Record numbers stay in school until Leaving Cert finished
Retention rate between disadvantaged schools and wealthier ones narrows
Ireland now has the second-highest student retention rate in the European Union, with 94% of students remaining in “upper secondary education”. File photograph: Getty Images
Record numbers of students are staying in school until they complete their Leaving Cert.
This compares to an average of 83 per cent of 20 to 24-year-olds across Europe with the same level of education.
The Department of Education analysis of school data also shows the gap in student retention between disadvantaged schools and others has halved since 2001.
A total of 84 per cent of students who started in so-called Deis (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) schools in 2010 completed their second-level education.
The gap in the retention rate between Deis and non-Deis schools has reduced from 17 per cent for those who started school in 2001 to 9 per cent for those who started in 2010.
Voluntary secondary schools – those owned or controlled by religious orders and fee-paying schools – had the highest proportion of students who complete their Leaving Cert (93 per cent).
This was followed by community and comprehensive schools (91 per cent) and vocational schools (88 per cent).
The proportion of males completing secondary school was 90 per cent, while for females it was 93 per cent.
These figures are based on students who started their secondary education in 2010 and who sat the Leaving Cert in either 2015 or 2016.
When the figures are broken down by county, the highest retention rate to the Leaving Cert was in Sligo (94 per cent) followed by Meath and Kerry (both 93 per cent). Carlow had the lowest retention rate of 86 per cent.
In Dublin, when broken down by local authority area, the city council had the lowest retention rate (89 per cent), followed by south Dublin (90 per cent), Fingal (91 per cent), and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown (92 per cent).
These Leaving Cert figures understate the numbers who remain in the education system, as they do not include young people in out-of-school programmes such as Youth Reach or apprenticeships.
When the education and training sector is included, the proportion of students with “upper secondary education” rises to 94 per cent. This is up 6 per cent on figures recorded in 2011.
In a statement, Minister for Education Richard Bruton said he was “ very encouraged” by the results, particularly those relating to Deis schools.
“I have made breaking down cycles of disadvantage a key priority of mine as . . . part of my overall ambition to make Ireland’s education system the best in Europe within a decade,” he said.
He said the Government had expanded the Deis scheme earlier this year and would continue to work towards eliminating this gap.
Mr Bruton acknowledged the role school leaders, teachers and parents have played in encouraging students to continue in secondary education.
“Across Europe the average number of adults aged 20-24 who have completed upper secondary education is 83 per cent.
“We are significantly ahead of that figure at 93.6 per cent, placing Ireland second highest across the 28 EU member states.”
Over the past 14 years there has been a steady improvement in the Leaving Cert retention rate.
The rate rose from 61 per cent in 1991 to 82 per cent among pupils who started 1997, rising to 85 per cent between 2000 and 2002.
It rose to above 90 per cent for the first time among students who started in 2006 and has remained stable since.
The most recent 2010 cohort represents the first time that the rate has moved above 91 per cent.
The gap between the genders – which stands at 3 per cent – has remained stable since 2006.
It narrowed significantly between the mid 1990s - when it stood at 11 per cent - to 9 per cent in the early 2000s.