XLC Project: allows students ‘take control of their life and learning’

The school is one of a tiny number of schools to offer Hebrew Studies

The XLC Project refuge for young people in Waterford city who don’t fit into the mainstream system.

The XLC Project refuge for young people in Waterford city who don’t fit into the mainstream system.


School name: XLC Project

School type: Secondary community school with charitable status

Pupil numbers: 52 for Leaving Cert, 11 for Junior Cert

Principal: Eoin Jackson, assisted by Finola Jackson

Medium of instruction: English language

Website: Facebook.com/XLCProject

Extracurricular activities include: Christmas concert, Halloween table quiz, pool and foosball room. Gym facilities available and recording studio on site. The school is based in a youth centre and students are facilitated with access to the associated youth, activity and sporting groups.

Subject options: Nine subjects for Junior Cert, with 13 subjects timetabled for Leaving Cert and 16 more available on request.

Unusual fact: One of a tiny number of schools to offer Hebrew Studies.

The XLC Project is unlike the majority of schools in Ireland, but it’s a refuge for young people in Waterford city who don’t fit into the mainstream system. Like the Cork Life Centre, the XLC Project focuses on young people who have left the formal secondary school system.

“It began when my mother, Nuala Jackson, was working in a local boys’ school and launched some initiatives to reach out to students who might otherwise fall through the cracks,” says Eoin Jackson, the school principal. “Around the same time, my sister dropped out of school and [NUALA]home educated her through the Leaving Cert. Then, a boy in her school who, for various reasons, was falling through the cracks and she helped him. When other parents heard about it, they asked her for help. Eventually, the XLC project – external Leaving Cert – although the ‘C’ also honours my young cousin, Chelsea, who died in the US.”

Because it’s not a regular school, the XLC project doesn’t normally feature on The Irish Times feeder school lists. But this year, of the 38 students who sat the Leaving Cert there, eight went on to study at the local Waterford Institute of Technology. For fee-paying schools or the Gaelscoileanna that regularly appear at the top of these charts, that wouldn’t be any great shakes, but for the XLC project, it’s a big deal: these are young people who may otherwise have been left behind.

The XLC Project, like Cork Life Centre, isn’t centrally funded by the Department of Education, instead currently relying on local fundraising and a grant – only renewed on a year-by-year basis – through the Back to Education Initiative. There are two staff, including Eoin Jackson, on a half-salary, and the rest are volunteers.

In 2015, Tusla was critical of XLC, saying it “did not provide a certain minimum education”, that the standard of grammar and punctuation of the students was not up to speed and that not enough time was spent on subjects. Jackson has vociferously refuted this: he says the school’s model is one that includes a majority of students with a learning difficulty, and that the hours allocated at junior cycle match what is given to a child on home tuition – a full schedule would not work for these children and that distance learning is a core part of their model.

The school has taken on young people who had challenging behaviours in their old school and gotten them through the State exams. What’s different is that attendance is strongly encouraged and followed up on, but not enforced by punishment.

The school is now just over 20 years old. “We had a reunion with past pupils last year,” says Jackson. “A lot of our past pupils went on to become entrepreneurs. Perhaps this is because going to XLC is seen as a risk, but it can allow students take control of their life and learning – the very qualities we see in entrepreneurs.”