Analysis: What the feeder tables tell us

Explaining the progression charts of Irish secondary schools

The percentage progression rates of past pupils of 677 second level schools in Ireland, published in the feeder tables in the following pages, do not solely reflect the success of this year’s Leaving Cert class in securing college places through the CAO.

In reading the tables, bear in mind the percentage in the last column is not a true rate for the progression of the Leaving Cert 2015 class to college this year. Roughly 75 per cent of the figure in the last column reflects more accurately the progression rate of any given school: this is because about 75 per cent of the students who went to college in 2015 did the Leaving Cert in June 2015, with 25 per cent being past pupils from previous years.

Next to each school’s name we publish the number of students who sat the Leaving Cert in that school in 2015 – the SITS. Figures from the CAO show 84 per cent of the Leaving Cert class of 2015 applied for college places through their central application system, with 16 per cent opting to start their journey elsewhere.

The tables show the number of former students – from any year – from each school who got a CAO college place in 2015, as a percentage of the Leaving Cert class of 2015 only, which is why this is not an accurate reflection of the progression of 2015 school leavers.


We publish these statistics in the Irish Times each year because they are the only such data provided by the CAO and the colleges, even if it is flawed, and so is the only indicator of schools’ academic performance available. But it comes with a health warning (see Peter McGuire on how the tables are compiled, and the limitations of the data, on page 12).

Factors influencing college progression

Each year the tables show very large numbers of students who go to college attended schools in socially advantaged communities, and that they tend to opt predominantly for universities and teacher training. Higher Education Authority (HEA) data shows these institutions have the lowest drop-out rates (from 4 per cent in teacher training colleges to 9 per cent in universities). Is that surprising, given the supports these students receive from their parents?

The HEA data also shows students from schools in less advantaged communities get far fewer places in high points university courses, and tend to progress to institutes of technology. HEA shows these students have more difficulties completing college, with drop-out rates of up to 20 per cent common. Recent Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) figures show a large proportion of successful grant applicants go to ITs rather than universities, confirming the social class divide reflected in institutions’ student intake.

The following tables also show how parochial our college choice is, and how the presence of a third-level college in an area increases the progression rates of students from second-level to third-level within commuting distance of those colleges.

Unlike in the UK, where students tend to select colleges far from home, Irish students gravitate towards local colleges if they can get a place in the discipline they want. This may reflect the lack of a student loan scheme which would allow consideration of a wider range of options, and may also reflect the acute shortage of student accommodation.

Publishing this data is not passing judgment on the success of any school in supporting their students to get to college. For schools where both parents of many students are graduates, and where they have been supported through education since childhood, getting a college place is no great reflection on the success of their school.

Alternatively, we are keenly aware that for schools in disadvantaged communities, securing third-level progression for even a small proportion of students is a reflection of highly motivated teachers, and is a fantastic achievement.

Key numbers on these tables The

tables therefore provide very important information to inform national policy making, but do they make sense to a reader? To make more sense of the feeder tables, this is a break down of its component parts, and the two key numbers associated with each school listed: the total number attending college this year, and the total number of students who did the Leaving Cert in 2015.

Following the close of 2015 college offers the CAO stated 48,216 students accepted a college place through CAO this year. It offered places to 2,675 applicants who presented school-leaving qualifications from outside the Republic of Ireland, of whom about half accepted a place. The remaining vast bulk of students were offered a place based on a Leaving Cert, or for over-23s, their life experience to date.

The CAO annual report shows a little under 20 per cent of successful applicants each year are age 20 or older, and so cannot be from the Leaving Cert class of 2015; 8 per cent of successful applicants are aged 19, so approximately half of that age group are of the class of 2015. Based on this analysis of the age profile, on average 75 per cent of successful college applicants from each school did the Leaving Cert in 2015, with the remaining 25 per cent coming from previous year groups. Each one of these students of all ages goes towards the total number credited by colleges to each school. We publish this number because it is all colleges are allowed to provide. They are precluded from stating how many students from the class of 2015 secured a place in 2015.

The second relevant number in the tables is of the students who took the Leaving Cert in 2015 – the SITS. CAO figures show 84 per cent of them sought a place among the 45 institutions it covers.

Concluding the 16 per cent of students who didn’t apply for a CAO place, and don’t figure in the tables, are failures of our education system would be an incorrect interpretation. Every year thousands of Leaving Cert students take level 5 Fetac courses in Post Leaving Cert colleges. Many complete them and progress to CAO courses the following year (and are credited back to their original school in the data supplied by the colleges when they register).

Also, 2,000 Irish-based students start undergraduate courses in Northern Ireland and the UK every year, many from that year’s Leaving Cert class, predominantly in border counties. That is why these schools often report lower progression to third level colleges in the Republic of Ireland, as the tables do not capture students studying outside the ROI.

In the past four or five years a growing number of Irish students have opted to study in continental EU universities with high international rankings, which offer courses through English. At the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, for example, the number of Irish students has grown from zero to 72 in three years. Again, schools whose students study abroad are not credited here.

Guy Flouch, director of Eunicas (which handles applications from Irish student to European colleges), often speaks in schools about European study opportunities. He recently had resistance from some schools where he previously gave presentations. The reason given for schools' reluctance was the negative effect it could have on the progression rates published in the feeder tables.

It is worrying if schools discourage Leaving Cert students from options other than the CAO, for fear such choices will depress the school’s progression rate to CAO courses. The long term best interest of a student should always be the only criteria for career guidance advice.

Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney is a guidance counsellor and education columnist. He contributes education articles to The Irish Times