How to read the feeder school list and some of its peculiarities

While the data available has facilitated a rich picture of schools and colleges, some limitations of the data are best borne in mind


The feeder school tables contain a huge volume of data on the progression of Irish students to Irish colleges in 2015. Here’s how we compile them and how a reader can make sense of the tables – as well as an outline of their limitations.

What’s included on this list?

If more than 10 students sat their Leaving Cert in a school in 2015, and any of them went on to one of the 31 publicly funded third-level institutions in the Republic of Ireland, or to the University of Ulster or Queen’s University Belfast, it’s recorded here. There is no way to filter those who sat the Leaving Cert in 2015 out from those who sat it in previous years, so this is a list of how many students who ever attended a given school registered at an Irish third-level in autumn 2015; many of these will be mature students or students who deferred or repeated.

What’s not included on this list?

There’s a lot this information doesn’t tell us about post-primary schools: how many of their students progressed to post-Leaving Cert courses; how many are studying abroad; how many sat the Leaving Cert this year compared to previous years; or, as many teachers point out, the great extracurricular activities, pastoral care and holistic education in schools across Ireland.

Where does the information come from?

The information here is not officially released by the Department of Education and Skills or by the Central Applications Office (CAO), a private business that processes college applications. We compile it from a number of sources. These are: The State Examinations Commission’s list of the number of students who sat their Leaving Cert in every publicly funded school in the Republic of Ireland. The SEC does not keep data on “grind schools”, which do not receive any public funding.

Information from every publicly funded third-level institution on the school/s of origin of their first-year undergraduates.

What are the problems with the data?

We rigorously check the information but it is only as good as that provided by colleges.

While the data provided by the SEC rarely if ever contains errors, some third-level institutions can’t identify the school every student went to; this information has to be removed from our lists. Some schools where students sat their Leaving Cert prior to 2014 have closed or merged; these we also remove. Where possible we credit students from a now-closed school to a school into which it merged, so that school’s progression may be over-represented.

How can we justify the publication of data that is flawed?

We would not compile these lists if the information was officially available, which would also make the tables much more accurate. Successive ministers for education have declined to do so. Information is power, and parents should be trusted to exercise that power fairly and judiciously, taking all circumstances into account.

Is it unfair to schools in less wealthy areas?

We are publishing information, and policymakers may respond to it. Every year, these tables shows schools in wealthier areas tend to send more students to college. This is a function of social inequality. Society and policymakers should question why children with more advantages are more likely to go to college, and target resources at children in disadvantaged areas. Suppressing the information is in nobody’s interest, especially not thos in disadvantaged communities.

Why can’t I find my local school?

Be aware some schools may be known by a different name to their official one. Not every school features in the tables. If a l school is missing, it is almost certainly because:

a. It had a Leaving Cert cohort of 10 or fewer students.

b. It didn’t have a Leaving Cert class this year because it introduced transition year or is a relatively new school, and the earliest student groups haven’t yet reached sixth year.

c. It has closed or merged with another school to form a new school.

A partial picture

This data should not be read in isolation for the following reasons.

Lack of information on students in further education or apprenticeships:

One of the biggest flaws in the data – the only data available – is we cannot track how many students go on to colleges of further education (CFE), or for apprenticeships. Students from Ireland’s 192 Deis (designated disadvantaged) post-primary schools are more likely to go on to CFEs or apprenticeships. The lack of data on the destinations of students from these schools, which are over 26 per cent of post-primaries, does a disservice to these schools, but the Department of Education will not provide it. Grind schools: Ashfield College, Brookfield College, Bruce College, Deane College, Hewitt College, the Institute of Education, Leinster Senior College, Limerick Tutorial College and Yeats College are known as “grind schools”. The State Examinations Commission does not provide information on the number of Leaving Certs at so-called grinds schools, which are entirely private and do not get State support.

In compiling this list, we cross-check the data about each individual school, using a standardised system, to ensure errors are minimised. We understand grind school students often perform very well in the Leaving Cert. Without reliable and verifiable data on them, we are unable to stand over any details of their third-level progression and regret we can’t publish them. UCAS: Many students from schools in Co Donegal, Protestant fee-paying schools in Co Dublin, and some schools in counties Leitrim, Sligo and Monaghan, go on to study at UK universities. Unfortunately, UCAS, the UK equivalent of the CAO, has not supplied UK college progression since 2011. The following are some schools which may have a higher third-level progression list than appears here:

Cork: Coláiste Stiofain Naofa.

Dublin: College of St Columba, St Andrew’s, The Kings Hospital School, Wesley College, Coláiste Dhulaigh, St Kilian’s German School.

Donegal: the Royal and Prior Comprehensive, Coláiste Cholmcille, Scoil Mhuire in Buncrana, Carndonagh Community School, both Loreto schools, Moville Community College.

Leitrim: St Clare’s in Manorhamilton.

Meath: Ashbourne Community School.

Monaghan: St Louis Secondary School, St Macartan’s College.

Sligo: Ballinoe College, Ursuline College.

To indicate the scope of these gaps, we asked some schools with a traditionally high progression rate to share their UCAS figures. While we cannot verify them, they give an indication of progression to the UK. For example, in College of St Columba, Rathfarnham, 41 per cent went to Irish universities, 16 per cent went to UK colleges, 16 per cent went to the Netherlands, 3 per cent to the USA and 1 per cent to Hong Kong. The King’s Hospital, Palmerstown said that as well as the figures in our tables, 11 students went to UK colleges and 18 to Europe. Royal and Prior in Donegal indicated two students went to Greenmount Agriculture College in Co Antrim, five to NorthWest Regional College in Derry, and one to University of Glasgow.

For all other Irish schools, we cannot know how many students go overseas to college. Nor is this an exhaustive list; there may be other gaps. Parents may enquire with schools for details. Additionally, an increasing number of students from all over Ireland are studying in mainland Europe, through English, and we cannot track those college progressions either.

Northwest Regional College: This provides further and higher education courses in Derry, Limavady and Strabane, and takes a high number of students from schools in Donegal. Moville Community College, in any given year, could send up to 10 students to UK universities and between 15 and 20 to Northwest Regional College. Thus, progression to third-level may be higher for many Donegal schools than appears on this list.

Adult learners: Some schools, particularly community schools and schools associated with particular colleges of education (such as Coláiste Dhúlaigh in north Dublin) have a high number of adult learners returning to education, who don’t sit enough Leaving Cert subjects to apply to college. Riversdale Community College in Dublin 15 – with 68 students sitting a portion of the Leaving Cert but only 38 of these sitting the full exam and eligible for a college place – is one such school. We are aware of the discrepancy on Riversdale and have adjusted the “sits” figure based on information provided by the school. However, it is not possible to independently verify how many other schools, if any, are affected by this anomaly.

Shannon College of Hotel Management: This year, Shannon College’s data did not contain key information which we use to verify its accuracy. We are reasonably confident there are little to no errors but cannot fully stand over its accuracy.

Double counting of students: For many reasons – repeating the Leaving Cert, moving house, for academic or personal reasons – students may change school. Where a student went to more than one school, the college they move on to credits both schools. The figures in this list also include some mature students who applied to the CAO; here, their Leaving Cert school is credited. Students who deferred a college place from 2014 are also included.

Accuracy and fairness

To ensure the greatest possible degree of accuracy and fairness, The Irish Times uses a standardised system to compile this list. We use this system to help us spot the vast majority of errors and holes, but there are numerous complicating factors – primarily that our information is only as good as the data we receive – which mean some schools will occasionally record a lower third-level progression than is accurate. While we are committed to improving our systems, and the quality of the data has increased over the past 13 years, any significant deviation from our current system would lead to a significantly skewed and wholly inaccurate list. The Irish Times regrets it cannot enter correspondence regarding the manner in which this data is compiled.

How to read this list

Let’s say you want to see how schools in Co Clare, or Dublin 8, have fared:

1. Go to the section for Clare or Dublin 8.

2. “Number who sat Leaving Cert 2015”: This column tells you the total number of students from each school in that area who sat the Leaving Cert in 2015, from State Examinations Commission figures.

3. “Total number (all years)”: This column tells you the total number of students who sat their Leaving Cert in that school in either 2015 or previous years (or who repeated the Leaving Cert in another school), and started full-time undergraduate studies in each publicly funded third-level institution on the island of Ireland.

4. “Total percentage progression (all years)”: The number of students from a given school who started full-time undergraduate studies in a publicly funded third-level institution on the island of Ireland in 2015 (having sat the Leaving Cert in 2015, or in any other previous year – and applied to college in 2015, or repeated in another school) as a percentage of the number of students who sat the Leaving Cert in that school in 2015. 5. Some schools have a third-level progression rate of over 100 per cent. This is because the figures for any given school sending students to college include mature students and first-year repeats who sat the Leaving Cert prior to 2015, students who took a post-Leaving Certificate course and then progressed to college, and students who attended more than one school during their time in post-primary education.

Other students may have previously gone to third-level, dropped out and returned to education again.

We are comparing those totals of students from any year from a given school going to college, with the numbers who sat the Leaving Cert in 2015.

Only roughly 75 per cent of this year’s college registrations from a given school are of students who sat the Leaving Cert in June 2015.

Feeder schools tables: the background

The Irish Times was the first Irish newspaper to publish information on how many students, from which schools, were going to which colleges. There was protest from teacher unions who felt, sincerely, the tables give an incomplete and imperfect picture of schools, and are unfair on schools in disadvantaged areas.

At the time even the very mild Whole School Evaluation didn’t exist. There was virtually no transparency in how schools were run and they largely operated like independent fiefdoms; to a significant extent, they still do. Parents relied almost entirely on rumours on the local grapevine for information. Not surprisingly the feeder school lists became popular with parents, who finally had some information – even if very flawed – about the academic performance of the schools they sent their children to. They’ve been a feature of the education landscape ever since.

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