Social class of school a key factor in third level attendance

Creating ‘high expectations’ in working class schools key to boosting equality – report

The ESRI (Economic and Social Research Institute) report highlights the importance of creating “a culture of high expectations” in all schools, as well as a “whole-school approach to guidance”. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill

The ESRI (Economic and Social Research Institute) report highlights the importance of creating “a culture of high expectations” in all schools, as well as a “whole-school approach to guidance”. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill

Tue, Aug 12, 2014, 01:56

The social class of a school is a greater determinant of whether a Leaving Cert student will go to college than his or her family background, a study has revealed.

The ESRI (Economic and Social Research Institute) report highlights the importance of creating “a culture of high expectations” in all schools, as well as a “whole-school approach to guidance”.

It notes that students from working-class schools are much more dependant on career guidance counsellors for advice, a finding that would indicate the recent cuts in these posts will exacerbate educational inequality.

The study, entitled Leaving School in Ireland: A Longitudinal Study of Post-School Transitions, is described as the “first of its kind allowing us to link school experiences to post-school outcomes in the Irish context”.

It followed more than 750 young people three to four years after completing the Leaving Cert through a survey and sample interviews.

Some 94 per cent of students from middle-class schools applied for higher education, compared to 80 per cent from mixed schools and only 50 per cent from working-class schools.

Working-class students This pattern was largely related to lower levels of Leaving Certificate performance in working-class schools. However, individual family backgrounds and the school’s social mix also played a role, the latter a “much stronger” one than the former.

“Young people who attended a school with a concentration of working-class students were much less likely to go on to higher education than those who attended middle-class or socially mixed schools, even [allowing] for individual social background and Leaving Certificate grades.”

It notes “the social mix of the school is a strong influence on exam success” and life choices after school. “Higher education in particular assumes a ‘taken for granted’ status in middle-class school settings, reflecting an expectational climate and culture in such schools which promotes higher education from an early stage in second-level education.”

Those who attended middle-class schools found the advice of their mothers more helpful than career guidance counsellors but the pattern was reversed for working-class schools.

‘Social class’ In the latter cohort, “many young people point to the lack of detailed knowledge of the system among parents who had not themselves attended third-level education

”.

The authors note that “social class differences in aspirations to higher education were evident as early as junior cycle”, indicating the need for intervention well before the Leaving Cert year.

The Admission to Schools Bill, which is before the Oireachtas, seeks to prevent schools from “cherry-picking” students at enrolment stage, and the report says “this reform is likely to have consequences for the social mix of schools”. But, this aside, “the results clearly highlight the importance of positive school climate and high expectations across all social settings”.

It says the findings “point to the importance of a whole-school approach to guidance . . . in which the expectational climate of the school encourages young people to have high aspirations”.