Youthreach Programme

Short summary

Youthreach programme is the only national programme that deals specifically with early school leaving in Ireland and is the government’s primary response to early school leaving. It has been in existence since 1989 and has evolved in term of governance and remit over this time. The cohort it targets are those children and young people aged between 15-21 years of age who have left formal education without qualifications.  The target group are the most marginalised in society and tend to be from Traveller backgrounds, those from spatially disadvantaged areas, children from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and those children from lower socio-economic backgrounds who have additional SEN needs. The programme aims to focus on successful progression to education and/or training with a view to enhancing social and economic inclusion. There is a strong emphasis on personal and social development as many of the participants may have low self-esteem and negative attitudes towards formal education. 

 Youthreach is funded by the Department of Education and Skills through SOLAS which is the further education and training authority in Ireland (VET). Youthreach provides co-ordinated foundation training, education and work experience and Youthreach Centres (and/or Community Training Centres) are located in cities and towns, particularly in areas of social and economic disadvantage. Young people who attend Youthreach get an allowance and the amount is determined by their age (under or over 18 years). There are two strands to Youthreach – programmes that are provided in Youthreach Centres and Community Training Centres.  Youthreach Centres are usually located in cities.  

Some students leave the school education system with no or poor formal qualifications (Leaving Certificate, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) or the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). Participation rates in education (up to age 18) and transfer onto some form of further and higher education is high in Ireland. Consequently, those who leave education early are particularly disadvantaged. Youthreach is a programme designed to help those young people, many of whom are from jobless families or one-parent families, Traveller families, migrant households or those children in care.  It offers a second opportunity to participate in education and Youthreach is an integral part of the wider framework of provision for children and young people outside of formal education. In 2007 Youthreach SENI was introduced to address the number of participants with special education needs. Currently, 20 SENI Youthreach centres receive additional support and funding to support participants with SEN (approximately one-in-four Youthreach participants have a defined special educational need). This programme is focussed on supporting students in a mainstream environment, though individualised, personalised and holistic education.  It is based on the Webwheel Mentoring Framework.

The Youthreach programme is delivered in 112 Youthreach centres (YRC),& 35 Community training’ centres’ CTC). It is considered innovative & dynamic in its approach to teaching and learning. Education and training programmes are facilitated and led by coordinators and trained staff.  Generally, participants remain in Youthreach full-time for 2 years. The Youthreach programme focusses on integrating education, training and work experience whilst tackling negative attitudes and feelings of failure through the programme three objectives:

  • Social inclusion: Progression into further education, training opportunities and the labour market; 
  • Promoting and enhancing personal and social development and increased self-esteem; 
  • Promoting independence, personal autonomy, active citizenship and a pattern of lifelong learning.

The programme is based on active and experiential learning and has a lot of flexibility built into the delivery of modules and programmes. It provides a wide variety of courses and most leads to some type of certification (QQI levels 3 & 4). Some participants take the formal education state examinations – Junior Certificate and the Leaving Certificate (Applied). The programme is a mix of education, training and youth work.  

Context of good practice

Youthreach is managed by the Education and Training Boards (ETBs). YTC & CTC are grant-aided by SOLAS (Further Education & Training Agency) under the auspices of the Department of Education and Skills (DES),but with different arrangements for funding and oversight. YTCs now fall under a sub-committee of the ETB. The latter have their board of management & report to ETB Training Centre Managers. Some centres also collaborate with the probation service of the Department of Justice, through supporting Justice Workshops for those students involved in Probation. 

The curriculum varies from centre to centre and can include QQI certification (or equivalent courses certified by other awarding bodies),Junior Certificate programmes, and Leaving Certificate programmes (generally the Leaving Certificate Applied). There is a significant emphasis on building positive and respectful relationships between staff and learners. One of the most distinctive aspects of the Youthreach approach is the emphasis on voluntary participation by the young person. The latter’s needs are the focus and not a pre-packaged syllabus.  The educational methodology can include group work, paired work and individual work etc. whichever is deemed appropriate for the student’s particular need and the activity involved. Covering general education, vocational training and work experience, subjects vary and can include vocational subjects such as Woodwork, Metalwork, Cooking, Art, computers and ICT, and developing basic Maths, English and Communication skills and applying these to vocational subjects. 

Research (2014) suggests that the Leaving Certificate Applied programme and modules accredited by QQI Levels 3 and 4 (FETAC at the time of the research) appear to make up the majority of courses on offer in Youthreach. Community Training Centres undertake certification at QQI Levels 3 and 4 and are designed to meet participants training needs with a focus on the labour market, although some provision is at higher levels. Several CTCs also offer modules leading to the Junior Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Applied. Youthreach participants are entitled to a weekly allowance which varies depending on the age of the participant and their level of participation (in attendance for over 35 hours per week) in the programme. 

There is a lot of support provided to learners such as careers guidance, learning supports, counselling, childcare and work experience placements. The ethos is one of care for the learner.  There is a lot of integration with local services such as the ETB, Local youth workers or youth services, schools, Health Services Executive (HSE),community police (Community Gardaí),TUSLA (Child Protection Agency),DES and the National Education Psychological Service.

Main characteristics of the challenge, description of the target group

The participants come from the most socially excluded sections of society.  They experience social, economic and educational disadvantage. The range of challenges would include: 

poor housing or homelessness, run-down neighbourhoods, jobless and one-parent families, no or poor role models, depression and lack of hope, educational failure, fear, poor health - physical and mental, inadequate diets, little prospect of change for the better, feeling isolated and ignored.  

These issues would then translate into poor or anti-attitudes to authority and authority figures (teachers, social workers, police and their services etc.). The children and young people may have no fixed routines, resulting in a lack of ambition or enthusiasm and an expectation of failure. They may have experienced repeated failures/disappointments; bullying or being bullied in school and indeed exploitation. Concerning education, they may be bored easily or lack the ability to concentrate on formal lessons. This may lead to disruptive behaviour resulting in missing school or being suspended/expelled for repeated disruptive behaviour. Generally, children would have a negative attitude towards formal education and a feeling that ‘education and the professions’ are not for people like me.  In some respects, the overly academic nature of formal education has alienated many of these children.  

In many cases, there would be a cycle of disadvantage and disengagement with education.  For instance, parents and members of the local community may not have completed formal education.  This would be particularly the case for Irish Traveller families. There would be a sense that school is boring and the overly academic curriculum that is focused on higher education entrance is not relevant. These children and young people may face further discrimination from employers etc. when they come to seek employment. There may also be a lack of capacity in plant/ resources/personnel to fully cover the complicated and diverse needs.

Success factors and processes

1. Preparation: identifying the problem and outlining resolution (necessary tools, etc.) 

Designing an approach that is a mix of education, training and youth work, encompassing physical and psychological needs and a focus on the welfare of young people. Some of the strategies used at the beginning of a Youthreach course would be selection processes such as interviews and getting children to record their past education experiences through learning logs. Working at the individual’s own pace but through a mixture of active and experimental learning opportunities built on respect, equity and trust is key. 

2. Description of main activities; the approach used (necessary tools, timeframe, etc.)

All staff should be engaged and work as a team. Multiple methodologies and integrated actions such as team and inter-disciplinary projects are used. Teaching and training should proceed at a pace that the learners can handle. 

Transversal elements such as personal development, guidance, basic skills and health promotion integrated into a curricular matrix. Cultural sensitivity is necessary, particularly in relation to migrant and Traveller backgrounds. Integrated whole-centre approaches to literacy/numeracy and personal development are crucial. Innovation and creativity are encouraged throughout. 

3. Useful competencies of a problem-solving team to reach main aim (necessary tools, etc.)

Interestingly, co-ordinators and managers see the programme as fulfilling many goals, principally; facilitating the development of social skills, re-engaging young people with learning, and enabling learner progression to further education and training. The majority also saw facilitating lifelong learning, providing a general education, and equipping learners for entry to general occupations as important goals of the programme. The opinion was somewhat more divided on whether the programme should equip young people to enter specific occupations, with only a quarter strongly agreeing with this goal. Training for Competences across these fields for instructors is, therefore, a central need.

4. What is the estimated timeframe of implementation? Is this a quick solution or a long-term investment? When is it recommended to be carried out? Long-term, with reviews and adaptations. It started in 1989 and overall the programme has been successful in reintegrating children and young people back into education and training.  

Impact of measures taken

The programme has been evaluated on a number of occasions and overall the evaluation have been very positive with changing mindsets of participants, building participants skillsets to re-enter education and/or training. Many participants leave Youthreach with formal qualifications. Participants indicate a growing sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Some Youthreach participants enter formal apprenticeship etc. Youthreach is one of the measures used to break the cycle of disadvantage.  

Lessons learned

  • While the programme has been successful, there are issues of disengagement and non-completion. This is not unsurprising, considering the range of issues these children and young people face in their daily lives.  Failure to engage the young person fully in the Youthreach centre can result in absenteeism in the same way as in post-primary schools 
  • Unfortunately, not all participants find a job at the end of their training and this may lead to further disillusionment with education, training and employment;
  • Availability of placements (employment) in some areas may be outstripped by demand
  • Feelings of discrimination can persist;
  • Movement of funding from one sector to another – particularly when finance diminishes;
  • Specific subject areas/skills not targeted to individual need sufficiently;
  • Balance between didactic and inter-active approaches may not always be achieved;
  • Recruitment and retention of staff/instructors fluctuates and this may have an impact on the young person, particularly if they have established a bond with the staff member;
  • Quantity and quality of Psychological support needed for some participants;
  • Venues should be as unlike schools as possible and be adaptable and equipped for practical subjects offered;
  • The curriculum needs to reflect a wider range of subjects and approaches, and include some of a non-academic nature;
  • Approaches and methods should be informal and interactive with an emphasis on there being some aspect the student can succeed in without being over-simplified;
  • It is important to maintain an element of stretching and challenge within tasks without them being unrealistic;
  • Individual goals should be linked to the student;
  • Teaching and learning methods should be varied and active and where possible to ignite excitement in succeeding;
  • Sanctions and indeed positive praise should be clear and agreed from the beginning;
  • Do not underestimate the value of praise or the importance of ‘soft-skills’ learning;
  • Engage the parents/siblings in the goals the student is aiming for;
  • Continued professional development and support for staff across the agencies involved (some jointly) is important;
  • Clear, precise, regular communication, through a variety of methods, including face-to-face with the participants;
  • Consistently agreed record-keeping should be central; a student-log etc.;
  • Maintenance of contact with policy makers, funding and management is productive;
  • Multi-agency working between and across the centres – education, health, psychology, judicial, work-placements, community bodies where appropriate bring dividends;
  • Listen to and record the experiences of all involved for an all-round view of how things are going.

Resources needed

A “good practice” course should:

  • Involve the development of an overall individual action plan; 
  • Place the learners at the centre of their learning;
  • Involve the learners in assessment, planning and progression;   
  • Build on individual interests and abilities and this affirms and ‘attaches’ the learner to their learning;
  • Learning should take place in suitable premises which are bright and well resourced (creating a different atmosphere from school’s students have attended) and that encourage learning (visual etc.)
  • Staff that are competent inactive and inclusive methodologies and who are empathetic towards children and young people who may have complex needs and behaviour.

The programme should also:

  • be experiential;
  • be enjoyable; 
  • be structured, planned (short and long-term); 
  • be to standard – high quality – and consistent; 
  • balance safety and challenge; 
  • embody an ethos, and communicate high expectations;
  • include: Vocational and other skills, e.g. in ICT; 
  • include a large element of personal, emotional and social development; 
  • include personal and social development (including emotional literacy and social awareness and competence);
  • include subjects such as SPHE (Social, Personal & Health Education)
  • include career pathway planning and guidance;
  • include basic skills, e.g. literacy (oral, writing and reading) and numeracy development;
  • high quality with access to new knowledge and techniques (ICT, electronic and mechanical skills etc.).

Any other information

A selection of IRLS Youthreach (some with multiple references: in no particular order and subject to revision)

Youthreach is part of the Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI) structure.  All information pertaining to the ETBI can be found here: The ETBI is under the remit of SOLAS which is Ireland’s Further Education and Training Authority.  Information on SOLAS can be found here: and their Further Education and Training Strategy 2014-2019 is available here:

Further Education and Training In Ireland – Past, Present and Future:

Further Education and Training Strategy 2014-2019

Audits of various ETBI centres:

All information relating to Youthreach can be found here:

Additional materials can be found here:

Information for young people interesting in enrolling in Youthreach can be found here: and also at

Is Youthreach for You:

Information on Early School Leavers Programmes can be found here:

Youthreach – Implementing the Webwheel model: guidelines for SENI centres:

Youthreach – Youthreach Western Region: the Student Matters:

Evaluation of the Youthreach programme (2019) by the Economic and Social Research Institute :

Evaluation of the Youthreach programme (ESRI slides 2018):

Evaluation of the Youthreach programme (2010) by the DES Inspectorate:

McCoy S (2019) Insights from the Youthreach Evaluation:

DES Guidelines on the Operation of Youthreach:

Profiling Youthreach learners:

National Educational Psychological Service (2016). Report on a 2015 survey of the social  context and basic skill attainments of learners in Youthreach Centres and CTCs, Youthreach.

National Educational Psychological Service (2017). A profile of learners in Youthreach  Research study report, Dublin: National Educational Psychological Service.

Post-school transitions:

Preventing early school leaving:

Characteristics of youth employment in Europe

Example of Youthreach Centres:

Youthreach Sligo:

Tomaszewska-Pękała, H., P. Marchlik and A. Wrona (2017). Finding inspiring practices on how to prevent ESL and school disengagement. Lessons from the educational trajectories of youth at risk from nine EU countries, Centre for Migration and Intercultural Studies: University of Antwerp:

Youthreach Programme – Tuesday, 19 Feb 2019 – Parliamentary Questions:

Early school leaving: Lessons from research for policy makers:

A Strategic Review of Further Education and Training and the Unemployed NESC (2013)

Evaluation of PLC Programme Provision (ESRI, 2018):

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