’ which requires a high level of compliance and some additional requirements. Centre accreditation is reviewed every two and four years, respectively. The accreditation body is the National Accreditation Committee (NAC), which comprises representatives of people with disabilities, training organisations, national awarding bodies, government departments and health boards, as well as IBEC and ICTU.

Sheltered work

Sheltered workshops have been in existence in Ireland since the mid-twentieth century. A Working Party is presently fulfilling the commitment made in the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness (PPF) to introduce a code of practice for the operation of sheltered workshops. It is looking particularly at workplace conditions, contractual status and remuneration of participants. The Department of Health and Children has also commenced a review of the whole area of funding for sheltered workshops.

Supported Employment

This area of service provision which is relatively new in terms of its development in Ireland is now entirely within the remit of the Department of Enterprise and Employment through FÁS. Initial funding of IR£4m (€5.08m) (increased to IR£5M/€6.35) is being allocated to groups of service providers who have formed themselves into consortia to provide a supported employment service in a particular location. This is an initiative devised to avoid duplication of services and promote cooperation rather than competition, with the ultimate benefit accruing to the service user.


The response to a crisis in mainstream education yields unplanned benefits for young people with learning disabilities.

One of my early frustrations in training young people with Learning Difficulties was the total absence of statutory acknowledgement for their achievements. Many displayed those personal skills of flexibility, reliability, motivation and respect so often lacking in their mainstream peers. Many excelled in practical tasks only to find that because they couldn’t write about it they were excluded. There was no practical assessment available –truly the island of saints and scholars, only!

For a time the only means of acknowledging achievement was to present locally devised certificates which certainly highlighted positive attributes but no doubt served to rub salt into the already smarting wound of difference. In my own situation we pursued and obtained certification from a UK awarding body. For trainees there was a double bonus. Yes, they were getting official recognition for their talents and abilities but even more importantly they were completing a rite of passage previously denied and reaping rewards of confidence and raised self-esteem.

To me it was obvious that lack of access to statutory acknowledgement through certification deprived students or trainees of much more than ‘the piece of paper’. Fortunately a decade later that situation has changed entirely. Change did not however come about as a response to the needs of those young people described above. It happened because their peers in ‘mainstream’ were beginning to fall by the wayside in an education culture that defined the Holy Grail as high academic achievement. Those for whom this did not suit were voting with their feet and dropping out of the system. Their needs had to be met. So it was that Youth Reach came into existence as a service the National Council for Vocational Awards (NCVA) devised modules of a practical nature which were evaluated on the basis of a portfolio of work done at the students pace rather than in a terminal examination. These modules were graded from a foundation or entry level through level one, two and three.

Other initiatives such as Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) emerged to facilitate a more hands-on, experiential type of learning.

At last access to education and training with its’ consequent acknowledgement of achievement was also a reality for those students/trainees described above.

Recent developments in the field have resulted from the passing of the Qualifications Act 1999. Under the Act the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland (NQAI) was established. Reporting to the Department of Education and Science its’ main function is to establish and maintain a National framework of qualifications from primary to higher level. It is charged with promoting transfer and progression from one programme to another for the learner. In an effort to put structure on the National certification system two awarding bodies were established:

  • Further Education and Training Awards (FETAC)
  • Higher Education and Training Awards (HETAC)

FETAC is now the awarding body for modules previously certified by NCVA; FÁS, TEAGASC, and CERT. When the National framework is established it is planned to align Irish qualifications with wider European ones to facilitate free movement of people.