Private schools continue to dominate upper end of rankings

Figures reveal socio-economic disparity in numbers progressing to third level

Social background continues to be a crucial factor in the degree of academic attainment. Photograph: iStockphoto

Social background continues to be a crucial factor in the degree of academic attainment. Photograph: iStockphoto

 

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Half of the 20 schools which sent the highest proportion of their students to third-level education in 2019 are fee-paying, according to figures published today in the annual Feeder Schools supplement.

Social background continues to be a crucial factor in the degree of academic attainment that will be achieved by second-level students in Ireland. In stark contrast to the schools with higher progression rates, fewer than 15 per cent of students attending schools in some of the most disadvantaged areas make it through to tertiary-level education.

Of the schools supplying the most students to the high points courses – courses offered in the State’s universities and other colleges such the Royal Colleges of Surgeons – nine of the top 10 schools are fee-paying.

The Feeder Schools supplement, which gives a school-by-school breakdown of how many students are progressing to higher education, also shows what third-level institution they have registered with.

Workforce

Ireland has a high proportion of the workforce with third-level qualifications and this is reflected in the figures. Overall, 75 per cent of pupils attending 682 schools that had students sitting the Leaving Cert in 2019 made it through to third level.

Of the Deis-listed schools, an average of 57 per cent of students made it through to third level.

Despite the efforts of individual colleges to improve access to students from more disadvantaged areas, progression to tertiary-level education remains stubbornly low in some parts of the country.

The data set reveals that of the children attending schools in affluent areas, such as Dublin 4, 6 and 14 – as many as 92 per cent or higher would expect to progress to a third-level institution.

Meanwhile, individual schools in more deprived parts of the capital city, such as Dublin 1, 11 and Dublin 17 had progression rates of just 15 per cent.

Another standout feature is the proportion of non-fee paying schools that teach through the medium of Irish at the upper-end of the top progression tables.

Four of the 20 schools that send the highest number of their students to third-level are schools that teach through the medium of Irish. This compares with six non-fee-paying schools that teach through the English language.

Of the ten schools that feature at the top of the mixed schools list, four are Irish medium. Four of the ten schools that feature at the top of the list of non-fee paying schools are also Irish medium.

Some schools that appear to be high-performing in terms of their progression rate are doing so due to changes in their student numbers.

There are 28 fee-paying schools where attendance in 2019 is higher than the number that sat this year’s Leaving Cert. Eighteen – or 64 per cent – saw a drop in the numbers sitting the Leaving Cert compared to 2018.

Scoil Mhuire, on Wellington Road in Cork, saw its numbers drop from 63 in 2018 to 38 in 2019, although 49 of their past pupils started into college this September.

Mount Anville, which appears at the top of the table listing the highest progression rates this year, is listed with a 122 per cent progression rate. The school is in fact benefiting from a drop (13 students) in the number of students who sat the Leaving Cert in 2019 compared with the previous year.

Similarly, St Joseph of Cluny in Killiney in Dublin had 33 students taking the Leaving Certificate this year, down 12 on 2018 numbers yet 38 of their past pupils started into college in September.

Dramatic increase

Looked at over a six-year time frame, the school which has seen the most dramatic increase in the proportion of their pupils progressing to third level is Adamstown Vocational College in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford. In 2013, two of their 19 students progressed. In the current year, 2019, 12 of their 21 students did so.

It is worth noting that while the Feeder tables inform us in broad terms how well schools have performed in terms of progression to tertiary-level education, a higher ranking does not indicate that one school is any better than the next.

Publishing this data is not passing judgment on the success or otherwise of any school. Only considering where a school sits in the rankings can give a distorted impression of that school.

Other factors contribute to the ranking such as enrolment policies and geographic location. Pupils that attend schools in affluent areas are more likely to come from more privileged social backgrounds themselves and can better afford grinds and foreign exchanges.

Conversely, schools that appear lower down in the league tables may be achieving greater academic progress with its pupils than their ranking suggests at first glance. Factors such as the ethos and values held by the school along with the language of instruction, student engagement, diversity and other aspects should also be taken into account when selecting a school.