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EACEA National Policies Platform


6. Education and Training

6.3 Preventing early leaving from education and training (ELET)

Last update: 22 January 2021

LAST MODIFIED ON: 25/10/2020 - 23:04

On this page
  1. National strategy
  2. Formal education: main policy measures on ELET
  3. Addressing ELET through non-formal and informal learning and quality youth work
  4. Cross-sector coordination and monitoring of ELET interventions

National strategy

In Northern Ireland, the term early leaving from education and training (ELET) is not commonly used. Instead, policy documents refer to young people not in education, employment or training (NEET).

Pathways to Success is the Northern Ireland Executive’s overarching strategy to prevent exclusion and promote participation amongst young people that are not in education, employment or training (NEET), or at risk of becoming so. It was endorsed by the Executive on 31 May 2012 and is intended to cover the period until 2020.

The main aspiration of the strategy is that:

…by 2020, every young person will not only have an opportunity to access education, training or other preparation for employment but, to the extent that they are able, also avail of that opportunity .

The main measures in the strategy include:

  • a range of actions to prevent young people becoming NEET, including collaboration between schools and further education colleges in delivering the Entitlement Framework to ensure that every young person has the opportunity through the education and training system and the provision of high quality careers advice, information advice and guidance
  • re-engaging 16-18 year olds who are NEET through a number of initiatives to provide mentors for individuals and support them towards and through opportunities to resume learning and progress into work
  • increasing flexibility and permeability of educational pathways
  • developing a tracking system which supports early identification, up-to-date evidence and tracking over time for those young people who are in, or who might enter, the NEET category
  • re-engaging 18-24 year olds who are unemployed through opportunities for work experience and skills development (see the section ‘Youth employment measures’ in the article on ‘Integration of Young People in the Labour Market’ for more information).

The primary responsibility for implementation of the strategy is held by the Department for the Economy (DfE), the successor department to the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL). An evaluation report published in 2015 found that there had been an overall positive impact on those who had taken part in a programme under the strategy, as well as a positive return for the Exchequer and the wider economy. No further evaluations have been published since.


Formal education: main policy measures on ELET

Financial support mechanisms

The Northern Ireland Executive targets financial support at certain disadvantaged groups to make it easier for them to remain in education.

Free school meals: Some pupils in full-time education may be eligible to receive free school meals. Eligibility criteria include the receipt of certain welfare benefits, some with an income threshold, by the parent/guardian or the pupil themselves.  Further details are available from the Education Authority. A Summer Food Payment Scheme was introduced for July and August 2020 in an effort to help low-income families during the COVID-19 pandemic. The grant is equivalent to the cost of a Free School Meal (£2.70) for 5 days per week.  The grant was paid in two separate payments – one in July and one in August.

School uniform grant: Similar criteria apply to eligibility for a grant towards the cost of school uniforms as apply to free school meals eligibility. Further details are available from the Education Authority.

Education maintenance allowance: Students who decide to stay on at school after the end of compulsory education at 16, or who go on to a further education college may be eligible for the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA).This is available for both academic and vocational courses and is a payment of £30 a week paid fortnightly to those aged 16 to 19 years from low-income households. It is intended to help cover the day-to-day costs of staying on at school or college, such as travel costs, books and equipment.

Students aged 16-17 (or up to age 22 for those with a disability and up to age 24 for those from an in-care background) who undertake training under the ‘Training for Success’ programme (see section below on vocational education and training), automatically qualify for a non-means tested Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) of £40 per week.Further information is available from the nidirect website.

Higher education grants: Higher education students taking full-time higher education courses may be eligible for help with accommodation and other living costs through the Maintenance Grant, based on household income.The Special Support Grant may or may not be means-tested and applies to particular groups such as:

  • single parents
  • other student parents if they have a partner who is also a student
  • students with certain disabilities.

Further information is available from the nidirect website, Student Finance NI and in the ‘Financial Support for Learners' section in the Higher Education chapter of the Eurydice national description.

Careers education, information, advice and guidance

The Northern Ireland Curriculum’s statutory area of learning ‘Learning for Life and Work’ incorporates ‘employability’, which includes ‘career management’ at Key Stages 3 and 4 (ages 11–16). Further information about ‘employability’ at Key Stage 3 in the curriculum is available from the CCEA website, as is non-statutory guidance on education for employability at Key Stage 4.

In  2016, a new strategy for careers education and guidance was launched by the Department for Employment and Learning (now Department for the Economy) and the Department of Education. Preparing for Success 2015-2020 says:

We know that young people who are uncertain or unrealistic about career ambitions are three times more likely to spend significant periods of time not in education, employment or training (NEET).

The strategy contains five key commitments:

  • accountability and quality assurance: this includes a new statutory duty to ensure the provision of impartial careers guidance
  • e-delivery and labour market information: new delivery channels will be used to improve access to careers services
  • work experience will be improved for young people, schools and employers 
  • accessing impartial advice: face-to-face advice will be offered to young people at key transition stages and advice will also be given to parents
  • e-portfolio: this will be used as a personal learning record to help young people improve their employability.

Schools continue to share responsibility for careers guidance with the Department for the Economy (DfE)’s all-age Careers Service. This provides professional and impartial careers advice and guidance to help people to make informed choices about their future career. All pupils are offered at least one face-to-face appointment with a careers adviser, generally in Year 12 (aged 15/16), to help them towards sustained positive destinations. All pupils still at school can request an appointment with a careers adviser through their careers teacher. For others, online and telephone access is available.

DfE has published a guide to the service specifically for young people.Further information on the careers service is available on the nidirect website.

See also the section ‘Career Guidance’ in the article on Guidance and Counselling in Early Childhood and School Education in the Eurydice national description.

Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) provide careers services for their students, although there is no statutory requirement for them to do so. Services typically provided include:

  • careers advice, including graduate placements, careers fairs and further study opportunities
  • CV workshops
  • networking/mentoring opportunities
  • coaching on interview techniques
  • support with job applications.

See also the article on ‘Guidance and Counselling in Higher Education‘ in the Eurydice national description.

Vocational education and training

The Department for the Economy sets annual targets for further education colleges for enrolment, achievement and success, achievement of which is directly linked to their funding arrangements.

The Northern Ireland strategy for further education 2016, contains a policy commitment  that colleges will publish information on learner retention, achievement, progression and destinations, as to inform learners’ choice of courses on which to enrol.

Under the Care to Learn (NI) Scheme, parents aged between 16 and 20 and studying at a further education college, or those expecting to become a parent during the course, can apply for help towards  childcare costs.

The Training for Success programme offers training up to 104 weeks (156 weeks for those with a disability) to help young people to gain the recognised skills and qualifications to progress. It is delivered across four strands:

  • Skills for Your Life
  • Skills for Work Level 1
  • Skills for Work Level 2
  • Skills for Work Level 3

(Qualifications, both general and vocational, are grouped into Levels within the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF), from Entry Level to Level 8. Qualifications at the same Level are of a similar difficulty, but the size and content can vary).Skills for Your Life is aimed at addressing the personal and development needs of young people who have disengaged from learning and/or have significant barriers to education, training or employment including Essential Skills needs. It is designed to address the need for more focused provision for the significant minority of young people for whom Skills for Work is not suitable.

Note: The Essential Skills of Communications, Application of Number and ICT (Levels 1 and 2) help to develop and enhance skills required for everyday life. These skills can also support the delivery and success of vocationally-related qualifications.

Retention incentives are offered to employers taking on apprentices by the Department for the Economy. An incentive payment is available for employers whose employees successfully complete the apprenticeships programme at Level 2 and Level 3.


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

Youth work is recognised as playing an important role in helping those young people who might otherwise drop out of education or training. Priorities for Youth, the Northern Ireland Government’s youth work strategy says: youth work can be particularly relevant to those at risk of disengaging from society, those who become disaffected at school. It also identifies ‘Young people not in, or who are at risk of disengaging from education, employment or training’ as being suitable for targeted provision.

The Big Lottery Fund makes grants available under its ‘Empowering young people’ programme. To be eligible, projects must be aimed at achieving at least one of the following outcomes:

  • more young people are ready for education, work and training
  • young people have better relationships with their support networks and communities
  • young people have improved health and well being.

The Prince's Trust, a UK-wide charity, runs the 'Achieve' programme, aimed at 13- to 19-year-olds who are experiencing  personal barriers that may prevent them from engaging in education and put them at risk of exclusion or underachievement. Young people are offered activities free of charge in areas such as: personal development and employability; life skills; community projects; literacy, language and numeracy and skills-boosting activities.Achieve can be delivered in a variety of settings apart from schools, such as youth centres and young offender institutions.

The International Fund for Ireland (IFI) seeks to promote reconciliation between the two main political persuasions in Northern Ireland, unionists and nationalists. It was established as an independent international organisation by the British and Irish Governments in 1986. IFI runs a Personal Youth Development Programme (PYDP), which aims to connect young people aged 16-25 to personalised learning, skills and employment opportunities with a central focus on good relations and preparing young people for the world of work. It is interested in engaging young people that are vulnerable to polarisation/recruitment to organisations opposed to the peace process and face barriers to participation in mainstream provision. The programme engages with young people who face a range of issues including; leaving the education system early; substance abuse; affected by homelessness; difficult family backgrounds; been in or close to criminal justice system; suffer from poor health or mental health issues; mistrust of statutory institutions; not participated in civic society in a positive manner; and come from communities with a negative view of their future.

Further information

European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice/Cedefop (2014). Tackling Early Leaving from Education and Training in Europe: Strategies, Policies and Measures. Eurydice and Cedefop Report. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Northern Ireland country sheets pp 208-209.

Cedefop (2016). Leaving Education Early: Putting Vocational Education and Training Centre Stage. Volume II. Evaluating Policy Impact. Luxembourg: Publications Office. Cedefop research paper; No 58.


Cross-sector coordination and monitoring of ELET interventions

While the main responsibility for implementation of the strategy to prevent early leaving from education and training is held by the Department for the Economy (DfE), the Department of Education (DE) and other departments are also closely involved, due to the cross-cutting nature of the policy. Pathways to Success discusses the voluntary and community sector that also have a key role to play.