An ESRI report into supports for disadvantaged schools suggests they should be rebalanced in favour of urban recipients as rural ones are already outperforming the national average.
The study into the impact of the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (Deis) programme shows that rural primary schools under the scheme are producing test scores that are as good as, if not better, than non-Deis schools.
But Deis schools in the most disadvantaged urban areas are lagging well behind, something the report puts down to the “greater complexity of need” faced by their students.
The Deis programme has been in existence since 2006 and gives qualifying schools extra grants and other professional supports through the department of education.
It covers 657 primary schools (classified as Urban Band 1, Urban Band 2 and Rural Deis) and 193 post-primary schools.
The ESRI study identifies a significant improvement over the period 2007-13 in the reading and maths test scores of primary students in Deis schools. But progress was uneven between categories of school.
Sixth-class students in rural Deis schools performed better than their counterparts in rural and urban schools of same type. However, there was a “sizeable gap in achievement” between urban Deis schools and all other schools.
Broadly, the same pattern was identified among second-class students.
Dr Selina McCoy, one of the authors of the report, said: “The findings point to high levels of disadvantage and greater complexity of need in Urban Band 1 Deis schools. We need further debate on the levels of funding required to meet the needs of students in these schools.”
At post-primary level, the report cites a “slight narrowing of the gap” in overall Junior Certificate grades between Deis and non-Deis schools. The gap in the proportion of students completing the junior and senior cycles has also narrowed over time.
However, against the backdrop of the junior cycle dispute, it suggests curriculum reform could help to increase student engagement in disadvantaged schools.
“Over the course of junior cycle, students become less positive about school and about their teachers, with greater levels of disengagement evident among working-class boys. The allocation of students to streamed classes appears to result in a process of polarisation over the course of the junior cycle,” the report notes.
“Misbehaviour increases most in lower stream classes while negative interaction between teachers and students increases most in middle and lower stream classes. By third year, lower stream classes are increasingly characterised by negative relations with a mutually reinforcing pattern of student misbehaviour and teacher admonishment.”
It notes that “more negative attitudes to school” were found among 13-year-olds who had attended Deis second-level schools and who had attended Urban Band 1 primary schools.
Dr Emer Smyth, who also contributed to the report, said: "Moving away from rigid forms of ability grouping, improving the school climate and fostering high expectations for students would enhance student outcomes in Deis schools and build upon the progress made to date".