Private schools still dominate third-level courses
Gaping social divide set to reignite debate over €90m subsidies for private schools Dominance holds despite millions being spent on narrowing class gap in education
Pupils emerging from private schools are keeping a strong grip on the most sought-after third-level courses, despite millions being spent on narrowing the class gap in education.
The annual Irish Times Feeder Schools list – which measures the proportion of pupils who progress to third level – shows a gaping social divide between affluent and poorer areas. Half of the 25 schools which sent the highest proportion of their students to third level this year were fee-paying schools.
Almost all pupils in these schools went on to higher education, and the bulk were in affluent areas of south Dublin.
By contrast, the proportion of students going to higher education in some of the poorest schools is as low as 15 per cent.
The dominance of the private school sector is likely to spark a fresh debate over State subsidies for the sector, which are worth ¤90 million a year. This funding goes on salaries for teachers in the 51 fee-paying schools, along with capital expenditure, grants for computer equipment and sports facilities.
State support for disadvantaged secondary schools – known as the Deis scheme – is worth about ¤60 million a year. This targeted funding goes towards additional teachers, grants for school books, school meals and other supports, over and above regular funding.
On average, fee-paying schools send 100 per cent of students to higher education, while this rate falls to 57 per cent among Deis schools. This gap has not narrowed over the past six years, data shows.
The social divide is more stark when third-level participation rates are broken down by schools sending the most pupils to high points courses. These are courses offered in the universities and other colleges.
Some 18 of the 25 schools which sent the highest proportion of their pupils to high points courses were fee-paying schools. When overall third-level progression rates are broken down by school types, it shows there are significant differences.
No significant shift
Voluntary secondary schools – typically schools owned or run by religious groups – send the highest proportion of pupils to higher education (82 per cent). They are followed by comprehensive schools (79 per cent), community schools (72 per cent) and Education and Training Board – formerly vocational – schools (69 per cent). There has been no significant shift in these patterns over the past six years, data shows.
In a sign that the rising cost of college accommodation may be a factor for students, this year’s data shows lower third-level progression rates in counties which do not have a large third-level institution.
When this year’s feeder school figures are broken down to show schools which have recorded the biggest increase in third-level participation in recent years, some disadvantaged schools come out on top, for example, Adamstown Vocational College in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, a Deis school.
Education analysts say while data in feeder school lists shows the proportion of students who go to third level, it is not a reflection of whether one school is better than another. Factors such as social class and geography play a significant role. The data also does not include students progressing to further education or apprenticeships.
1. Most students stay local
Irish young people are tending to apply for third-level places in their local colleges. Most Irish school-leavers want to attend colleges where they can continue to socialise with their peer group.
But there is a growing economic factor too: living away from home adds hugely to the cost of college.
There are significantly lower progression rates in areas without a large third-level institution on their doorstep. For example, third-level progression rates in Cavan (69 per cent) and Longford (66 per cent) lag well behind Galway (82 per cent), home to NUI Galway and GMIT.
2. A gaping social divide
There remain stark differences in college participation based on social class.
The most affluent parts of the capital such as Dublin 2, Dublin 6 and Dublin 4 saw 90-100 per cent of pupils progress to college.
By contrast, in more deprived areas of the city such as Dublin 17, the proportion of Leaving Cert students going to college was just 15 per cent.
The divide is also stark when the figures are broken down into higher-points courses (defined, in this case, as programmes in universities, colleges of education, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) or the Technological University Dublin).
Some 88 per cent of school-leavers in Dublin 6 went to one of these institutions, compared with 15 per cent in Dublin 17.
3. Exceptionally high college-going rate
The data reveals Ireland’s exceptionally high third-level participation rate, which is among the highest in the world. Ireland also has one of the highest retention rates in second level across Europe: that is the proportion of students who stay at school until the Leaving Cert. It is difficult to say how many students are progressing to further education or apprenticeships; we have consistently requested this data, but education authorities have not yet released it.
4. Are grind schools drawing students from fee-paying schools?
While pupil numbers at second level are growing, our figures show numbers sitting the Leaving Cert in more than one-third of fee-paying schools dropped this year. Why? Firstly, the country was still in the teeth of the recession when this year’s cohort of Leaving Cert students started secondary school in 2013. The downturn hit family income and enrolment numbers for private schools at the time.
Secondly, full-time grind schools in cities, offering a two-year Leaving Cert programme, seem to be drawing better- off families.
5. Some disadvantaged schools are performing extremely well
Schools designated as disadvantaged – or Deis – receive extra resources to help overcome education deficits.
Overall, our figures show about 57 per cent of pupils in these 191 schools go on to higher education. These rates have not shifted much since 2013. However, when we break down the figures to see which are the most improved individual schools over recent years, a great deal of them are in the Deis category. For example, Adamstown Vocational Colleges in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, a Deis school, has seen its progression rates jump almost 50 per cent in the past six years.
6. Falling numbers boost some school progression rates artificially
One in 10 schools saw more of their students start a college course in 2019 than sat the Leaving Cert in that school in June. How is this possible?
Students who defer taking up a course for a year are categorised as having sat the Leaving Cert in the year they took up their third-level course. In addition, many pupils who go to grind schools are categorised as belonging to their original school.
As progression rates are calculated by dividing the number of pupils going to college this year by the number who sat the exam, a lower number of Leaving Cert students in 2019 can artificially boost the percentage of pupils progressing to third level. This is why trends are more significant.