YOUTHREACH is an integral part of the national programme of second-chance education and training in Ireland and is a central part of the Government’s contribution to the achievement of a lifelong learning society.
The programme is directed at unemployed young early school leavers aged 15-20. It offers participants the opportunity to identify and pursue viable options within adult life, and provides them with opportunities to acquire certification. It operates on a full-time, year-round basis.
Management of the programme
YOUTHREACH is funded by the Exchequer under the National Development Plan. It is a joint programme between two Government Departments – Education & Science and Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Management is through an Inter-Departmental Committee. Its implementation is animated, supported and co-ordinated by the YOUTHREACH National Coordinators.
Centres delivering the programme
The Department of Education and Science delivers Youthreach through Centres for Education managed by Vocational Education Committees (VECs, www.ivea.ie). The programme is also delivered in a network of 45 Community Training Centres funded by FÁS and ten ‘Justice Workshops’ funded by FÁS (www.fas.ie) and the Department of Justice Equality and Law Reform. A parallel programme in a culturally appropriate setting is delivered in the 33 Senior Traveller Training Centres (www.sttc.ie).
These centres are out-of-school settings and they are distributed throughout the country, generally in disadvantaged areas. While YOUTHREACH is a national programme, centres are locally managed, and programmes reflect the particular social, economic and cultural environment in which they operate. This local management is a pillar of the programme’s design and operation. Although all Centres are alike, no two are the same.
Numbers of participants on YOUTHREACH Programmes (census date December 31st 2003)
There are 3258 places in Youthreach Centres nationally. FÁS funds 2700 places in Community Training Centres. An additional 1076 places are offered in Senior Traveller Training Centres. The majority of students in the VEC Youthreach strand correspond closely in age to second level students with 78% of them being under 19. In the Department of Justice / FÁS centres the vast majority of participants are described as being under 20 years of age, while the percentage under 19 in the CTCs is lower, at approximately 51%.
Why do we need Youthreach?
It is estimated that as many as 750 children fail to transfer every year from Primary to Post-Primary school . The number of students who leave education with no qualifications is 3.2% while another 15.3% leave with only a Junior Cert qualification .
Early school leavers are at particular risk in the labour market. Of those who enter the labour market after school, the unemployment rate is 47.5% for those with no qualifications, compared with 9.6% for those with a Leaving Certificate. Research also shows that both the levels of education and the grades achieved have a marked influence on gaining employment and, in general, that higher qualifications and grades
- Increase the chances of gaining employment
- Reduce the length of time spent seeking work.
- Reduce the risk of unemployment and
- Promote higher earnings levels.
The key features of successful interventions with early school leavers
In the experience of YOUTHREACH, the key features of successful interventions with early school leavers are as follows:
- A focus on the holistic development of the individual;
- a learning environment which is safe, structured and challenging; programmes must focus on independence and integration;
- a process which is both participant-centred and participant-led; there should be open and honest feedback between trainer and participants;
- a team approach – programmes are most effective if organised on the basis of a curricular matrix in which each teacher or trainer is implementing a range of cross-disciplinary curricular objectives (such as communications skills development, health and safety awareness, etc);
- staff who facilitate and animate and are themselves open to learning. Ideally, teams should be multi-disciplinary. The maintenance and in-career development of staff involved is a priority;
- a methodology/pedagogy which begins with the young person;
- a general emphasis on achievement rather than failure;
- appropriate assessment and certification;
- flexibility (at all levels – management, relationships, curriculum);
- programme duration based on need rather than time.
The programme is intended to facilitate young people in returning to learning and preparing for employment and adult life. Its general objectives are as follows:
- Personal and social development and increased self-esteem;
- second-chance education and introductory level training;
- the promotion of independence, personal autonomy, active citizenship and a pattern of lifelong learning;
- integration into further education and training opportunities and the labour market;
- the promotion of social inclusion.
What do we do in Youthreach?
Youthreach offers a flexible and dynamic programme of integrated general education, vocational training and work experience. Learners set personal and educational goals that increase their self-esteem, skill and knowledge base and employability. Essential course elements include Personal and Social Development, Vocational Skills and Communications Skills.
The Youthreach process involves
- personal development and exploration;
- identification of needs, interests and capacities;
- setting learning goals
- sampling general vocational skills;
- development of specific aptitudes;
- work experience;
- literacy and numeracy development.
The Foundation Phases programme is constructed as a curricular matrix incorporating these elements. This approach is also found in the certification offered by FETAC (www.fetac.ie).
Both personal skills and vocational skills are developed. These are generally at ‘Foundation’ level. The intention is that progression opportunities are provided, as well as employment links. In many cases, however, trainees develop beyond Foundation level.
The programme rests on twelve building blocks:
The first principle of the programme is to start with the learner. The programme focuses on the holistic development of the individual. Participants are facilitated in setting personal and educational goals that increase their self-esteem, skill and knowledge base and employability.
It follows that the process followed should be both participant-centred and participant-led, with the programme following trainees’ identified interests and needs and participants and staff acting as equal partners in the learning process. The learning environment is safe, structured and challenging, there is an emphasis on recognising and rewarding achievement rather than reinforcing failure and flexibility at all levels (management, relationships, programme).
YOUTHREACH adopts a credit approach, as opposed to a therapeutic approach. The young people are not approached on the basis of perceived deficits. Rather, they are regarded as equals (as adults). The essential question is – ‘what do you think are your strengths and how can we help you to maximise them, and what do you think are your weaknesses and how can we help you to address them?’ As well as being learner centred, the approach is also experiential.
YOUTHREACH is inter-disciplinary in approach. Practitioners combine education, training and youth-work methodologies. Staff come from a variety of backgrounds including teaching, vocational education and training, youth-work and welfare. Evaluations of the programme have found that this mix has been critical to the success of the programme, resulting in a cross fertilisation of expertise from the different disciplines.
Interactions are less formal and relationships with staff are ‘warmer’ than in schools and many observers argue that this is an important component in the programme’s success. The young people perceive themselves to be listened to and respected, ie treated as adults. Groups are relatively small – the tutor-learner ratio is about 10.5:1.
Youthreach is an integrated experience – personal, communications and vocational skills are integrated in a curricular and experiential matrix. There is a growing focus on developing individual learning plans and encouraging the learner to take responsibility for learning and to evaluate their own learning.
In promoting participants’ sense of self-worth and identity, practitioners place a strong emphasis on achievement. So, a broad range of certification is made available. Ninety per cent of Centres enter participants for FETAC qualifications. Seventy-eight different modules are offered throughout the programme at Foundation and Level 1 and ten per cent of Centres provide more than 16 modules.
Participants also take the Junior Certificate, the Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Applied as a progression programme. Other options are also offered, such as the European Computer Driving Licence and the FIT programme.
Youthreach providers and participants alike are committed to a quality service. Thus, for example, 13 members of staff successfully completed the NUIG Specialist Certificate in Health Promotion and graduated in 2003. They were developing Centre health plans towards achieving the Health Q-Mark. In the event, 11 centres were awarded health Q-Marks, including four gold awards and two silvers.
The key mechanism for quality assurance in the Centres is the Quality Framework Initiative for YOUTHREACH and Senior Traveller Training Centres. This provides a comprehensive planning, evaluation and validation framework for the programme similar to the School Development Planning Initiative.
The Quality Framework Initiative was established in November 2000 following a recommendation, made in the YOUTHREACH 2000 consultative report, for the development of a quality assurance system for the Programme.
The development of the Quality Framework required in depth consultation with all stakeholder groups including learners, staff and management. This has resulted in the development of Quality Standards and a range of quality assurance processes that reflect the needs and vision of those most closely associated with the delivery of the programme.
The Quality Framework consists of four key building blocks
- Quality Standards
- Internal Centre Evaluation
- Centre Development Planning
- External Centre Evaluation
The Quality Standards are at the core of the model. Stakeholders work towards meeting quality standards by engaging in the quality assurance processes of planning and evaluation.
Quality assurance in this model focuses on continuous improvement. It encourages a collaborative approach to problem solving and assists stakeholders to identify practical solutions.
Draft Guidelines for Internal Centre Evaluation and Centre Development Planning have been developed and 44 centres piloted these quality assurance processes during the period October ’03 – July ’04. The guidelines are now being re-developed in anticipation of the rolling-out of the Quality Framework to all Youthreach and Senior Traveller Training Centres over the coming years.
For further information on the Quality Framework contact the co-ordinator Shivaun O’Brien at email@example.com
This is important in working with young people who live in unstable situations. While providing a safe and listening experience it also challenges and encourages. The programme itself is being restructured into three phases:
- An engagement/gateway phase in which the young person’s needs are identified and an individual learning plan is negotiated, within the framework of the Centre or Workshop’s capacity;
- A Foundation phase, in which they are supported in overcoming learning difficulties, developing self-confidence and gaining a range of competencies essential for further learning and
- A Progression phase providing for more specific development through a range of educational, training and work experience options.
Given the complexity of many of the subjects’ backgrounds and presenting situations, flexibility is imperative at all levels – management, staffing and delivery. Young people learn at their own pace and enter for certification when they are ready. This approach is facilitated by the modular structure of FETAC certification. Also, more flexible delivery options were introduced under the Back to Education Initiative in 2002/3, including part-time options to take account of the buoyancy of the youth labour market. It is considered vital that those who are tempted out of YOUTHREACH to enter work should be allowed continue their education and training on a part-time basis so that in the event of economic downturn or the conclusion of a particular employment, as happens frequently in certain areas such as construction, they will not end up unemployed and still unqualified.
It is intended in YOUTHREACH that participants will firstly identify their personal, educational and vocational goals and secondly progress towards achieving them. Progression policy within YOUTHREACH is focussed on
- Educational pathways through opportunities to pursue programmes such as the Leaving Cert Applied, with extension of the duration of the Progression Phase as needed for this. Trainees can progress from Level 1 or Leaving Cert Applied programmes to PLC courses, which are certified at Level 2 by the NCVA/FETAC and from there to third level courses in the Institutes of Technology. Trainees can also progress to education options under the Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) scheme operated by the Department of Social and Family Affairs.
- Training pathways through the promotion of access to a range of options within FÁS and the Education sector through Linked Work Experience, Level 1 training, Specific Skills Training, Community Employment, Bridging Measures. Entry to Apprenticeship is also possible, with support where needed from Bridging Measures. Progression to other training paths, for example in Tourism, Hospitality, Agriculture and hairdressing is also promoted and supported.
- Employment pathways through the maintenance (by Centres) of links with employers in order to facilitate young people in finding employment. Where advocates are in service, they support this transition. Many Centres also support former participants in the early stages of employment.
A broad range of certification is available to YOUTHREACH participants. The majority of participants have their achievements certified by FETAC (www.fetac.ie), currently through the NCVA Foundation Level and Level One. Participants are also entered as appropriate in the Junior Certificate, in individual subjects of the Leaving Certificate and in the Leaving Certificate Applied as a progression programme. These are the responsibility of the State Examinations Commission. Other certification options are also offered from time to time, such as the European Computer Driving Licence.
Recognition of their achievement at whatever level is facilitated by the development of a flexible, standards-based national qualifications system by FETAC and by access to the Junior Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Applied. These developments will be set within the National Qualifications Framework established by the National Qualifications Authority (www.nqai.ie).
For a copy of the latest research into certification outcomes, click here.
Partnerships and networks
Considerable emphasis is placed on local planning and inter-agency networking. Centres operate within a strong community base and maintain good contact with local agencies. In line with national policies and the National Children’s Strategy, Youthreach supports an integrated area-based approach to services for children and young people. There is a pressing need for cohesion and integration of supporting services in the areas of childcare, guidance, counselling and psychological services. Acknowledgement of the cultural context of trainees and their communities is also important. In addition, networking out-of-school centres with the mainstream system is a feature of the programme’s approach, with centres acting as brokers and mentors to facilitate successful progression.
In addition to their individual needs, participants also have community needs and cultural patterns which are respected and accommodated in the way the programme is organised and delivered and in relationships in the centre and with the local community.
Innovation has been a characteristic of YOUTHREACH since its inception. Its links with the Community Initiative Employment/Youthstart generated the European guidance model known as MAGIC (from Mentoring, Advocacy, Guidance, Information and Counselling).
A number of supports are set in place to support the delivery of the programme. Providers receive an annual allocation of resources towards the provision of psychological, guidance and counselling supports. It is acknowledged that this is not comprehensive. It is intended that this area will dovetail with the development of a National Educational Psychological Service. Other supports in this area include the advocate service. This is funded by FÁS and is available in a number of areas.
Support is also made available for inservice activities and guidance, counselling and psychological services. FÁS has put in place a network of full-time Advocates, whose role is to support participants’ decision-making, referral, progression and placement. A contribution is also made towards childcare, complementing those allocated by ADM. Work is ongoing to ensure a co-ordinated approach in this area. The Copping On (www.coppingon.ie) crime awareness programme has been developed in co-operation with the Prison Service and the Garda Juvenile Liaison Service and is provided on an ongoing basis. This programme encourages YOUTHREACH trainees, prisoners and ex-offenders to share their experiences, as well as developing close links between YOUTHREACH centres, youth workers and Juvenile Liaison Officers. All YOUTHREACH centres integrate a substance abuse programme as an important part of the personal development element of YOUTHREACH.
Information and Communications Technology
Each centre is expected to develop the ICT skills of the young people. This is not just a personal educational right, but also a social and economic necessity. This web-site has been established for YOUTHREACH and is hosted by National Centre for Technology in Education. Each centre has its own Web-page(s).
In The Millennium year, the National Co-ordinators initiated ‘YOUTHREACH 2000 – A Consultative Process’ and invited everyone involved in or with the programme to discuss the future shape of the programme. The results were published and are available here.
Does it work?
Evaluations report that participants highly value their experience on YOUTHREACH and would recommend it to others. Reviews of learner outcomes consistently show over 75% of participants progressing to the labour market or to further education and training. This rises to 85% for those who complete Progression training.
Fifteen years after its first Centres opened, YOUTHREACH is now a well-established national programme situated in a continuum of measures responding to disadvantage in the education and training systems. Mainstream practitioners increasingly acknowledge it as the education and training system’s flexible friend.
And the young people? Evaluations repeatedly report that participants highly value their experience on the programme and would recommend it to others. One young Galway man who left school at 14 said: “Since leaving YOUTHREACH I have never been out of work and I am currently serving my apprenticeship as a motorbike mechanic. I have always loved motorbikes and it’s great to be able to work at something I really like. I still keep in touch with the staff at YOUTHREACH and really appreciate all the opportunities their help and support have given me.”