League tables a reminder of inequality in Irish society

Figures show fewer pupils from poor socio-economic backgrounds attend university

In a stark reminder of the inequality that lies at the heart of Irish society, fewer than 8 per cent of Leaving Cert students in secondary schools located in some of the poorer areas of the country are progressing to high-point courses at third-level institutions, according to the 2016 Irish Times feeder school list published today.

High-points courses comprise those in the seven universities, teacher-training colleges, RCSI and DIT. Generally, they tend to have a higher points requirement than other institutions on the feeder school lists.

Schools in parts of Cork, Waterford, Tipperary, Longford, Wexford, Louth and Sligo failed to send more than 10 per cent of their students to higher-points courses in 2017 while some schools in Dublin 3, 8, 12 and 24 sent fewer than 8 per cent of their students to higher point-courses. A number of schools in Waterford and Wexford failed to send any students.

Conversely, students in the more affluent areas progress to college at a far greater rate than those sitting the Leaving Cert in less well-off parts of the country.


Of the top 20 schools that send the majority of their students to higher-points courses, 16 are fee-paying private schools.

Indeed, many schools in the country’s more affluent regions, such as south Dublin, Dublin 4, Dublin 6 and Dublin 6W, register progression rates of close to 100 per cent where almost every one of their students who sat the Leaving Cert this year has progressed to high-points courses.

Just five non-feepaying schools feature in the top 25: three of these are Gaelscoileanna and the other two are all-girls schools – Salerno Secondary School in Galway and Muckross Park in Donnybrook, Dublin 4.

These latest figures yet again indicate low levels of entry to university education in many disadvantaged areas – both urban and rural – and will need to be considered by policymakers as they grapple with the ongoing questions surrounding third-level access and funding.

Not only do students have to contend with the high cost of attending college but before they even sit the Leaving Cert they and their parents are faced with an estimated total cost across six years of secondary school of up to at least €8,558 per child.

Exacerbated by the crisis in the rental market and high registration fees, the cost of going to college continues to rise.

A survey conducted by Dublin Institute of Technology this year found the cost of living away from home is about €11,064, a figure that includes food, rent, bills, books and class materials, clothes, medical costs, phone bills, social life, student registration charges and other expenses.

Those who have the option of staying at home will need about €6,834 to fund their time at college.

Value of bilingual education

This year’s data also serves to emphasise again the value of bilingual education. The representation of Irish-medium schools at the very top of the table listings has now become a characteristic feature of the feeder tables. The top school in the country is Coláiste na Coiribe, a co-educational Gaelscoil in Galway with 57 students sitting the Leaving Cert in 2016* while Coláiste Eoin, an all-boys school Irish medium school in Dublin, retains a high ranking on the list.

The successes enjoyed by Irish-medium secondary schools will undoubtedly fuel calls on the Department of Education to address capacity in a system where the number of places available in these secondary schools is far outweighed by the numbers attending Irish-medium primaries.

An analysis of today’s figures also suggests that it doesn’t matter – academically at least – whether boys or girls are educated together.

The information published today provides just one aspect parents should consider when deciding on where to send their child to school. Since 2007, the Department of Education has published school inspection reports. They were initially criticised as bland, uniform and rather uninformative, but they have been consistently improving year-on-year and – over the past three years in particular – have become much more robust.

* This article was amended on 09/12/2016 for the purposes of clarification. Coláiste na Coiribe has 542 students enrolled for the current academic year.