‘You can’t put a value on getting an education’

THE Ballincollig Youthreach centre has more people trying to get in than are already learning for the first time in director Eric McNally’s six years of working there.

He has noticed the waiting list spiral since the autumn and now there are 40 people hoping to start training there compared with 35 students currently being taught.

Like around 100 other such centres funded by the Department of Education around the country, it offers second-chance education for young people aged 15 to 20 who left school early without any qualifications or vocational training. While around a dozen students at the Ballincollig centre have been referred from schools where they have been in trouble or were not suited to mainstream education, most of Eric’s students have joined after a gap of a few years in their education.

“Most people on our waiting list are the same; they may have reached 18 or so and realised they can’t get work without some kind of training,” he explains.

“We’re normally full up by October but it’s really unusual having anyone at all trying to get onto the programme at this stage. Most have been on a waiting list since the autumn, but I’m still getting calls from social workers or probation and welfare officers trying to get a place for a young client,” says Eric.

The centre did not gain from any of the 400 additional places allocated to Youthreach nationally in 2007 but Mr McNally says he would allow in as many as he could in the morning if the resources were made available. He is one of 18 staff, most of them teachers who work here and at other Youthreach centres in Cork. The training helps students work towards level 3 and 4 qualifications in a range of subjects – such as woodwork, computers, languages, catering and art – but all must complete modules in maths, interpersonal skills and communications.

More advanced qualifications are available for those studying hairdressing and car mechanics, while around a dozen trainees complete the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) each year, a major achievement given the backgrounds from which most of them have come.

“Around half our students have literacy problems when they start with us. If they finish FETAC awards or the LCA, we try to help them get onto other courses. Around one-in-four students go on to do Post Leaving Certificate programmes and some even progress to third level,” Mr McNally says.

He is clearly very proud of the outcomes he and his team help the young people achieve at the centre, not far from the home of Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe.

“Some ex-students stop me on the street and want to tell me all the great things they’ve been doing since they left. If a young person is being kept out of trouble or gets a job or has a more positive attitude to education, you can’t put a value on that,” he points out.

“The waiting list keeps creeping up, but the average student stays with us for two or three years, so we will be a long time clearing the waiting list,” says Mr McNally.


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