19 Aug 2022

Q & A: Chief executive of Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board looks to the future

Q & A: Chief executive of Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board looks to the future

George O’Callaghan of the Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board

Tell us a little about the Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board (ETB).

We are one of the biggest employers in the region with more than 2,500 staff. We are the local education authority for Limerick and Clare. It was formed in 2013 with the amalgamation of the Vocational Educational Boards (VECs): Co Limerick VEC, Limerick City VEC and Co Clare VEC. We cater for about 35,000 learners and students across the region. Between our 18 post-primary schools and primary schools, we’d have around 13,000 students.

Added to that, we have 23,000 learners in our further and adult education courses between apprenticeships, career traineeships and a range of other courses like the Vtos programmes. We have quite a reach across the region from the north of Clare to the west of Limerick, and also people-wise in terms of the number of learners we reach. We have an annual budget of €170m, and an investment of €130m in the region. In Limerick, we’d invest approximately €90m each year.

What does your role entail?

My role is to manage and oversee the work of the staff of the ETB. For that, I have a strong support team in terms of our three directors in the schools division headed by Donncha O' Treasaigh, our further education and training division headed up by Paul Patton and our organisation support and development division headed by Shelagh Graham. Across the board, our staff work very diligently to provide the service to the students. They are our main focus, and the ones we do all this work for.

Tell us about some of the projects the ETB is involved in.

We are the client for the new primary school in Monaleen, worth about €12m. Plus we have major projects in Mungret, the new school there which is about €30m to build, and the Gaelcholaiste in Clare Street. Up to 2025, 65,000 new school places are needed, and within this region, 3,500 extra places are needed, which is why there is a huge expansion in new school builds. But added to that, we need to refurbish existing school buildings. We have also in each of our post-primary schools, we have special educational needs units. We’ve taken the view we should provide for this across the region.

There is a huge demand for apprentices. What are you doing in response to this?

Within our further education and training programme, we deal a lot with apprentices, and we are further expanding that in the coming years to meet the huge demand there is for apprentice places across the region. We have established new units in the LEDP building in Roxboro for the Nzeb and retrofitting. We are meeting the demand of government policy in regard of climate change. These units will train people in industry to be skilled enough to retrofit houses.

Where were you born and raised?

I was born and raised in Quin, Co Clare. Now I live near Parteen with my wife and two children Conor, 9, and Mary, who is 18.

What is your educational background?

I attended St Flannan’s College in Ennis before studying at University College Cork where I qualified as a teacher.

How did you get to where you are today?

I taught for a number of years in the St Nessan’s Community College here in Limerick before I became principal of St Mary’s secondary school in Newport. Following that, I became the general secretary of the joint managerial body based in Dublin with responsibility for around 400 voluntary secondary schools nationwide. About 20 years ago, I came back to Clare as chief executive of the Co Clare VEC. In the 2013 amalgamation, I subsequently became chief executive of the Limerick and Clare ETB.

What made you want to work for the VEC, then the ETB?

What attracted me was the wide range of different services on offer between managing schools, plus adult and community education provision as well. It provided a good deal of variety on my career path. In terms of the ETB, the attraction is the wide range of services we provide and the impact we are having regionally. It’s provided huge added value to the region.

What are your goals for the ETB for the next 12 months?

Our immediate goal is to continue to provide an excellent education service, provide more spaces for apprentices. To create opportunities for those to upskill in the region. To provide the skills base that industry needs in the region, and also part of our goal within the building programme would be to provide as many extra places for students to meet the demand there over the next couple of years particularly on the post-primary side.

In the education sector, is there anyone you look up to?

The former chief inspector of the Department of Education and Skills, whom I worked with when I was a principal of St Nessan’s Community College, and that’s Eamon Stack, who was very instrumental in inspiring me to get into the educational management side of things and who had a brilliasnt career in terms of principal of St Nessan’s, but subsequently as chief inspector, he made that section fit for purpose and created a very modern inspectorate over the years.

Are you guided by any particular motto?

It’s to provide the best service possible. Our focus is always on students and learners, and that’s what all of our background and support works towards. People are our focus.

Away from work, what are your pastimes and hobbies?

I enjoy cycling. With two children, my hobbies are limited though!

I have to indulge in a bit of hurling and football on the side. Reading would be my main passion, and I am a keen follower of Clare hurling. I admit also to have a liking for Formula One racing!

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