Skewed statistics do little to promote choice in education
On November 9th last, RTÉ news broadcast a report by education correspondent Emma O’Kelly. At the time, the Department of Education was consulting the parents of preschool and primary school children in Arklow, Trim, Tramore, Castlebar and Whitehall in Dublin about patronage of primary schools.
On the eve of the submission deadline of the pilot survey, Emma O’Kelly went to Castlebar where there are 11 primary schools, all Catholic. She spoke to about 40 parents. Half had not heard about the online survey, and with only a day to go, only four had filled it in.
She found no particular appetite for change, despite the lack of diversity. One woman summed up the views of many. She agreed with the need for diversity in patronage, but definitely did not want to see change in her own little country school, with which she was perfectly happy.
O’Kelly commented: “My visit to Castlebar makes me wonder about this survey. It can’t possibly reflect the richness of views I heard from parents, the things they value, the things they don’t want changed.” Her perception proved to be more than accurate.
The results were released this week and it is clear that there is some demand for change in patronage. However, the methodology was flawed, the submission rate poor, and it is imperative that a new and much more robust method be used for the next 40 or so areas to be surveyed.
Using an online consultation was never a good idea, because it results in a self-selected group, not a representative sample. Only the late and much-missed Garret FitzGerald would have enjoyed ploughing through the statistics that were generated.
By my reckoning of the parents who have children up to age 12, roughly a third responded. That’s a very low response rate on which to base educational change. We don’t know why the response was so poor. It could have been poor publicising of the survey, being too busy, having preschool age children or children who will shortly be leaving primary and therefore not seeing it as a priority, or generally being pleased with the current school choice.
Of those who did respond, roughly 30 per cent would avail of a wider choice of schools if offered. Expressed as a percentage of the total population of children aged up to 12 in the various areas, in Arklow, that represents 7.2 per cent who would avail of change, in Castlebar, about 11.4 per cent, in Tramore 9.2 per cent, in Trim 11 per cent, and in Whitehall, 7.3 per cent.