Student supports help record numbers complete second level, says Taoiseach

About 91% complete post-primary in Ireland, one of the highest rates in the world

A support programme introduced 20 years ago has helped Ireland secure one of the highest proportions of students completing second-level education, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.

Latest official figures show that 91 per cent of students complete second-level education in Ireland. OECD figures indicate that this is one of the highest figures in the developed world.

Mr Martin said the school completion programme, devised by the Department of Education in 2002, has played a key role in engaging students at risk of early school leaving.

The programme offers in-school, after-school, out-of-school and holiday period support services aimed at enhancing pupil participation in education.


“There has been remarkable progress overall, relative even to our European partners,” Mr Martin said.

"Everyone involved should be proud of the role that the School Completion Programme has played."

He was speaking at an event organised by the Fórsa trade union on Wednesday to mark 20 years of the programme.

Fórsa general secretary and president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions Kevin Callinan said that despite its achievements, the programme remains "on the margins of a stretched national education effort".

Mr Callinan said this was despite recent modest improvements in funding, which he said were a first step in restoring the programme from deep cuts imposed during the financial crisis.

“We will need to do much more to adequately meet the needs of the young people for whom the school completion service is an essential pathway to fulfilling their educational, and life, potential,” Mr Callinan said.

The school completion programme involves tailored interventions which target pupils most at risk of dropping out of school and aims to boost engagement with education.

Vital role

Georgia Grogan, a student from Swords, Co Dublin, is studying politics and history at DCU, said the programme played a vital role in boosting her self-esteem.

“Its only now that I realise how much support it gave me. I was at risk of dropping out of school. Some of the most important supports were more emotional supports and which helped me to focus,” she says.

“My project worker at St Finian’s was like having a supporter to guide you through the days where you lose sight of your goals... I always wanted to go to university, but external forces would take control and I’d feel a sense of imposter syndrome. But my project worker helped me realise my potential.

“I remember one day in fifth year, that I wanted to give in and felt I’d never get the points. But my project worker sat me down, showed me all my grades and said, ‘Does this look like someone who doesn’t have it in them?’ I was crying and upset, but that smack of realism really helped.”

James Kavanagh, a school completion co-ordinator, said members have maintained delivery of services to vulnerable young people despite serious setbacks, including cuts to funding in 2009 which have yet to recover.

“Demand for our services grow every year, and the post-Covid school environment is full of new challenges to young people in education. Over the 20 years of the service we can see the positive impact that the service has had for children in our schools,” he said.

“We are now becoming accustomed to meeting former students who, as adults, are able to tell us the difference the programme brought to their experience of education.

“We remain committed to providing the support they need, and our objective as a union branch is to ensure that government and funding bodies make the resources available,” he said.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent