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Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe



A Pathway for Early School Leavers in Ireland

by Karen Williams
Language: EN

As part of this month’s EPALE theme: Early School Leavers (ESL), AONTAS, the National Adult Learning Organisation have linked in with our membership to provide blogs which focus on early school leavers from multiple perspectives. AONTAS interviewed two Youthreach Learners from Kildare Wicklow Education and Training Board (ETB), who recently attended the National Further Education and Training (FET) Learner Forum in April, 2017. The National FET Learner Forum provides an opportunity for learners to feedback on their specific FET programmes and on the wider national further education and training service in Ireland in order to influence national FET policy based on the learner voice.

The Youthreach Programme: A Pathway for Early School Leavers

The Europe 2020 Strategy seeks to reduce the average European rate of ESLs to less than 10% by 2020 and this target is a priority for Ireland. The Youthreach programme has provided an opportunity for thousands of young people who leave school early to achieve further education and training qualifications.

Youthreach is a full-time programme, usually over two years, directed at unemployed early school leavers aged 16-20 years old. Youthreach operates across most counties in Ireland through 112 centres that are managed locally by 16 ETBs.

Youthreach offers a flexible programme of integrated general education, vocational training and work experience. The programme places a strong emphasis on personal development and overall, aims to enable individuals to participate fully in society and to progress to further education and training, or to gain employment.

Youthreach plays a very important role within the Irish educational system as it reduces the numbers of early school leavers while actively supporting the lifelong learning agenda. The Youthreach programme aims to end potential cycles of poor educational achievement and the subsequent problems that can ensue for young people who leave school early.

In 2015, there were over 3,000 students enrolled in Youthreach in Ireland. 79% of students who completed the programme progressed to further education, employment or training.


Youthreach Learners

Chelsea Kane, Bray & North Wicklow Youthreach

My experience in the mainstream schooling system was not the best.  I felt the formal school system did not suit my educational needs.  So I decided to find another option and chose Youthreach.  I thought the Youthreach programme was more suitable for my own educational needs as it has a more relaxed atmosphere and there is a less pressure as it is graded on continuous assessment and assignments and exams, rather than basing everything on a large group of state exams.

I feel the main benefits of Youthreach are that I can get the qualifications I need as it gives me the QQI Level 4 award.  Another benefit it the relaxed atmosphere and there is less pressure around exams.  Also, Youthreach offers so much support from mental health to financial aid, which I think is truly amazing.

I have recently graduated from the Youthreach Programme, receiving my QQI level 4 award. I am now progressing with my education as I was accepted into Dun Laoghaire Further Education Institute to study Radio Broadcasting starting this September, I'm really looking forward to it! I really thank Youthreach for all they have done to get me where I am today.

Megan Keogh, Bray & North Wicklow Youthreach

My experience of education first time around was a very negative experience. I struggled to go into class every day as I suffered with chronic anxiety. The stress caused different health problems and caused me to miss a lot of school. I felt very overwhelmed by the whole situation and I left school. Although I was relieved to leave, I was very disappointed that I did not get my education and I felt a bit lost; I felt like I did not have a future.

While I was receiving treatment, I had an opportunity to research about what we could do to progress in our lives. I wanted to do an animal care course but they all required a QQI level 4. I searched online and found Youthreach in Bray. I was very nervous about going to the Youthreach interview but I could see from the start that it was different compared to school, which really worked for me and I think it’s the main benefit of the Programme. Other benefits of the programme include: being empowered by achieving an education, gaining a sense of self-respect and confidence and making new friends.

I am very thankful to everyone in Youthreach for giving me the opportunity, I don't know where I would be without it and I have grown so much as a person because of all the help and support. I hope to continue my education and do a QQI level 5 in Animal Care in Dun Laoghaire Further Education Institute this year. I then hope progress into Veterinary nursing.

By Karen Williams, Learner Supports Officer

Special thanks to Megan Keogh and Chelsea Kane from KWETB and their Youthreach Co-ordinator, Louise Cole. To find out more about Youthreach please see: or


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  • Mateja Mahnič's picture

    I could not agree more on Sinead Whitty's statement about importance of holistic aproach in education, even I dare to say that this sort of education should be used in standard, "normal" forms of education to prevent the huge pressure on young learners. 


  • Mary Stokes's picture

    It is always so heartening to hear how positive Youthreach participants are about their YR experience - there are great alternatives to mainstream education and everyone deserves the opportunity to find the right 'fit'! 

  • Christine Bertram's picture

    Thanks for sharing those stories. 

    It is so important to hear the learner voices and hear about the transformative effects that engaging in more holistic forms of education has.

  • Sinead Whitty's picture

    Thanks Karen for sharing Megan and Chelsea's learner stories with us.

    Readers who are interested to know more about the Youthreach model of second chance education might be interested in the Youthreach Brochure, which was published earlier this year.