Equality loses out as money talks in education
THE reality of our twotier education system is sharply exposed in a report out today which confirms that money talks when it comes to choosing schools and getting high ‘points’ for college. It confirms that the dream of equal opportunity for all is still a long way off.
The study from the Higher Education Authority (HEA) shows that the biggest proportion of students entering college with high CAO ‘points’ comes from fee-paying secondary schools. They are also less likely to drop out of college than those with low points.
More than half of the students in fee-paying schools are from the professional and managerial classes. Few of them want to study primary teaching after their Leaving Cert.
A favourite destination is the Institute of Art, Design and Technology (IADT) in Dún Laoghaire, where a quarter of the student intake comes directly from fee-paying schools – the highest percentage in the country. The Institute is big into the media, digital, design and fashion areas.
Just behind it in terms of percentages from the fee-paying schools are Trinity and UCD. Next up is the National College of Art and Design, followed by DIT, which is on target to form part of the country’s first technological university before the end of the year.
The figures for the Royal College of Surgeons are unavailable but it’s not too hard to guess where the college gets most of its Irish student intake from.
Geography, of course, plays a big part in the college destination of these students as most fee-paying schools are in the Dublin area.
But for the most part, fee-paying students bypass the institutes of technology in Blanchardstown and Tallaght (only 3.7 pc and 7.7 pc respectively).
By contrast, the institutes with the highest proportions of students from disadvantaged schools are Letterkenny IT (28.4 pc), IT Tallaght (22.9 pc), IT Blanchardstown (20.8 pc) and IT Tralee (20.7 pc).
As HEA chief executive Dr Graham Love remarked: “We have an education system that is committed to access and to equality but it is still clear that a student from a financially better-off background and who may have been able to attend a fee-paying school has an advantage over those from less well-off backgrounds.”
So how do we level the playing field? The Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (Deis) scheme was introduced in 2005 to tackle educational disadvantage.
Studies have shown it has improved literacy and numeracy levels and reduced absenteeism rates in schools. But too few disadvantaged students are going into higher education and, more important, finishing their courses.
Overall, students from Deis schools are twice as likely to fail to progress than students who had attended fee-paying schools.
The latest HEA study shows that a relatively high proportion of students entering with lower points come from Deis schools. They tend to go to institutes of technology, which have higher non-progression rates than the universities.
The term ‘non-progression’ mainly covers what used to be known as drop-outs but also includes those who quit college temporarily in the hope of coming back at a later date, and those who change courses.
The overall non-progression rate for all higher education institutions combined was 14pc for those who enrolled in 2014-15, but this figure masks huge variations. They range from 27pc for students on level six (higher certificate) courses in the institutes of technology to 10pc for the universities.
But it is the students with the lower entry points who are most at risk of not progressing. Two out of every five students who entered with between 206 and 250 points did not progress into a second year.
Males are more likely not to make progress than females, especially on level six and level seven (ordinary degree) courses in the institutes.
DR Joseph Ryan, CEO of the Technological Higher Education Association, said it is about to undertake a more detailed study of student retention. He said: “We hope to deliver insights around what supports and interventions learners require in order to progress through their entire programme of higher-level education.
“Prior educational attainment, family context and socio-economic profile are all fundamental elements in this picture, and a greater understanding can assist in ensuring that resources are targeted where they are most needed.”
Today’s report shows that the typical student most likely to progress into second year will be a female studying education or healthcare in a university or college, with relatively high Leaving Cert points. The student least likely to progress will be a male, with relatively low Leaving Cert points, studying a level six or level seven course at an Institute of Technology in computer science, construction or engineering.
The report prompts a number of questions, especially given the high attrition rates from some courses where students’ aspirations are not matched by their abilities.
In an era of mass higher education, a variety of teaching and learning styles is needed.
The new apprenticeship model, which combines work and study, is more suited to some, and Education Minister Richard Bruton wants it rolled out in a broader range of disciplines as soon as possible.
But it is not the only solution to the problems of drop-out and non-progression.
Mr Bruton’s predecessors, Jan O’Sullivan and Ruairí Quinn, pushed for a new points system which would reward those taking higher level papers in their Leaving. They also wanted broader entry courses in first year in college, thus preventing students from having to decide, at an early stage, what specialism they should take.
These reforms are being introduced and we should see the benefits from now on.
Figures are one thing but they cannot highlight the personal stories and insights that lie behind the statistics – where do these students go, how many of them change course early on and continue to complete their higher education journey, or how many actually enter employment and continue to contribute to the local economy?
Some may quit for positive reasons but for many dropping out of college can be a personal tragedy.
Dr Paul Fox from Wexford is thrown into the air by class mates celebrating their final medicine results at the Royal College of Surgeons yesterday