Early school leavers programmes


The legal definition of early school leaving refers to non-participation in school before reaching the age of 16 years or before completing 3 years post-primary education, whichever is later. A more specific definition of early school leavers is those who leave the education system without a minimum of 5 passes in the Leaving Certificate or equivalent qualification. Young people who leave education without recognised qualifications are at a disadvantage in the labour market and are at increased risk of poverty and social exclusion.

For those people who have already left school and would like to further their education and training, there are a number of schemes in place. These are non-formal education facilities that aim to provide high quality, relevant and efficient education and training opportunities outside the mainstream education setting.

School completion programme

The School Completion Programme (SCP) aims to help students from disadvantaged areas stay in school to complete their Leaving Certificate.

SCP forms part of the Department of Education social inclusion strategy Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) to help children and young people who are at risk of or who are experiencing educational disadvantage. Each project is managed by a local management committee and provides a tailored programme of in-school, after school and holiday time interventions to targeted children and young people who are at risk of early school leaving.

Back to Education Initiative

The Back to Education Initiative provides opportunities for second chance education to adult learners and early school leavers who want to upgrade their skills. The initiative builds on existing schemes such as Youthreach and Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS) - see below. It also includes adult literacy schemes, community education and Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses.

Youthreach programme

Youthreach is a joint programme between the Department of Education and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. It is intended to help young people return to learning and prepare for employment and adult life. It also provides them with opportunities to get certified qualifications. The programme is aimed at unemployed early school leavers aged 15 to 20. The Youthreach programme is delivered through Youthreach centres and Community Training Centres.

Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme

The Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS) is a special range of courses designed to meet the education needs of unemployed people who are early school-leavers. The scheme aims to give them a choice of options from basic education and training to advanced vocational preparation and training. It targets people over the age of 21 who have been getting unemployment payments or signing for credits for at least 6 months. It is delivered through the Education and Training Boards (ETBs) at centres all over Ireland - see 'Where to apply' below.

Department of Justice workshop programme

The Department of Justice runs employment placement, education and training services for offenders where they can train to develop work-related skills. Many of the available training opportunities carry accreditation or certification for people who complete the required course to the approved standard.

How to apply

Many of the early school leavers programmes have age limits and are targeted at young people who may need help improving their future employment prospects. For more details about the entry requirements, you should contact the individual programmes – see ‘Where to apply’ below.

Where to apply

For Youthreach contact your local ETB or your local Community Training Centre.

Contact your local ETB for details of adult literacy, adult education programmes and VTOS.

For information about the Department of Justice workshops contact the Probation Service.

Page edited: 21 December 2020