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Murphy, Sarah and McKenna, Grainne and Downes, Paul (2019) Educational gaps and future solutions. Dublin: Peter McVerry Trust.

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This research report, by DCU’s Educational Disadvantage Centre and Peter McVerry Trust, on young homeless men’s experiences of the education system has found a widespread need for reforms and additional supports for vulnerable young people in the education system.

Key findings:

●        Significant deterioration in the interviewees’ experiences of education following their transition from primary to secondary school

●        Rates of suspension and expulsion from school significantly higher than the national average, with 55% of participants having experienced reduced access to education via suspension, rolling suspension or expulsion

●        68% indicated that they had experienced ‘traumatic childhood events’

●        Inadequate emotional counselling and therapeutic supports in and around schools

●        The challenge and barriers to education when accessing emergency homeless accommodation yet 79% of participants interested in further education or training

Among the recommendations of the research is a call for the Department of Education to make a new funding stream available for mental health supports for young people, to include specialised counselling services to address emotional issues and trauma experienced by vulnerable and at risk young students. The report recommends the establishment of a distinct funding strand to develop Community Lifelong Learning Centres, to meet the diverse holistic educational needs of vulnerable young people. The report also calls for the Department of Education and Skills, together with the Teaching Council, to provide and lead a strategic commitment to enhance focus on conflict resolution skills for secondary school teachers through initial teacher education and professional development programmes.

Recommendation 6: Increase focus on Social, Personal, Health Education (SPHE), in particular social and emotional development education, meaningful drug education and life skills

Recommendation 7. Explore ways of providing accommodation for young men which addresses the heterogeneity of this group and is conducive to studying and maintaining employment, as well as the provision of education and training opportunities where appropriate.  Particular consideration should be given to accommodation and communal spaces for those who are co-parenting, seeking a return to education and employment, as well as those seeking support for drug and alcohol addiction.

Participants called for more social, emotional education, relevant, meaningful drug prevention education about the consequences of using drugs, and a life skills curriculum which would include more practical learning and life skills.

A total of 34 of 50 questionnaire participants indicated that they had experienced ‘traumatic childhood events’. As mentioned in the section on literature, there is an increasing acceptance in research of the significance of the experience of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), in particular multiple experiences of ACEs, resulting in heightened risks for issues in later life, including homelessness, as well as lowered outcomes for children and young people. While the questionnaire did not ask participants to identify the nature or frequency of trauma, a number of participants offered examples including; domestic violence, exposure to suicide, bereavement, family breakdown, living in persistent poverty and parental separation. These experiences were often linked to educational difficulties and risks behaviours including; difficulty concentrating, drug and alcohol use and reduced school attendance.

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