Returning to education

Adult learners returning to education

You may have left school early, be unemployed or want to reskill for a new job.

No matter your reason for wanting to return to education, there are many options available to you and a range of supports.

You can return to education with a full-time course or a part-time course.

This page provides information about returning to education and the organisations providing support. You can find out more about further education and training courses.

You can also Freephone AONTAS on 1800 303 669 for advice.

Courses with low or no entry requirements

You don't need to have a Junior Certificate or Leaving Certificate to take part in many full-time courses or part-time courses.

There are adult literacy supports to help with reading, writing and maths. There are opportunities to study for the Leaving Certificate or other certificates. There are also a wide range of courses linked to business and industry.

Many courses are provided by your local Education and Training Board.

You may also qualify for a free course under the Back to Education Initiative (BTEI).

Evening classes

Evening classes can offer you a social way to learn or to get a qualification.

Evening classes take place during term time in Education and Training Boards (ETBs), schools, colleges and universities throughout the country. The courses on offer vary from centre to centre so it is worth looking around if you have a particular interest you would like to pursue.

Courses with an entry requirement

Some courses are only open to you if you have completed your second-level education (post-primary school). However, you should check the with the school or college as some courses make exceptions for mature students and people returning to education.

Courses with an entry requirement can include Post-Leaving Certificate courses and college-based training courses for apprentices, as well as Springboard and full-time and part-time third-level courses.

Can I get a qualification with adult education?

Yes. Many courses offer a qualification.

Getting a qualification is not always a goal for learners, but you can get advice from your local ETB.

The National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) outlines the levels of qualifications across the Irish education and training system. It shows how you can move from informal education (starting with a part-time course or evening class) to further education and then to higher education.

Help for adults returning to education

Education and Training Boards

Education and Training Boards (ETBs) are the main providers of adult education, through local schools and colleges. It also provides a list of Adult Guidance Services.

The right course

You can get also get more information on courses, how to access them and the financial supports available on the therightcourse website.


Qualifax has a database of all further education courses. It also provides the information you need to make an informed choice about your education, training and career path.

Adult educational guidance and information

The Adult Educational Guidance and Information Service provides free career and education guidance to adults who want to return to education and training. This service is available to everyone over 18 and people over 16 who are not in full-time education. It prioritise people who are unemployed.

The service is confidential and you can get one-to-one guidance or group guidance to help you make an informed decision about your education, career and life choices


AONTAS (the Irish National Association of Adult Education) provides adult education and lifelong learning. AONTAS has an information and referral service to make the adult learner's first encounter with education as easy as possible.

The AONTAS One Step Up website helps all adults to enhance their learning by promoting access to learning opportunities.

It provides:

National Adult Literacy Agency

The National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) helps adults with literacy difficulties.

NALA can help you improve your reading, writing, maths or use of technology. You can learn with NALA in a group, one-to-one, online or over the phone.

You can contact NALA on Freephone 1800 20 20 65 or text LEARN to 50050 and they will call you back.

You can also use their website Learn with NALA to get a qualification up to Level 3.

Guide for mature students

Check out the Mature Students Ireland website for information on admission requirements for higher education.

National Centre for Guidance in Education

The National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE) provides advice and information to people who wish to study or train in another EU country.

Financial supports

The financial supports available will depend on your situation.

There are a range of possible supports such as the Back to Education Programme and the Back to Education Allowance and training allowances.

You can find out more about financial supports available to you from your local Citizens Information Centre.

How to apply for adult education

Your local ETB and college can give you details on the courses in your area.

Enrolment usually takes place around mid-September and again in mid-January.

You can also search for courses on Qualifax or the further education and training course hub.

Courses can also be advertised locally in your local newspaper, community centre, school or parish hall.

Page edited: 5 October 2023