More students from Deis schools progressed to third level in 2020

Feeder schools: Social class still a big factor in securing college places

Deis-designated schools saw an increase in student progression to third-level education in 2020, but social class remains a significant factor in determining the level of educational attainment achieved by students in Ireland, according to figures compiled by The Irish Times.

In 2020, 6,662 or 63.5 per cent of Deis students progressed to third-level, an increase of 746 students who secured a place in 2019, when 57 per cent of Deis students progressed.

Despite this improvement and the controversy surrounding the Leaving Cert and the introduction of the calculated grades system last year, the rate of student progression to third-level in 2020 was broadly in line with preceding trends.

Nine of the 20 schools which sent the highest proportion of their students to third-level education in 2020 are fee-paying, as are the majority of schools listed as having sent the highest rate of students to high-points courses.


A large proportion of students from Ireland's 51 fee-paying schools, which are predominantly based in south Co Dublin, progressed on to courses in UCD and Trinity College, where they make up over 25 per cent of first-year undergraduate students, even though they represent just 7 per cent of sixth-year students nationwide.

Of the 10 schools sending the highest rate of students to high-points courses (courses at State universities, teacher training colleges and other colleges such as the Royal College of Surgeons), six were fee-paying, and four were non-fee paying.

Two of the non-fee paying schools are Irish-medium and two are English-medium schools.

Interestingly, this year’s progression charts indicate that there may have been a slight fall-off in third-level registrations of fee-paying students, with 3,252 of them securing places in high-points colleges.

This still represents an 85.5 per cent progression rate of the 3,803 fee-paying students who received calculated Grades in 2020. The corresponding overall progression figure for 2019 from graduates of those schools was 3,287, or 35 more than in 2020.

Calculated grades

Some of this minor fall-off in numbers of fee-paying schools’ progression numbers may be attributed to students who opted to sit the Leaving Cert in November, rather than progress to college to undertake a course that was not their preferred choice.

Whereas the calculated grades process received a lot of criticism from schools and institutions who perceived themselves to have been disadvantaged by the algorithm used, the process saw a marked improvement in the progression rates of current and previous sixth-year students at Deis schools on to CAO colleges in 2020.

Some 63.5 per cent (6,662) of 10,486 Deis students secured a CAO place in 2020. Of that number 3,433 – or 32.7 per cent – secured a place in a high-points college.

Out of a total of 43,705 college places analysed in this supplement, 12.3 per cent went to students who attended Deis schools and 11.7 per cent went to those from fee-paying schools.

That achievement is not as dramatic as it may first appear, given that Deis students made up 19.3 per cent of this year’s sixth-year class group and the percentage attending fee-paying schools represented 7 per cent of the overall numbers.

Significant advance

The outcome of the calculated grades process has been a significant advance in progression from Deis schools. Over the past six years, Deis schools secured places at high-points colleges and courses for on average for 25-26 per cent of their students .

In 2019 that proportion broke through the 30 per cent barrier, and in 2020 increased again to 32.7 per cent.

The 6,662 Deis students who secured places through the CAO process represent almost two-thirds of the entire sixth-year Deis cohort.

Despite the improvement, more work clearly needs to be done to attract students from disadvantaged areas to high-points colleges.

UCD registered 8.1 per cent of incoming first-year students in 2020 as having attended Deis schools. Maynooth University registered 16.5 per cent while Dundalk IT recorded 24.5 per cent registrations and IT Letterkenny allocated 46.8 per cent of its first-year undergraduate places to Deis students.

The school which has seen the most dramatic increase in the rate of progression over a six-year period is Christian Brothers, Westland Row, Dublin 2. In 2014, two of its 12 students who sat the Leaving Cert progressed while in 2020, 15 (71 per cent) of its 21 students who sat the Leaving Cert accepted a third-level place.

Schools where subjects are taught through Irish perform strongly again this year and take three of the top 10 places in the main progression table.

Top of the list is Coláiste Chroí Mhuire gan Smál, which is located in an Spidéal, in the Connemara Gaeltacht, while the other two schools – Coláiste Iosagáin and Coláiste Eoin – are both located in Dublin.

Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney

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