The Presentation Sisters’ iScoil initiative works with children aged 13 to 16 who have been out of school for at least six months, and is now to be given a funding boost by the Department of Education to help around 40 students.
Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan is to set aside €200,000 in 2015 to support the programme, with plans to review the figure based on the number of students supported.
Of 55 young people catered for in the 2011-2012 school year, almost half stayed on the programme the following year, and most of the rest either returned to school or other training, and three went on to employment.
Ms O’Sullivan’s funding plan follows a commitment in the Coalition’s 2011 Programme for Government to examine ways of making spending on educational disadvantage more effective, but also to look at innovative ways that teenagers at risk of leaving the school system can stay connected.
One way, it suggested, was through the use of technology-based distance learning and projects such as iScoil.
“Over the last few months, I’ve been looking at how iScoil could provide education to some of our vulnerable children,” said Ms O’Sullivan.
“In particular, students who are not yet 16, but are suffering from mental health difficulties that keep them out of school for long periods, or have been expelled from school and are finding it difficult to find a new school place, still need to be provided with an education.”
With the help of the departmental funding, iScoil will enrol a cohort of these students from January. They will be taught online, or through a model of online and face-to-face group support, with the aim of enrolling them back in a mainstream school within a year.
An estimated 2,400 young people drop out of second-level schools every year before sitting Junior Certificate, in addition to up to 1,000 who never make it past primary school. This can happen for a range of reasons, that include anxiety, phobia, behavioural issues, bullying, social disadvantage, medical conditions, and family situations.
It was with this in mind that iScoil was set up in 2009 by the Presentation Sisters, who have funded it to date, after a two-year pilot programme.
Students are usually referred to the service by the educational welfare services — formerly the National Educational Welfare Board — of child and family agency Tusla, after being out of school for at least six months.
They are offered the choice to study a number of courses leading to level 3 qualifications (equivalent to Junior Certificate) in subjects that include communications, maths, personal and interpersonal skills, computer literacy, personal effectiveness, French, and Spanish.
Students can log on from 9am to 8pm for learning and support, with regular contact also maintained with parents and guardians. As well as subject teachers, each student is assigned a mentor to guide their personalised learning plan.