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School with No Rules!

Friday, 5 March 2010

Youthreach Trim was formally declared as a Quality Center today.

Liz Lavery, Co-Ordinator (same function as Principal) of the Youthreach Centre of Education in Trim Co. Meath

Pupil - Stephen King


Could you just explain in a few lines about what the Youth reach center of education is and what it offers to students?

Youthreach is an education and training programme for young people aged between 15 and 20 years who have left mainstream education for any number of reasons. Youthreach nationally offers various programmes, Junior Certificate, Leaving certificate and FETAC certification.

What is the age range of the students? Are there more boys than girls?

Our students range in age from 15 to 20 years. We have 34 students in total....30 boys and 4 girls.

What subjects do you teach? Is it similar to secondary school? What qualifications do the students receive?

We provide Maths, English, Personal Effectiveness (personal development programme), sport, Woodwork, ECDL, Occupational First Aid, FAI soccer coaching, Art, childcare. We are similar to secondary school in terms of organised timetables, start at 9am and finish at 4pm etc. Students option FETAC Level 3 which is equivalent to Junior Cert and FETAC Level 4 which is equivilent to Leaving Cert and we offer some subjects at fETAC level 5 which is PLC level.

Why are these kids not in main stream schools?

Mainstream education is not for everybody. Young people present with difficulties which manifests themselves in poor behaviour in classes. As this is disruptive to the main body of the class many students find themselves out of the classes and may even be suspended. Issues outside of school also have a role to play with students' ability to participate and learn.

Where did you get the idea to throw the code/rule book out the window?

When we started in Youthreach I had been introduced to the concepts of William Glasser and Choice Theory. In his model he bases everything on successful relationships with people. He said that the 'only person we can control is ourselves....we cannot control another human being'.

With this in mind we opened our centre. However if this concept was really true then having a rule or discipline system seemed pointless because we could not force a student to comply if they chose not too. If we built solid caring relationships with people we could influence them rather than coercing them into abiding by rules.

You mention 3 basic rules that you operate by, if someone breaches these rules what happens?

. Rule1: If there is a fire in the building, we tell people to get out.

. Rule 2: Students are not allowed to bring in banned substances.

. Rule 3: Students are not allowed to assault another student.

We discussed with our groups that we had laws of our state that we must comply with and explained each one. We asked our students to help us deal with breaches of these laws within our centre. They chose that if a person is breaking the law that the parents of that students would be contacted and they would be asked to choose to remove their child from the centre to keep them safe.

Can you describe the atmosphere and mood in the school among the teachers and the pupils?

We have a lovely atmosphere in our centre and this is noted by everyone who enters. We were inspected by the Dept. of Education and Science two years ago and it was one of the first statements they made in their report. Students and staff have solid relationships with each other based on equality and honesty.

This allows meaningful discussion to take place when an issue arises and nobody feels hard done by.. We do not allow the word 'sorry' in the building because if a person is requested to apologise to another, it alters the equality balance between two people and that is not what we want our students to feel.

Youthreach Trim was formally declared as a Quality Center today (Friday 5th March) Can you tell us about what a quality center is?

A Quality Centre is many things and very difficult to explain in a short sentence or paragraph. However the base line is where students are not controlled by other people (teachers, principals etc) and operate a system of self control.

They centre is driven from the student upwards rather than organised from the top down. Students have a say in what they are taught and have input into every aspect of centre life. This includes attendance at staff meetings, involvement in staff recruitment etc.

Are there any other schools of this kind operating in Ireland at the moment?

We are the first in Ireland and I think only the second in Europe. There are quite a number in the states.

From your point of view do you think that this could work all over the country?

Without question. As the model is based on caring relationships it can be replicated anywhere.

We have seen (in the video) some of the students have had trouble in their old schools, how do you think that attending your youth reach center will help them in the long run?

Without a doubt. It has restores their confidence.

For any parents that are worried about their children in school, what advice would you have for them?

Children should be happy. Keep an eye on them and keep in contact with your schools. Talk to your principals and discuss any worries you may have with them. If however there is an issue please look to the alternatives.

When you tell prospective students (who might want to enter the school) that there is no rules in the school, are they shocked?

Yes, maybe at the start they might be a bit shocked when we tell them there are no rules, but if they are standing in the corridor of the school, we say to them, look, you can't hear any disturbance or noise in the background. and we tell them that this is working!


How old are you?

I' m 17 yrs of age

How long have you been attending the Youthreach Centre?

I started in Youthreach in April 2009

What subjects are you studying?

I study a variety of subjects. There are 4 compulsory subjects English, Maths, I.T. and personal effectiveness. The other subjects are art, woodwork, cultural studies, metalwork, food and cookery and sports.

Why did you leave mainstream school?

I didn't feel that I was being treated with respect by the system.

How do you find it different from mainstream school?

The main difference is the environment. Building relationships is very important in Youthreach. It's more friendly and relaxed in Youthreach and everyone is treated with respect. The individual learning plan means that I have my needs met, and the subjects are interesting and we have fun learning.

How has the Youthreach Centre made a difference to his life?

I am less anxious about my learning, I feel more confident that I will succeed and I have a sense of pride in being a student in Youthreach.

What did you think when you first heard that there was no rules, did you think that this was a license to do what ever you wanted?

I thought it was weird that there were no rules. I thought how will this work, but I didn't think it was a license to do what I wanted.

How does it work for you?

I know that there are basic rules of conduct. Everyone knows right from wrong and it's amazing how it works because the teachers have trust in us to act responsibly and we do. We all look out for one another.

What does he hope to do in the future?

I want to be involved in music technology or sound engineering

For people watching that might relate to Stephens's story what advice would he have for them?

I would tell people that there is a place like Youthreach which provides another option to be educated.