Majority of schools in top flight are single-sex

Research on the merits of educating boys and girls together or separately is mixed

On average, and all things being equal, girls generally outperform boys in Leaving Cert subjects, whether or not they have boys sitting beside them in the classroom.

On average, and all things being equal, girls generally outperform boys in Leaving Cert subjects, whether or not they have boys sitting beside them in the classroom.


Boys and girls About a third of Ireland’s post-primary school are single-sex. By international standards, this is unusual.

Today’s feeder school lists show that there are 17 girls’ schools, 18 boys’ schools and 15 mixed schools in the top 50 feeder schools.

In some parts of Dublin, there are very few co-educational schools in the area, with two of the few in south Co Dublin – Newpark and St Andrew’s – facing massive demand from parents.

Nearby, two schools take a different approach altogether. Coláiste Eoin a boys’ school, on the Stillorgan Rd, lies in second place on the Top 10 Non-Fee-Paying Schools table, and also sits at the head of the Top Mixed Feeder table due to a two-year Leaving Cert cycle where students are partly mixed with students from neighbouring girls’ school Coláiste Íosagáin.

Parents looking to research on whether single sex or co-educational schools have better academic success will be disappointed: it is, at best, mixed (no pun intended). On average, and all things being equal, girls generally outperform boys in Leaving Cert subjects, whether or not they have boys sitting beside them in the classroom.

A study carried out by Prof Emer Smyth of the ESRI found little consensus on whether sex segregation leads to better or worse academic outcomes. However, international evidence does show that co-education leads to better social outcomes; it seems almost fatuous to point out that the worlds of work and socialising are not segregated by gender and it makes sense for young people to have an understanding of the opposite sex when they leave school.

In an age where sexual harassment and gender-based violence are increasingly being called out, it makes particular sense for young men not to see women as curious and mysterious objects who cannot be understood.

Peter McGuire



The figures suggest that attendance at private, fee-paying secondary schools inflates student chances of accessing higher education. Those from wealthy backgrounds benefit greatly from a system where 15 out of the 20 top-listed schools that send the majority of their students to higher-points courses are fee-paying private schools.

This contrasts with the other end of the table where some 70 schools record progression to high-point courses at 20 per cent or less. Needless to say, none of these schools are listed as fee-paying.

Students attending schools in the country’s more affluent areas are also more likely to progress to college at a far greater rate than those sitting the Leaving Cert in less well-off parts of the country.

Schools in areas such as south Dublin, Dublin 4, Dublin 6 and Dublin 6W, have progression rates in the region of 100 per cent where almost every one of their students who sat the Leaving Cert this year will have progressed to high-points courses.

Of course, it is true that students from lower socio-economic backgrounds are less likely to apply to third-level for a variety of reasons.

Part of the story relates to insufficient knowledge about their tertiary options. The country’s universities are attempting to tackle this, with some showing very positive results.

A recent report published by Trinity College Dublin found that secondary students in poorer areas of Dublin are three times more likely to plan to go to college after being assigned a mentor.

While many private schools have scholarship programmes, restrictive admissions policies are often criticised for making them inaccessible to students from different socio-economic backgrounds.

Partly in a bid to counter this, the Department of Education is due to introduce a three to five-year lead-in time for the phasing out of waiting lists once new school admissions legislation is enacted.

The Bill – expected in the first half of 2018 – will also ban any fees charged by schools in relation to admission, a practice common in over-subscribed and privileged schools.

Under the new rules, schools could take names only in the year prior to enrolment and the proportion of places they can set aside for children of former students will be capped at 25 per cent.

Easing access routes to private fee-paying schools will help some but these measures are unlikely to impact greatly when access is mainly determined by the ability to pay fees that range upwards from €6,000 per annum.

While progressive efforts are being made to crack these structural inequalities, a lot clearly remains to be done. Low levels of entry to university education in many disadvantaged areas – both urban and rural – will need to be considered by policymakers as they contend with the ongoing questions surrounding funding and fair access to third-level.

The wider fall-out from the current dispensation of course is that those who enjoy privileged access to education due to their socio-economic background are able to reinforce and build upon their social and political status.

Acknowledging the role played by privilege is key to tackling the structural inequalities that are apparent not only in these figures and in the system of education but also in wider Irish society.Éanna Ó Caollaí

Fee-paying colleges

The Irish TimesDublin Business School

So, does the stereotype of parents from wealthy backgrounds buying a private college education for their child stand up to scrutiny? Suprisingly, no.

In total, 242 schools – around a third of the total number – sent students to a fee-paying college. Figures do show that a relatively high percentage of the student body from some fee-paying schools go on to fee-paying colleges: 14 per cent of students at Rockbrook Park school; 9 per cent of students at Sandford Park; 19 per cent of students at John Scottus in Donnybrook; 8 per cent of students at Rosemont in Enniskerry; 4 per cent of students at St Michael’s College, Loreto Stephen’s Green and CBC Monkstown; and 3 per cent at each of Blackrock College, Terenure College, St Conleth’s in Donnybrook, Clongowes in Kildare and the Kings Hospital school in Palmerstown.

But, looking at the top 50 feeder schools for these three colleges, only 11 (22 per cent) are fee-paying. By contrast, of the overall top 50 feeder schools for all 32 colleges featured in today’s list, 18 (36 per cent) are fee-paying.

A further peculiar feature of the data for Griffith College Cork/Dublin, DBS and ICHAS is that many of its students come from Deis (designated disadvantaged) schools. St Finian’s Community College in Swords, St Dominic’s in Cabra, Plunkett College in Dublin 9, Assumption Secondary School in Walkinstown, Old Bawn Community School in Tallaght and O’Connells school in Dublin 1 all among the 30 schools sending the highest number of students to these fee-paying colleges.

By contrast, there is just one DEIS school on the top 30 in the overall list. This suggests that students from disadvantaged schools may attend fee-paying colleges in spite of the higher fees – around €5,000 compared to the college registration fee of €3,000 – because the points for some courses can be lower and the institutions are close to the city centre and are accessible. Students can also get tax relief on this €2,000 difference.

For Griffith and DBS, the money isn’t in Irish students – it’s in the international student body. However, those international students would not be drawn to either college unless there was a significant number of Irish students on the campus, and so both colleges need to draw enough Irish students to make their offering attractive.

CAO points for fee-paying colleges tend to be lower than in the universities and bigger institutes of technology, allowing an access route to third-level for many who would not otherwise qualify for a third-level place. However, students from less well-off families who attend these colleges are not allowed to access a college maintenance grant, even though these colleges run courses that approved by the State’s education quality watchdog, Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI).

Students who have been involved in the Wake Up Susi campaign say that low-income students who want to attend fee-paying colleges are denied grants worth over €5,000, effectively making it impossible for them to attend their local third-level. By contrast, students who attended fee- paying schools but didn’t get high points in their Leaving Cert can more easily afford to attend a fee-paying college. An all-party committee has recommended that all students should be eligible for a grant on the basis of income, rather than the college they attend, but this has yet to be implemented.

Irish Times reporter

Irish-medium schooling

Despite the precedence of English as the dominant societal language in Ireland, the appetite for bilingul education continues to grow, as evidenced by a growth in recent years in student enrolment at Irish-medium schools.

This rise can be seen in a comparison with data recorded in 2011. Of the top 10 schools that showed the greatest improvement in progression rates in 2017, four are Irish medium schools. Three of these schools recorded increases in the number of students sitting the Leaving Cert in 2017 compared with six years previously. One school, Gael Choláiste Chill Dara, recorded a doubling in the number of students that sat the Leaving Cert. The school had a 106 per cent progression rate, compared to the 47 per cent recorded in 2011.

In eighth place on the list – Coláiste Pobal Osraí, recorded a 278 per cent increase on the number that sat the exam in 2011 and a 94 per cent progression rate in 2017 compared to 56 per cent in 2011.

Of the top non-fee-paying schools whose students progress to third-level education, the top two schools are Gaelcholáistí or Irish medium schools. Laurel Hill Coláiste in Limerick sits at the top of this table with a progression rate of 114 per cent. Coláiste Eoin is in second place with neighbouring girls’ school Coláiste Íosagáin also featuring prominently.

While the number of pupils in receipt of education through Irish at second level in 2016/17 fell slightly when compared with the previous year’s figures, data from the Department of Education and Skills shows that the number of those receiving their education solely through Irish increased by 493 from 11,966 to 12,459 during the same period. This figure compares with a total of 8,351 in 2006/2007 and represents a 33 per cent increase in just 10 years.

Despite this increase, the demand for Irish-medium schooling continues to outstrip supply. There are currently 42,956 children attending primary schools where Irish is the normal language of communication for all subjects. This compares with just 12,459 attending secondary school where Irish is the medium of instruction.

Éanna Ó Caollaí



In Dublin, the statistical likelihood of going to college also varies by postcode. In Dublin 6, third-level progression rates are higher than anywhere else in the country, at 96 per cent. This is closely followed by Dublin 4 – often a postcode pejoratively used as shorthand for an out-of-touch elite – where progression stands at 94 per cent. In Co Dublin, 85 per cent of students progress on to third-level. By contrast, just 48 per cent of students in Dublin 24 (mostly Tallaght and Jobstown) go on to college, while the figures for Dublin 11 (mostly Finglas) and Dublin 10 (mostly Ballyfermot) are just 40 and 52 per cent respectively.

Research shows that a student’s proximity to a third-level is one of the determinants as to whether or not they go on to third-level, and this is supported by a 2016 analysis of data from the student grant administering body Susi.

A study carried out by the Education and Social Research Institute in showed that 80 per cent of students from middle-class families – who tend to live in middle-class areas – go on to higher education. This compared to just 28 per cent from working-class homes.

The progression rates for high-points courses, which are offered in the seven universities, teacher training colleges, DIT or the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, also show that these affluent parts of Dublin are holding their grip on these college places. In Dublin 6, 4 and 6W, 78 per cent, 80 per cent and 71 per cent of students went on to high-points courses, compared to 40 per cent in Roscommon, 47 per cent in Kerry and 32 per cent in Donegal.

This suggests, again, that wealthier parents can afford the grinds to get their children in to these higher-points courses and, when the students get there, they can afford to pay the costs of college – as high as €44,000 for a student living away from home and €27,000 for a student living at home over the course of their college experience.

Because Dublin students have four universities, three institutes of technology and a number of fee-paying third-levels on their doorstep, they have the option of living at home. Students from counties without a choice of colleges, by contrast, have to bear the cost of living away, or else not go to college at all. For many of them, the latter is the only viable option.

Peter McGuire