Aims and objectives. To establish adolescents’ beliefs regarding the need for structured diabetes education and their views on how such a programme should be organised and what topics need to be addressed.Background. Structured diabetes education programmes have become common place in diabetes care in recent years. Despite the use of these programmes in adult patients, to date, there exists no tried or tested programme for adolescents. Prior to the development of programmes for this age group, there is a need to establish their views on programme content, delivery mechanisms and how best to introduce structured education in this population.Design. An exploratory qualitative study.Methods. Five focus group interviews were undertaken across three acute Hospital Trusts in Northern Ireland. A total of 21 adolescents between 13–19 years were interviewed. Data were analysed by means of a thematic content analysis framework.Results. All participants expressed a need for a structured education programme specifically tailored to their needs. The complexity of existing diabetes regimens brought with it feelings of frustration and guilt for the majority of adolescents. Many felt isolated and alone. Dietary management and insulin adjustment were seen as very complex.Conclusion. Participants favoured a structured diabetes education programme that was short in duration, practical in nature, positive in outlook and relevant to daily life.Relevance to clinical practice. Programmes should address the specific needs of adolescents, be delivered in a practical manner and be realistic for everyday use.