Large minority of children ‘falling through the gaps’, Unicef report

Concern is expressed for educational levels of groups including Travellers, the homeless and immigrants

The Unicef report found “vulnerable groups” are still in danger of being left behind.

The Unicef report found “vulnerable groups” are still in danger of being left behind.

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Ireland has scored highly for its efforts to promote educational equality among the State’s children - with notable exceptions involving Traveller children, the homeless and immigrants.

According to a report from UN children’s charity Unicef, Ireland ranks second out of 41 wealthy nations in promoting educational equality between children.

But despite the positive findings, the report found “vulnerable groups” are still in danger of being left behind.

The report entitled An Unfair Start: Inequality in Children’s Education in Rich Countries looked at two principle indicators of inequality.

Firstly, it looked at the percentage of students enrolled in organised learning one year before the official age for entering primary school. Secondly, it looked at the gap in reading scores between the lowest and highest-performing students in both primary school at about age 10 years and secondary school at about 15 years.

The ranking results for Ireland show that inequality among children decreases as they move from early childhood education to primary school and on to secondary school.

However, with one in 10 students not reaching basic proficiency in reading by secondary school, when aged about 15 years, Unicef Ireland chief executive Peter Power said a large minority was “still falling through the gaps” and not getting the resources needed.

Among those vulnerable groups experiencing difficulties were:

* Travellers; Mr Power said only 13 per cent of Traveller girls completed second-level education, compared to 69 per cent of the general population. More than 57 percent of Traveller boys ceased education at primary level, compared to 13 per cent in the general population. Half of all Travellers live outside of the DEIS educational schemes which were set up to foster inclusion. The number of Travellers who have attained a third level qualification represents less than one per cent of their community.

* Homelessness; Mr Power said more than 3,000 children were homeless with many forced to make long journeys to school, arriving exhausted, without breakfast and in dirty uniforms due to inadequate washing facilities.

* Immigrants; Mr Power said in 25 of the countries surveyed with substantial levels of immigration, including Ireland, a higher percentage of first-generation immigrant children (12.8 per cent) fail to reach basic literacy levels at age 15 than non-migrant children (9.1 per cent).

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