211 Young People and Adults from Marginalised Communities Access Education

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By Chamber Press Office, 23 March 2023

211 Young People and Adults from Marginalised Communities Access Education in the First Year of Rethink Ireland ‘Engage & Educate’ Fund

Four non-profit organisations – Care After Prison, Cultúr Migrant Centre, Galway Traveller Movement and Youth Horizons – have delivered transformative educational programmes under the Engage & Educate Fund in 2022, enabling 211 young people and adults to progress their education.

The €1.2 million three-year Engage & Educate Fund was created by Rethink Ireland in partnership with Mason Hayes & Curran LLP and the Department of Rural and Community Development via the Dormant Accounts Fund, specifically to empower people from marginalised communities through education.

Educational participation and attainment have increased in Ireland in recent decades and are relatively strong compared to other countries.
However, recent research has shown differences in participation and attainment among learner groups, with certain groups particularly underserved by the current system in Ireland including: socio-economically disadvantaged learners, learners with special educational needs, learners with socioemotional/behaviour difficulties, migrant learners, Roma and Travellers.

The four Awardee organisations are addressing this issue by directly working within these communities to create access routes into education for learners. They are also working closely with schools, further education bodies and employers to ensure that they have the right conditions in place to attract learners from all backgrounds. 
Rethink Ireland supports the most innovative non-profit organisations working in Irish communities across the country. Since 2016, they have invested €27.2 million in education, supporting 104 projects at the primary, secondary, tertiary and vocational & non-formal education levels.


Deirdre Mortell, CEO, Rethink Ireland said: “We believe that a whole-of-government and whole-of-community approach is required to tackle persistent inequalities in educational outcomes in Ireland. Our aim is for an Ireland where everyone can learn and reach their potential irrespective of their background, gender, disability, or anything else that can hold us back. We want to see Ireland as a learning society for everyone. 

Will Carmody, Managing Partner, Mason Hayes & Curran LLP, commented: “A more equal access to education helps to create a more just and fair society. We have supported the provision of educational opportunity, particularly for marginalised communities, for many years and have seen first-hand the difference that access to support and resources can make. The ripple effect benefits not just the individual learner, but their family and wider communities, reducing poverty, addressing inequalities and opening up a world of opportunity. Our work with the Engage & Educate Fund provides critical support for the four awardee organisations, addressing urgent needs but also shining a light on the transformative impacts of these programmes."


One Year On: In Conversation with Engage & Educate Fund Awardee Organisations

Youth Horizons

“This place helped me find my path, tailored to my needs. I didn’t know I could ask for that. I had lost faith in myself because I wasn't succeeding in mainstream education.”  - former Youth Horizons student.

Since the year 2000, Youth Horizons has helped over 200 young people to complete the leaving certificate and enter both employment and third-level education. Situated in Jobstown, West Tallaght, which is one of the most disadvantaged areas in Ireland, Youth Horizons has been responding to the needs of the community since 1988. At present, early school leaving is a defining social issue in the area.

Founder and Managing Director of Youth Horizons, Sister Mairead Hughes said: “The grant from Rethink Ireland has enabled us to increase and improve our service to recent graduates. It has also allowed us to rethink and adapt our managerial structure at a time of transition. In short, it has given us hope for the future. The need for our service has never been greater.”

She cites the view of a former Youth Horizons student that: “If it wasn't for Youth Horizons, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to do the Leaving Cert. The crèche was essential for me in staying in education.”

Since receiving supports through the Engage & Educate Fund, Youth Horizons Teacher, Anne Kearney, said the programme has been enabled to extend its coursework offerings to include a life-skills module as well as introducing the students to budgeting and cooking nutritious meals.

According to the CSO, in 2019, an early school leaver is three times as likely to be unemployed than the general population aged 18-24. Average weekly earnings for early school leavers were €65 less than the 74% of their peers who had finished school – amounting to €345 per week compared to €410 per week.

Former student teacher, Orlagh Byrne, said: “Not only was Youth Horizons the space where I learned how to structure, plan and deliver a lesson, it was also where I saw the monumental impact that a safe learning space has on the lives of students. It taught me about the need to support a student not only educationally, but also on a practical and emotional level, as they aim to achieve their goals in life; and for these students, it was in the face of various challenges and obstacles.

Galway Traveller Movement

Galway Traveller Movement is an independent Traveller organisation working in Galway City and County. It is a partnership of Travellers and non-Travellers who work to challenge and respond to the structural inequalities experienced by the Traveller community.

The "Educate to Empower" project, one of the many facets of the Galway Traveller Movement, is a peer-led education programme that currently works with 65 students to promote cultural identity and nurture young people's health, wellbeing and creativity. 

Education Coordinator, Ruth Sheridan, from Galway Traveller Movement said: “Due to the funding received from Rethink Ireland, Galway Traveller Movement has been able to set up a Diversity Hub in a post-primary school in Galway city. Without the Engage & Educate funding, Galway Traveller Movement would not have an education sector at all and would not be able to provide education-specific support to families and children.”

With a key influence on educational outcomes, the project enables Traveller families to engage in afterschool support through a network of volunteer tutors and technologies that develop creative and culturally specific workshops, in consultation with Traveller youth, that builds self-esteem and belonging.

According to ESRI Research ‘A Social Portrait of Travellers in Ireland’, only 1% of Travellers aged 25-64 have a college degree, compared with 30% of non-Travellers. Members of the Traveller community are more likely to leave school early, with 28% of Travellers leaving before the age of 13, compared with 1% of non-Travellers.

Commenting on the importance of inclusion for current Travellers in secondary school, a student at the Diversity Hub said, “I think if the Diversity Hub wasn’t here, I would have dropped out of school at the start of this year. In the Diversity Hub, we have someone to help us work on our projects - we have laptops and printers, things that I don’t have at home. The workers help us catch up when we’ve missed class, and sometimes I go to the Diversity Hub when I need a time out. I find school hard, and it’s important to me to have someone to help.”

Cultúr Migrant Centre  

“The support I received has helped me with my new role as a psychotherapist. The Centre has given me the tools needed to engage and contribute to decision making forums. I now represent my community on local messaging boards, including at inter-agency meetings, where issues affecting the community are highlighted and discussed.”  – Cultúr Migrant Centre learner.

Cultúr Migrant Centre, based in Co. Meath, is a community organisation that focuses on the provision of equal rights and educational opportunities in Ireland.  With funding received through the Engage & Educate Fund in 2022, 106 migrants engaged in accredited vocational bridging courses - triple the centre’s targeted number of participants engaged in such courses.

As recent ESRI Research highlighted, Non-Irish nationals are generally more likely to be found in lower quality jobs and, as a whole, earned 22 per cent less per hour than Irish nationals. Non-Irish women experience a further “double earnings penalty”: for being female and for being a migrant.

The 'Upskilling Project' at Cultúr aims to empower migrants and promote employability skills, targeted at providing training and support to learners who are marginalised and at risk of falling through the gaps of mainstream support systems.  

Cultúr Migrant Centre Programme Manager, Tinu Achioya, commented on the impact that the funding has had on the programme: “Migrants who have been supported by this programme have developed their skills, acquired new qualifications and gained from the wrap-around support that Cultúr provides. They have also built economic resilience, which has contributed towards a reduced level of poverty, while increasing their overall chances of gaining meaningful employment to benefit themselves and the community at large.”

Care After Prison

The Care After Prison ‘Post Release Community Reintegration’ project, based in Dublin city, provides pathways and support to education, training, and employment for those with lived experience of incarceration. 

At the end of 2022, the programme had provided bespoke, individual plans to 62 programme users, with the aim of guiding participants, post-release, as they reintegrate into society. 

The Care After Prison project was awarded funding under the Engage & Educate Fund, a €1.2 million three-year fund created by Rethink Ireland in partnership with Mason Hayes & Curran LLP and the Department of Rural and Community Development via the Dormant Accounts Fund. The Fund supports innovative projects that empower young people and adults through education, enabling people from marginalised communities to access game-changing education programmes.

“A key challenge in criminal justice policy is breaking the cycle of offending behaviour and supporting those who have spent time in prison to effectively engage with life outside the criminal justice system.” - Caitríona Nic Góráin, Acting Chair, Care After Prison.

The reintegration project team has a staff of 9 members, many of whom have lived experience of being incarcerated, that support individuals with securing pathways to education and employment. The programme also involves the contribution of Community Support Workers, that provide guidance to users on the other barriers faced, including access to and remaining in education and employment, mentoring, peer-to-peer assistance, and support with housing and family.  

Speaking on the importance of tackling the challenges faced by individuals post-incarceration, Caitríona Nic Góráin, Acting Chair, Care After Prison said: “This funding is undoubtedly imperative.  While on paper, Ireland has a free education system, there are many real barriers to people of all ages engaging with, and successfully participating in, education.”

“We need to continue to find ways to support people whose journey to education is an uphill one. Social Enterprise funding does this, and without Rethink Ireland’s support, programmes like this would simply not be possible.”

Prior to receiving social enterprise funding from Rethink Ireland, the Care After Prison Community Reintegration project was delivered on an ad hoc basis. The programme has since expanded by employing Community Support Workers, who work in conjunction with volunteers to support programme users on a day-to-day schedule.

According to figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO), almost half, 45%, of those released from prison in 2019 were likely to have reoffended within a year. 

“The return to offending – recidivism – is a challenge that all criminal justice systems are concerned with. A key challenge in criminal justice policy is breaking the cycle of offending behaviour and supporting those who have spent time in prison to effectively engage with life outside the criminal justice system.” Said Caitríona Nic Góráin.

The overall vision of Care After Prison is that everyone affected by incarceration will get the support they need to reintegrate successfully into society. The organisation’s mission is to support these people in overcoming the challenges they face post-release.  

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