Clare Family Learning

Country Profile: Ireland


4.37 million

Official Languages

English and Irish

Total Expenditure on Education as % of GNP

4.7% (2005)

Access to Primary Education – Total Net Intake Rate (NIR)

Men: 98.8%
Women: 98.9%

Adult Literacy Rate (15-24 years)

PIAAC test results: percentage of adults scoring at each proficiency level in literacy (level 1 represents the lowest level of proficiency, level 5 the highest):

Below level 1: 4.3%
Level 1: 13.2%
Level 2: 37.6%
Level 3: 36.0%
Level 4: 8.1%
Level 5: 0.4%

Source: PIAAC 2012


Programme Overview

Programme TitleClare Family Learning
Implementing OrganizationClare Adult Basic Education Service
Language of InstructionEnglish
FundingDepartment of Education, Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board (LCETB)
Programme PartnersSchools, community centres, libraries, adult education centres and family resource centres
Annual Programme CostsLess than €200,000 (approximately $220,000). The annual programme cost per learner is €500 (approximately $550)
Date of Inception1994

Country Context

There is significant scope to improve adult literacy in Ireland. The OECD’s 2012/13 Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) survey ranked Ireland 17th for literacy and 19th for numeracy attainment out of 24 participating countries. Eighteen per cent of adults had a literacy level below Level 1 (on a five-point scale), which suggests that around one in six Irish adults may have difficulties in understanding written texts. On numeracy, one in four adults scored below Level 1, indicating that they struggle with simple mathematical calculations (National Adult Literacy Agency 2012). One important reason for the relatively low literacy and numeracy levels in Ireland is ‘poverty and lack of access to educational resources’ (National Adult Literacy Agency 2012). This makes families with a migrant background especially likely to have low literacy levels because they have less access to education and work than other communities within Ireland. This is especially true for migrants from non-English speaking countries and European Union new member states, who face a wage disadvantage of 20 per cent and 32 per cent respectively, compared to Irish workers. The Clare Family Learning project plays an important role in raising adult literacy rates in Ireland because it specifically serves populations such as these, which are often neglected by the mainstream educational and occupational sectors.

Programme Overview


Clare Family Learning works with parents to develop their interests, abilities and knowledge in order to help them better support and encourage their children’s educational attainment. This approach improves the literacy and numeracy of both parents and their children because it creates a bridge between home and school, and between home and adult learning opportunities. Many parents need support to take that first step into learning. Helping their children is strong motivation for parents to take part in education. Once in the classroom, they become aware of other areas where they may need to upskill, thus encouraging them to continue as lifelong learners.

The programme’s main target groups are families from migrant, low-income and Traveller backgrounds who have fewer educational and occupational opportunities than other communities. The programme plays an important role in Ireland as a leading contributor to the development of family learning. It is one of the main family learning providers in the country, while also contributing substantially to research and training in the field.

In 2014, Clare Family Learning had 400 participants, taught by 13 part-time tutors and one full-time tutor. Since 1998, one full-time coordinator has managed the project, greatly improving the reach of the programme and increasing the provision of services to learners. As a result, in 2014, Clare Family Learning provided 52 courses, on 26 different topics, in 23 locations across Clare County.

Aims and Objectives

The main aim of the Clare Family Learning project is to encourage parents to get involved in their children’s education. The programme affirms parents in their role as ‘first teacher’, supporting them in helping their children in their literacy and numeracy development. This process is beneficial to both parents and children because parents also have the chance to improve their literacy and numeracy skills through participation in the programme. Children function as the programme’s ‘hook’ in raising the educational attainment of parents because, of course, all parents want the best for their children. Through this structure, the programme tries to build a friendly and positive learning environment tailored towards the educational needs of families. The programme’s use of the term ‘family learning’, rather than ‘family literacy’, is deliberate, as it has a more holistic meaning and fewer negative connotations than ‘literacy’.

In addition, Clare Family Learning has established partnerships between families, schools and the wider community to build a broader support network for parents who have limited opportunities to access education and employment. Priority participants are single-parent families, teenage/young parents, Travellers, refugees and asylum seekers, and migrant workers, as well as carers and foster parents. Travellers make up 0.6% of the Irish population (Central Statistics Office Census 2011) and have traditionally moved in a nomadic way around the country seeking seasonal work. Education may not be valued highly by some families and there is strong discrimination against this community (Mac Gréil 1996)

The programme’s specific goals are to:

Programme Implementation

Enrolling Learners and Identifying their Needs


Clare Family Learning engages new learners through partnerships with ‘link agencies’, such as schools, social services, libraries and community groups, which connect the project with groups of parents with learning needs. To engage learners from Roma and Traveller communities, the project uses a learning champion. Clare Adult Basic Education Service has identified a need to improve outreach efforts to priority groups and young adults and to use social media to recruit new families.

As learners are enrolled, facilitators, agency staff and parents discuss which learning needs participants would like to address. This, in turn, enables the project to adjust its teaching methodologies and develop courses suited to the needs of participants. Listening to parents is essential in developing courses that address topics of interest to participants.

The programme’s tutors also recognize that listening and being responsive to parents’ needs is key. As there is the flexibility to pilot courses, learners’ feedback throughout the learning process is fundamental. Pilots can be rolled out nationally if the need arises, as it has, for example, in the case of Fun Science for Dads and Children and Learning about Project Maths, and there is no ‘off the shelf’ course, as the programme must be adjusted to the educational levels of parents and reflect their needs and interests.

Clare Family Learning develops resources in response to learners’ requests for support. The project shares its resources online, including a DVD and publications such as Family Learning in Action, which features outline plans for 20 courses with a sample plan that facilitators can develop to suit their own group’s needs.

Teaching and Learning: Approaches and Methodologies

The programme’s teaching approach incorporates a variety of methodologies, which jointly provide a vivid learning experience for participants. Teaching methodologies include small-group and paired work, and interactive sessions involving visuals, audios, clips and DVDs. Other learning methods, such as presentations, discussions, walking debates, hands-on activities and role-playing, are also used.

Teaching Content

Clare Family Learning structures its course content into five categories: Books and stories: Early years 0 – 7; Learning in the home and community; Homework and study skills; and How school works: primary/secondary. The following table lists some of the courses the programme offers (a complete list of courses can be found at

Category Course Content
Books and stories Digital stories

Create a story with art work, photographs, images and music

Family stories in a box

Create an individual mini-museum in a decorated shoe box


Develop props and games to use with a storybook

Early years 0–7 Family learning

Identify learning opportunities; talking and listening to children; spelling, reading and writing; maths

Family learning through play, rhymes and songs

Incorporate play, rhymes and songs into children’s learning

My baby and me

Improve interaction between mothers, fathers and their babies

Learning in the home and community Dads and lads

Bonding between fathers and sons through games and activities

Family cooking on a budget

Teaches inexpensive ways to prepare healthy food

Family health

How to prepare for meetings with health care providers, learning the vocabulary of health

Family learning and active citizenship

Gives an overview of the political system and how to make your voice heard

Fun things to do with your child

Joint activities in which parents and children try cooking and crafts in ways that improve literacy and numeracy skills

Money wise ideas

Help families with budgeting

Homework and study skills Family learning and Irish

Teaches Irish to parents with children in primary school to help them with their homework

Number games to make and play

Parents and children work together on school and everyday maths

How school works: primary/secondary Learning the language of school Parents learn about schools and how to interact with school staff

Settling into second-level school

Ideas and tips for parents to support their children’s progression (advancement) to second level

Teaching Materials

Parents and children learn on courses using everyday materials families have at home. These can include items such as envelopes, supermarket advertisements and other reading materials. Materials used in class also include utensils and other household items. Matching socks, for example, can become a numeracy learning activity. Resources for both parents and tutors are available online.

The Clare Family Learning project embeds information and communication technologies (ICT) in every class. The organization possesses a suite of laptops that are available for venues if needed. Smartphones also play a role during class as many participants own them and want to learn how to use them better.

Programme Structure and Process

The project operates family literacy courses in schools, community centres, libraries, adult education centres and family resource centres, as well as in other locations throughout communities. The organization partners with these institutions to offer classes close to where participants live. The programme runs in approximately 20 different locations in County Clare each year. Classes take place from September to June.

The average number of participants is kept small, at between eight and 10 parents per class, in order to allow all participants to learn at their own pace. The majority of courses are ‘parent-only courses’. However, ‘parent and child together’ courses are also available. Priority is given to parents who have not obtained a full second-level education to Level 5 or below in our National Qualifications Standard.

After taking part in family learning courses, parents have the opportunity to progress onto accredited courses offering certificates at Quality Qualifications Ireland (QQI) levels 1 to 3. These courses teach content at a level equivalent to the halfway point of secondary school and last between 20 and 25 weeks. Parents can progress to QQI Level 4 or Level 5 through the organization’s further education services. QQI courses focus on specific areas, such as catering, childcare, healthcare, business and art, and are portfolio-based at levels 1–4, with exams at Level 5.

Monitoring and Evaluation

To date, Clare Adult Basic Education Service (within which Clare Family Learning is based) has been required to provide quantitative data to the government Department of Education and Skills. Currently, at national level, the further education and training sector is looking at ways of measuring the wider benefits of learning. The organization conducts mid-course evaluation of participants to gather feedback on their progress. Tutors also use ‘progression forms’, which help keep track of participants’ progress in terms of educational, economic, personal, social and family terms.


The facilitators who work for Clare Family Learning are either full-time or part-time employees. All facilitators are well qualified, with many holding an advanced degree in their area of expertise. Before they start working with participants, every teacher is required to complete a two-day family learning training course as well as an adult literacy course. The average remuneration for facilitators is €45.25 (equivalent to US $51) per hour.

Since 2000, the organization has trained 763 family learning tutors on the basis of its Clare Family Learning Resource Pack. This has developed to include a wide range of programmes. The focus of the programme’s tutor training is on the practical implementation of family learning programmes suited to the specific needs of learners in a locality. As a result, many family learning courses emerged from Clare’s work with parents and partners.

Impact and Challenges

Impact and Achievements

Clare Family Learning has made a substantial impact at local, national and international levels. Locally, Clare Adult Basic Education Service increased its outreach to parents by connecting with agencies which promoted the services to their clients (learners). Over time, the organization developed and improved resources and training to maximize the benefits to learners, while increasing cost-efficiency at the same time.

At national level, the organization has helped achieve recognition for family learning methodologies at government level. In addition, it has developed an extensive national network of trained staff. Both nationally and internationally, Clare Family Learning disseminates knowledge and resources obtained and developed from the programme, through publications and participation in European Union (EU) funded projects and other international exchanges. For example, project staff showed participants from Norway, Sweden, Spain, Italy, Germany, Luxembourg, Estonia, Romania, Slovenia, France, England and Turkey how to implement similar family literacy projects by sharing knowledge and resources. The organization has also presented the Clare Family Learning project at international events such as the National Families Learning Summit in Houston, Texas, USA. Through these outreach efforts, the programme has been adapted for use in Sweden, Norway, Germany and other parts of Europe.

Participants improve their literacy, build their confidence, find new talents and discover a passion for learning when they participate in the programme. They also benefit from meeting new people and experiencing new cultures. Since some participants are migrants or have a Traveller community background, the classroom is a unique opportunity to form new relationships and learn about other cultures. These aspects of the programme empower participants who primarily come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Several research abstracts on the Clare Family Learning website discuss the effect of the Clare Family Learning project on participants. For example, researchers have found that the programme increases parents’ ‘understanding and knowledge about how children learn and develop cognitively, socially and emotionally’. Parents also became aware that they need to be a role model for children and create an environment at home that is conducive to learning. In addition, participants gained the confidence to take ownership of their children’s literacy attainment and to interact with school staff. The programme also has a positive effect on the mental health of participants because it gives them a reason to get out of the house, enables them to meet new people, and provides them with new experiences (Webb 2007).

Figures on learner retention show how parents progress from informal learning to QQI Level 1, up to Level 3. In 2014, 45 per cent of the learners were new, 19 per cent had stayed for one or two years, 16 per cent for between three and five years, and 20 per cent for five years or more.


Lessons Learned



Clare Adult Basic Education Service has struggled to secure financial resources for the programme. National funding for literacy programmes has stagnated since 2009 due to the economic climate in Ireland. The programme has addressed financial hardship in various creative ways, including through the numerous partnerships established over the years.

The learning materials used by parents and their children are everyday objects that can be found in learners’ homes. This brings positive results, for example learners are more likely to replicate educational activities outside the classroom if these items are already in the home.

The use of technologies also supports the sustainability of the programme. Clare Family Learning has developed and made available online several resources that are accessible to facilitators. Additionally, by including technologies that programme participants already own, such as smartphones, in the teaching-learning process, the programme not only increases learners’ participation, but takes advantage of an existing resource at no cost.


Clare Family Learning has been creative and innovative in reaching parents who are among the most isolated and disadvantaged. This non-threatening first step back into education is vital in engaging parents and can make a long-term difference both to the parents and their children.


A complete list of courses can be found at


Ms Mary Flanagan Coordinator
Adult Education Centre, Clonroad
Ennis, County Clare, Ireland
Tel: 00353 656 897 645
Fax: 00353 656 840 515

Last update: July 2015