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

The Irish Times - - Front Page - CARL O’BRIEN, PETER McGUIRE and ÉANNA Ó CAOL­LAÍ

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.

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