Teacher volunteers value being able to make a difference as mentors through Gaisce

15 Jan 2021
President Michael D Higgins at Gaisce Awards

Together with Gaisce, The President’s Award - Ireland’s national youth achievement award programme - a recent UCC Community-Academic Research Links (CARL) project explored the role of the youth mentor within a non-formal learning environment. Some 90% of the teacher PALs surveyed reported that they believed that they ‘made a difference’ to the lives of their Award students and 52% of them have been volunteering for more than 10 years. 

Gaisce – The President’s Award is a personal development programme for young people, which enhances confidence and wellbeing through participation in personal, physical and community challenges. At each Award level, participants are allocated a President’s Award Leader (PAL) who acts as a mentor and provides personal support for growth and positive  personal development. One thousand two hundred Irish secondary school teachers are intrinsically linked to the programme.  They advocate for the programme and act as volunteers and mentors to a cohort of secondary schools pupils.

Deepening the understanding of the dynamic of the mentor relationship, the research explored the experiences and identities of Gaisce PALs, their characteristics and behaviours, motivations for volunteering, conceptualisation of their role and how it is valued. The research was undertaken by Master of Community and Voluntary Sector Management student, Philip Mangan, under the expert supervision of Dr Máire Leane, School of Applied Social Studies.

Drawing on quantitative survey data and semi-structured qualitative interviews, the study examined the value the school-based President’s Award Leaders (PALs) perceive is attached to the mentoring role they provide through the Gaisce programme. 

90% of the teacher PALs surveyed reported that they believed that they ‘made a difference’ to the lives of their Award students and  there was unanimous agreement amongst research participants that they have no desire to receive monetary or other rewards for the work they do for Gaisce. However the importance they place on feeling valued was highlighted by a general consensus that they appreciate receiving recognition for the work they do.

“ Another central highlight of this study was that the significant finding that PALs working in DEIS (Delivering Equality of  Opportunity in Schools) schools believed that students and the parents of students in their schools, who achieved the Award, place a high value on the work they do and on the Gaisce programme – since they are less likely to have had the opportunity to attain as may awards as students in more advantaged schools”,

says Philip who liaised with Dr Yvonne McKenna, Chief Executive Officer of Gaisce in this study.

“Philip’s research is of significant value and benefit to us here in Gaisce.  It has confirmed that PALs are central to the design of Gaisce, and without PALs, Gaisce doesn’t exist.  While Gaisce has been established in the national consciousness for over 35 years, this research has provided valuable insights and clarity in the role and relationship dynamics between a mentor and mentee.  These are valuable research outcomes upon which we can refine our future direction” says Yvonne.

A key finding that 52% of volunteers have spent more than ten years implementing the programme in their schools provides empirical evidence of the value teachers place on the role they play in mentoring young people through the Gaisce programme. 


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UCC Community Academic Research Links (CARL) is a leading civic initiative of University College Cork.

Civic & Community Engagement

Comhpháirteachas Cathartha agus Pobail

University College Cork, Cork, Ireland,