One in four Irish children has special educational need, study finds

Disadvantaged schools teach and discipline differently, according to ESRI research

The findings of the ESRI study on childhood focus on issues of gender, ability and social background. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

The findings of the ESRI study on childhood focus on issues of gender, ability and social background. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien


Results of an Economic and Social Research Institute study have shown significant differences in the experience of schooling among nine-year-old pupils of different genders, social backgrounds and abilities.

Boys in the age group report less engagement and enjoyment of school and are more prone to absenteeism and non-completion of homework, the Growing Up in Ireland study has found.

The research, which tracks the lives of 20,000 children and their parents and teachers in Ireland, also found that one in four of the children in the sample had a learning, emotional or behavioural disability.

Researchers from the ESRI will today deliver the most recent findings from the institution’s longitudinal study of childhood. They focus on the issues of gender, ability and social background in the Irish primary school system.

When it comes to gender, girls in the study had slightly higher reading test scores than boys. Greater gender differences were evident from maths test scores, with boys scoring higher than girls.

The research has also provided much-needed data on the experience of children with special needs in Irish schools.

International norms
Overall, one in four children in the study was found to have a special educational need, in line with international norms. The study has found that boys and children from working class backgrounds are more likely to have special needs, particularly emotional and behavioural difficulties.

Significant numbers of children with learning disabilities in the study experienced low levels of academic engagement and poor relations with their teachers and peers.

The researchers also found significant differences between teaching approaches and discipline in schools depending on social profile.

Active teaching methods
Teachers in Deis (designated disadvantaged) schools are more likely to use teacher-directed approaches and less likely to use active teaching methods than those in non-disadvantaged schools.

Urban Deis schools are more likely to use suspension than other schools.

Children in urban Deis schools have lower reading and maths test scores than those in non-disadvantaged schools, even taking account of differences in social background. Growing Up in Ireland is the national longitudinal study of children covering education, health physical, emotional, cognitive and social development.

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn will open the conference on Children’s Engagement in Education at the ESRI headquarters in Dublin today.