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EACEA National Policies Platform


6. Education and Training

6.3 Preventing early leaving from education and training (ELET)

Last update: 28 November 2023

National strategy 

The term ‘early leaving from education or training’ (ELET) is not commonly used in the Irish context. The terms ‘early school leaving’ (ESL) and ‘not in education, employment or training’ (NEET) are used more frequently. 

The DEIS Plan, discussed below, is the main policy initiative aimed at improving retention in schools. In addition, a range of strategies and policies exist, within a broader policy framework, to encourage young people to engage in education, training, or the labour market. 

The Child and Family Agency (Tusla) was established in 2014. It is responsible for ensuring that every child either attends school regularly or receives an appropriate alternative minimum education. It also advises the Government on school attendance and education provision. 

Education (Welfare) Act, 2000 emphasises the promotion of school attendance, participation and retention. Under Section 22, every school must have a statement of strategies to encourage regular attendance among students. Schools must keep attendance records for all their students. Under the Act, a parent/guardian must inform the school if their children will be absent on a school day and give the reason for the absence. If a child is absent for more than 20 days in a school year, the school must inform the Child and Family Agency's Educational Welfare Service (part of Tusla Education Support Service). 


DEIS Plan 2017

DEIS Plan 2017 Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools is the Department of Education’s  main policy initiative aimed at tackling educational disadvantage. It aims to improve attendance participation and retention in schools. Amongst schools participating in the DEIS scheme, the rate of students completing their Leaving Certificate [state examination] has risen to 85% (compared to 93.5% for Non-DEIS schools) amongst the group of students who began post-primary school in September 2011, from a level of 68.2% in September 2001 (National Reform Programme April 2019, Department of the Taoiseach, 2019).

DEIS Plan 2017 is discussed in further detail in Section 6.1 General Context, under Social Inclusion. 


Tusla Education Support Services

Tusla Education Support Services (tess) operates under the Education (Welfare) Act, 2000. There are three strands within tess; the Statutory Educational Welfare Service (EWS) and the two school support services the Home School Community Liaison Scheme (HSCL) and the School Completion Programme (SCP). The three strands work together collaboratively with schools, families and other relevant services.

Educational Welfare Service (EWS) deal with children and families who have difficulties in relation to school attendance, participation, retention. EWS aims to ensure that attendance concerns are addressed before attendance becomes a crisis issue. Educational Welfare Officers work with families and children in a child-centred way to overcome barriers to their school attendance, participation, and retention. They also work closely with schools, educational support services and other agencies to support school attendance and resolve attendance problems. 

The Home School Community Liaison Scheme (HSCL) operates under DEIS to promote partnership between parents, teachers, and community family support services. HSCL Coordinators are teachers from participating schools who are released from teaching duties, for a maximum of five years, to work intensively with and support parents/guardians. A HSCL Coordinator’s main goal is to improve educational outcomes for children through their work with the key adults in the child’s life. Home Visits are the primary point of contact for HSCL Coordinators, to build strong relationships with parents/guardians. HSCL Coordinators also run parent classes in schools to provide parents/guardians with information and guidance about accessing community-based programmes and supports.

The School Completion Programme (SCP) is a support under the DEIS Programme, funded by tess. SCP supports primary and post-primary children and young people who have been identified as potentially at risk of early school leaving, or who are out of school and have not successfully transferred to an alternative learning site (i.e. Youthreach, Community Training Centre etc.) or employment. It aims to achieve improved attendance, participation, and retention. There are 122 SCP projects across 467 primary and 222 post-primary schools. Its annual programme funding is €24.7m. SCP provides the following interventions: 

  • Evidence based/informed interventions at universal level to whole class/school groups.
  • Brief interventions, lasting 8 weeks or less, for students identified as needing an immediate short-term SCP led intervention.
  • Targeted interventions to children and young people with significant support needs who have been identified through the SCP Intake Framework. 


Further Education and Training Strategy 2020 - 2024

The current Further Education and Training Strategy 2020 - 2024 (2020) was published by SOLAS (the National Further Education and Training Authority). The Strategy (pp. 52) recognises that:

It is also important that FET continues to support early school leavers by offering them routes back into education and training and potential careers through Youthreach centres and [Community Training Centres]. While a recent evaluation found clear value from this provision, there is a need to more closely link it to pathways within FET and beyond, and to ensure that it continues to evolve to meet the changing and more complex needs of its learners.

The previous strategy, Further Education and Training Strategy 2014 – 2019 (SOLAS, 2014), stipulated that the further education and training sector provides:

  • Education, training, skills-development and related supports for young people, such as Youthreach, Community Training Centre provision, enabling unemployed early-school leavers, those not in employment, education or training (NEETs), to access /reentry/completion of mainstream lower and/or upper second level education to meet individual, personal, career and employment aspirations.

Action Plan for Education 2021

Each year the Department publishes its high-level work programme in an Action Plan for Education. These plans articulates the Department’s ambition, values and goals, based on its Statements of Strategy. The current statement is Cumasú Statement of Strategy 2019 - 2021. The last action plan was the Action Plan for Education 2019 [Department of Education and Skills (DES), 2019]. During 2019 the Department engaged in a public consultation regarding the upcoming Action Plan for 2020, however, this plan was not published. The 2021 Action Plan was published in 2021 and will run until 2022. The goals of this Action Plan for 2021 are to:

  • Ensure education standards and improve the learning experience to meet the needs of all pupils, in schools and early years settings
  • Ensure that all pupils experience equity of opportunity in education and are supported to fulfil their potential
  • Together with our partners, work to ensure that we provide strategic leadership and are supporting the delivery of the right systems and infrastructure for the sector. 


Formal education: main policy measures on ELET  

Guidance Counselling

Guidelines for Second Level Schools on the Implications of Section 9 (c) of the Education Act 1998 identifies the school guidance service as playing a major preventative role in helping young people at risk to remain in the formal education system. Under this Act, schools’ guidance sections should support early identification and support, through counselling and other measures, of students at risk of early school leaving. Schools’ guidance sections should also raise awareness among students of the consequences of early school leaving. 

Financial support mechanisms

Different schemes have been established to aid students with school costs. 

Financial supports for secondary school students include: 

  • The Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance. This scheme helps to cover the costs of uniforms and footwear for school. To be eligible, the total household income must be below a certain amount and a parent/guardian must be receiving certain social welfare benefits/payments for training/employment schemes or adult education.
  • Allocations to schools for books. Under the Free Education Scheme, these allocations are available to State primary and post-primary schools to help with the cost of schoolbooks. Funding comes from the Department of Education and the scheme is administered in each school by the school principal. The scheme is mainly aimed at pupils from low-income families and families experiencing financial hardship. It can be used to set up a book rental scheme within the school or help individual students buy books. In January 2020 a pilot bock scheme was announced for 102 DEIS schools. The objective of the scheme is to remove all costs associated with schoolbooks for the 15,500 students attending those schools. It involves an increase in the book grant to €85 per pupil and is intended to ease the financial burden on their families and improve educational outcomes.
  • Exemption from examination fees for the Junior and Leaving Certificate state examinations. These are available to students whose parent/guardian have a current medical card. Medical cards are discussed further in Chapter 7 Health and Well-Being. 
  • Under the Remote Area Grant Scheme funding is available to support students living far from a school which can provide a suitable free second-level education. 


Other policy measures 

Other youth employment schemes include

These are discussed in section 3.6 Integration of young people in the labour market

The Back To Education Initiative (BTEI) provides second chance education opportunities to early school leavers and adult learners who want to upgrade their skills. It enables individuals to combine learning with family, work and other responsibilities. Anyone who has left full-time education can take part in a course, but priority is given to those with less than upper second-level education. A pro-rata training allowance may be paid to a participant that has no entitlement to a social welfare payment but is eligible for Youthreach. Individuals receiving a social welfare payment, may keep their payment and participate in BTEI once they continue to satisfy the conditions attached to their payment. A pro-rata training allowance may be paid to a participant who has no entitlement to a social welfare payment but is eligible for Youthreach

The Department of Justice runs employment placement, education and training services for offenders where they can train to develop work-related skills. For many of these training opportunities, accreditation or certification may be gained upon completing the required course to the approved standard. 


Addressing ELET through non-formal and informal learning and quality youth work  


Youthreach is a mainstream provision for early school leavers, taking place in a non-formal context. It provides opportunities for basic education, personal development, vocational training, and work experience. It is typically a full-time, 2-year course of integrated education, training, and work experience. However, longer courses, 1-year courses and part-time courses are also possible. Learners can gain Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) qualifications that are equal to a Foundation Certification or the Junior Certificate for completing a Foundation Programme. This may lead to: 

  • the Leaving Certificate Applied course, 
  • a higher-level award, or 
  • other skills training, such as an apprenticeship course. 

There are almost 6,000 places available nationwide under the Youthreach umbrella. Almost 3,700 of these places are provided by ETBs in over 100 Youthreach centres. Youthreach centres managed by ETBs, are designated as ‘centres of education’ under the Education Act, 1998 (Government of Ireland, 1998). Many of the remaining places are provided in Community Training Centres. Youthreach is funded by SOLAS and in certain ETBs it is co-funded under the European Social Fund.