Feeder Schools Survey: what is the point?

 

Sir, - Once again, The Irish Times has devoted six pages to the results of the annual “Feeder Schools Survey” (December 3rd).

The Q&A on each page asks: “Why do some schools show a progression rate to third level of over 100 per cent?”, and answers: “the figures include PLC students, first-year repeats and mature students who sat the Leaving Cert prior to 2019. Only 78 per cent of this year’s Irish-based college registrations are of students who sat the Leaving in 2019”.

Many schools, like ours, do their own progression reports each year, which involves contacting the previous sixth years individually. Our school can stand over this data 100 per cent, and I can state categorically that the statistics published in The Irish Times are only 52 per cent accurate for our school, for the colleges stated for 2019. Information is presented for 17 institutions where students of Carndonagh Community School progressed to, however this information is only correct for nine of these 17 institutions for 2019.

In addition, the presented figures are incomplete. No mention is made of progression data for other CAO colleges such as St Nicholas Montessori College or the Pontifical University. It is also obvious from the data for our school, that destinations for two of our students, who received access places to university are not included.

The omission of all data on further education colleges (PLC / QQI) is acknowledged in the report, this includes data for all seven Teagasc Agricultural Colleges and all the further education institutions in Northern Ireland. This omission heavily skews the residual data for rural and border schools. However, the report also excludes very relevant higher education statistics from abroad, and in 2019 this school had students progress to universities in Northern Ireland (eg Stranmillis, St Marys), England and Poland.

The increasing trend, where students take a “gap year” between the Leaving Cert and going to third-level, also blurs the data significantly. In our school, for instance, the number of students deferring a college place rose from six in 2018 to 13 in 2019. Next year, these 13 students will be added into the 2020 “progression” league tables after their year out.

When there is no solid foundation for reliable data (“numbers are not available on progression rates for LC 2019 only”), the resulting statistics are obviously invalid, meaningless and indeed misleading to parents. So, the question must be asked, why bother to research and publish these at all? - Yours, etc,

Dr LIAM HARKIN,

Guidance Counsellor,

Carndonagh Community School,

Carndonagh,

Co Donegal.

Carl O’Brien Education Editor writes: Feeder Schools 2019 provides a snapshot of how many secondary students go on to higher education institutions in receipt of core public funding, along with a selected number of private colleges and universities based outside the State. As our Feeder Schools coverage points out, it is not exhaustive and there are caveats. The lists, for example, do not include data on where students went on to study in the UK. This, as we have reported, impacts disproportionately on schools in the Border counties, which otherwise would have higher progression rates.