Published date: 09 Mar 2022

Government must take action to support children and young people failed by mainstream education – Children’s Rights Alliance

The Children’s Rights Alliance is calling on the Government to take action to support children and young people failed by mainstream education. This call was made at its National Conference on Social Inclusion & Alternative Education, held online today.

Alternative education has developed in many countries as a response to state-provided mainstream education and offers an informal, student-centred curriculum and a focus on experiential learning to support the personal, professional, and emotional development of each student.

In March 2018, the Department of Education launched a welcome review on the current and future provision of Out of School Education intended to ‘identify the needs of the cohort of children who have disengaged with the mainstream education system or are at risk of doing so’. However, the results of this review have not yet been published.

Speaking at the event today, Tanya Ward, CEO of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said:
“A ‘one size fits all’ approach to education does not work. The reality is that mainstream education does not meet the needs of every child and isn’t always the best option for some children to reach their full potential. We need to see the publication of the findings from the Department’s research on alternative education to harness the potential of each and every young person and ensure that they have a positive experience in education. The Government must take action to support the children for whom mainstream education fails.”

Research* has shown that there are many positive outcomes of alternative education for children including:

  • Improvements in literacy and numeracy with positive engagement with assessments and exams.
  • Improved engagement with studies, improved rates of attendance and improvements in behaviour.
  • The development of students’ aspirations and future pathways to work and education.
  • Increased self-esteem, well-being and resilience levels for students and increased positive community engagement.

Tanya Ward continued:
“Each year, 4,500 young people drop out of school before completing their Junior Cert. One of the main misconceptions about early school leavers is that they are academically incapable of completing mainstream education, however, 53 per cent will continue their education in places like an alternative education setting or Youthreach, where they receive necessary supports and a more participant-centre form of education. With demand far-outweighing the places at many of these alternative education settings, it is no longer enough to expect them to step in and plug this gap. In order to build a truly child-centred education system in this country, the Government needs to consider how we can expand upon, and fund, out of school education provision to ensure no child gets left behind.”

Case Study: John’s Experience
Last September 16 year old John (not his real name) started iScoil, a non-profit online alternative education programme that offers young people a way to re-engage with education, achieve recognised qualifications and access further education, training and employment opportunities.

“School was exhausting and so stressful; I couldn’t cope with the workload, the timetable, the homework, and don’t even mention the word exams! I just couldn’t make school work. I felt so lucky to get a place on the programme as my mum had heard there were very limited places. With iScoil, I will get my QQI Level 3, which is the same qualification as my Junior Certificate, but the courses are relevant to life and I go at my own pace. No shame in being myself, just the kindest, most supportive mentors and tutors. iScoil doesn’t take over my life, but it’s a part of it.”

For media queries please contact Robyn Keleghan [email protected] 0858001275

Notes to Editors:
• Tanya Ward, CEO of the Children’s Rights Alliance is available for media interviews.
• Brian Fitzsimons, CEO, iScoil, Jonathon Doyle, CEO, Citywise are available for media interviews.
• Members of the youth panel are available for media interviews on request.

Research study conducted by UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre NUIG available here.
Department of Education announcement of 2018 review available here.

About the Children’s Rights Alliance
Founded in 1995, the Children’s Rights Alliance unites over 130 members working together to make Ireland one of the best places in the world to be a child. Further information is available at: or on Twitter, @ChildRightsIRL. #AltEdConference #EducationFutures

For media queries, please contact:

Emma Archbold

Campaigns and Communications Director