Fee-paying students two years ahead in literacy


STUDENTS IN fee-paying schools are two years ahead of their counterparts in vocational schools in literacy skills, according to a study which underlines the two-tier nature of Irish education.

The study says the performance of 15-year-old students in 254 vocational schools – many from socially deprived backgrounds – also lags behind other teenagers in community and comprehensive schools and those in other non-fee-paying secondary schools.

It also finds that students from fee-paying schools are drawn from the most advantaged strata of Irish society – despite claims these schools have students from all backgrounds.

Responding to the report last night Teacher’s Union of Ireland General Secretary John MacGabhann said it was now time for the State to stop providing “a turbo boost to the already privileged.’’

Fee paying schools receive €100 million annually from the exchequer.

The OECD study analyses the 2009 OECD/Pisa rankings on literacy among Irish teenagers.

Ireland was ranked 17th in the OECD on literacy, down from fifth in 2000, the sharpest drop experienced by any developed nation.

The Department of Education is examining how these schools spend an additional €100 million they receive annually in fee payments from parents. It is also examining admission policies in schools, including the use of sibling policies where family members of current and former pupils are given preference.

The use of these sibling policies is specifically criticised in the new report. It says they play a key role in helping private schools draw students from the better-off section of society. “On average, schools that exercised this preference had a student enrolment with a socioeconomic score that was . . . higher than schools that did not.”

The study says parents are drawn to private schools “mostly because of the composition of their student bodies. This finding suggests that (socioeconomic) stratification may increase over time unless some structural changes occur”.

Dr Jude Cosgrove, of the Educational Research Centre at St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, Dublin, which oversees Pisa in Ireland, says the findings show pupils in fee-paying schools do better because their students are the most advantaged. “Clearly, achievement differences between school types in Ireland are related to the socioeconomic background of their students,” she said.

Overall, vocational schools had an average reading score of 466 points, compared to 487 in community and comprehensive schools, 504 in non-fee-paying secondary schools, and 539 in fee-paying secondary schools.

Students in vocational schools, however, had above-average levels of disadvantage when compared with other schools.

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn is under pressure from the Labour grassroots and from the TUI to end State supports for private schools.