Stress in sixth year makes transition to third level more difficult, says ESRI

‘Mismatch’ in teaching and learning modes between secondary and higher education

Dr Merike Darmody (left), research officer Economic and Social Research Institute, and Dr Emer Smyth, ESRI research professor, at the launch of the institute’s report on challenges faced by young people after post-primary education. Photograph: Dara MacDónaill

Dr Merike Darmody (left), research officer Economic and Social Research Institute, and Dr Emer Smyth, ESRI research professor, at the launch of the institute’s report on challenges faced by young people after post-primary education. Photograph: Dara MacDónaill

 

Young people who had high stress in sixth year or who favoured studying at home experienced greatest difficulty in making the transition to higher education, the ESRI’s Leaving School in Ireland report has found.

A study into how school leavers fare in both education and employment settings in the years after the Leaving Cert, it identifies a teaching “mismatch between second-level and post-school education as students shift from rote learning to independent thinking.

The authors, ESRI researchers Selina McCoy, Emer Smyth, Dorothy Watson and Merike Darmody, say “recent reforms may help provide a more seamless transition between the different stages of education”, citing the planned new junior cycle and proposed changes to the CAO points system.

“However, discussion could usefully focus on the potential role of project work and team work within senior cycle in equipping young people with the kinds of skills they need for lifelong learning and the labour market.”

The research drew on a survey of 753 young people three to four years after completing the Leaving Cert and in-depth interviews with 27 of this group which was first surveyed by the ESRI as early as 10 years ago.

Some 43 per cent of respondents had been unemployed at some point since leaving school, and most of those in employment were “in lower sales and service occupations and routine occupations, that is, working-class jobs”.

Only one in six of those who had completed higher education were “engaged in the types of managerial and professional positions which might be considered commensurate with their qualifications”, it continues. Half of higher education graduates felt they did not use the knowledge and skills acquired through their education in their current job.

“These patterns should be interpreted with caution as many young people had not yet graduated from higher education but would be of concern if they became a longer term phenomenon,” note the authors.

While the report states that those who studied in isolation or who experienced high stress while preparing for the Leaving Cert had greatest difficulty adjusting to college, “the interpretation of these patterns is not straightforward”.

It “may indicate a greater reliance on rote learning among those who favoured home study for exam preparation; thus, they may have found adjusting to the more self-directed learning style in college more challenging”.

Those who depending on studying at home – as opposed to interacting with teachers or working in groups – also experienced greater social difficulties, in terms of making new friends at college, the authors say.

A somewhat surprising result is that “Leaving Certificate grades are not predictive of later transition difficulties”; instead what counts is the sense of satisfaction with such results. Greater social difficulties were reported among “higher performers, those who were disappointed with their results and those who felt put under pressure by others (parents and teachers)”.

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course also makes a difference, with greater difficulties reported among those on science and engineering courses and attending an Institute of Technology. Those who were working part-time to pay for their studies also reported greater academic difficulties.

Some 78 per cent of school leavers surveyed had applied to attend higher education but only 61 per cent achieved this path. Some 22 per cent pursued an apprenticeship or Post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) course, while 17 per cent entered the labour market directly.

lllllThe authors note that earlier reports have shown that the quality of teacher-student interaction was highly predictive of completing second-level education and of exam performance.

“A key finding of this study is that school climate is also important in post-school transitions . . . In particular, there was a clear social gradient in the extent to which the school leavers felt that their teachers held high expectations for them – middle-class young people being more likely to reflect positively.”

“In sum, the results highlight the importance of a culture of high expectations and support in promoting successful post-school transitions for second-level students.”

The ESRI is planning to host a conference in the autumn on the report – which can be read in full at esri.ie – and its implications for policy development.