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Don O'Leary, director of the Cork Life Centre. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Don O'Leary, director of the Cork Life Centre. Picture: Denis Minihane.

Life Centre had to turn away 400 people in 3 years due to capacity restrictions

CORK needs more facilities to cater for the increasing demand for alternative education for school dropouts, the head of the Cork Life Centre has said.

Cork Life Centre (CLC) is a voluntary organisation offering an alternative learning environment to young people who find themselves outside the mainstream education system.

It had to turn away more than 400 young people seeking placements with the service in the past three years.

While the Life Centre receives government funding already, Director of the centre, Don O’Leary, said more is needed to cater for a growing demand.

He said the demand for services is not surprising given the fact that 10% of all students in Ireland do not complete Leaving Certificate and therefore will be deemed 'Early School Leavers'.

“It is our belief that this is just the tip of the iceberg,” he added.

“While it would be true to say that the Cork Life Centre receives funding from the Department of Education this funding is not sufficient to run the service we provide at present nor does it come close to representing parity in relation to funding allocated per child in the mainstream education system.” 

Mr O’Leary revealed that the funding is not fixed on a yearly basis and no contracts are signed.

“Given that a student's education cycle can be 5 years, this makes it extremely difficult for us to plan,” he said.

“The Cork Life Centre needs to secure funding from the state to ensure its present service remains viable into the future.

“Given the proper funding we could secure our current centre and then look to expanding and developing further sites for learning and grow into the future as the need demands,” he added.

“Given the number of referrals we are having to refuse we should at the very least be looking to open one further Life Centre in Cork.” 

Providing localised, rather than centralised funding, could finance such an initiative, explained Mr O’Leary.

“If as is the case in the UK funding was localised rather than centralised the funding could follow the child to where they access their education,” he said.

While Mr O’Leary said that any additional funding would not see the current centre expand its capacity from 55 students, as the CLC wants to maintain its current model, he explained it could lead to further expansion elsewhere.

“The obvious next step would be to roll out our model in further centres in Cork initially and then beyond,” he said.