Children from working-class backgrounds “more likely” to have special needs

ESRI research published on Children’s Engagement in Education

Education Minister Ruairí Quinn has said the challenge of ensuring the education system eliminates disadvantage is “an incredible one”.

Education Minister Ruairí Quinn has said the challenge of ensuring the education system eliminates disadvantage is “an incredible one”.

Thu, May 9, 2013, 06:00

Education Minister Ruairí Quinn has said the challenge of ensuring the education system eliminates disadvantage is “an incredible one”.

He was speaking in Dublin at the publication of new research by the Economic and Social Research Institute.

The Growing Up in Ireland study tracks the lives of 20,000 children and their parents and teachers in Ireland. Research from one aspect of the study entitled Children’s Engagement in Education was published yesterday.

Children from working class backgrounds – particularly boys – are more likely to be identified with a special need, according to the research.

Mr Quinn said Ireland must move towards a situation “where our overriding concern is with the education experiences and outcomes that we are providing for [special needs] children – and I don’t think we have that sufficiently yet in Ireland today”.

He said the research would help inform policy with “facts about what is happening on the ground”.

“The more we know about educational outcomes the better we can fine-tune our interventions. We have limited resources, so when we get new evidence that intervention in this way or that way would have a better outcome – that’s when the Department of Education has to respond.”

The socioeconomic background of schools was found to affect a number of key aspects of school practice – including time allocated to different subjects, the teaching methods used and the approach to discipline.

These were found to vary by school social mix – suggesting that school principals and teachers adapt their practices to reflect student composition.

The element of the report related to the experiences of special needs children in primary schools is the first of its kind.

It found that one in four children have some form of special educational need, which is in line with estimates from recent studies in other countries. Children with additional needs, particularly those with learning disabilities, face “considerable barriers” to fully engaging in school life.

For such children, low levels of academic engagement and poor relations with their teachers and peers play “a central role” in explaining lower levels of school engagement and overall enjoyment of school.

Teachers in designated disadvantaged schools (Deis) were more likely to use teacher-directed approaches and less likely to use more active teaching methods than those in non-disadvantaged schools.

In terms of discipline policy, Deis schools more frequently use verbal and written contact with parents than other schools.

The research found that girls had slightly higher reading test scores than boys.

Greater gender differences were evident from maths test scores – with boys scoring higher (especially at the top end) than girls.

Boys had higher levels of school absenteeism and were less likely than girls to complete their homework.

Mr Quinn said these findings would allow his department to “assess the differing educational experiences and outcomes” for boys and girls.

“It will encourage us to consider these differences as we further develop policies appropriate to our educational system. It might even provoke a new debate about single-gendered, post-primary schools.”

Mr Quinn said the department would be piloting a pupil database of primary students.

“When fully rolled out, the database combined with the existing post-primary database will complement the data from this study and allow us to make policy that genuinely seeks to eliminate educational disadvantage from our society.”