Feeder schools: Drop in disadvantaged students going to college following return to normal Leaving Cert exams

School leavers from fee-charging sector and affluent areas dominate high points university courses

The proportion of school leavers from poorer backgrounds who secured places in higher education dropped this year following a return to traditional Leaving Cert exams.

The findings are contained in The Irish Times Feeder Schools 2022, published today, which tracks the proportion of students in individual schools who progressed to third-level colleges.

The introduction of more generous predicted grades during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021, and the creation of thousands of additional college places, resulted in record numbers of students going to college.

Students from disadvantaged schools, in particular, benefitted with college participation rates among Deis schools climbing from 57 per cent in 2019 to a high of 63-64 per cent during 2020 and 2021, before dropping back to 60 per cent this year when normal exams resumed.


Third-level participation rates in fee-charging schools and non-Deis schools did not alter significantly during the pandemic.

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Overall, this year’s data indicate that a large majority (79 per cent) of school leavers across all post-primary schools progressed to higher education in 2022.

It cements Ireland’s exceptionally high third-level participation rate which is among the highest in the world.

Ireland also continues to have one of the highest retention rates at second level across Europe, or the proportion of students who stay in school until the Leaving Cert.

College participation rates were highest among students attending fee-charging schools (98 per cent) compared to free post-primary schools (81 per cent) and Deis schools (60 per cent).

Gaelcholáiste na Mara in Arklow, Co Wicklow, sent the highest proportion of its students to third level in a year during which Irish-medium schools impressed with high progression rates.

It was followed by: St Michael’s College, a fee-charging school in Dublin 4; Presentation Convent in Kilkenny; Gonzaga College in Dublin 6; and Loreto Secondary School in Foxrock, Dublin 18, both fee-charging schools.

A regional breakdown of the data show in stark terms the educational divide across affluent and less affluent areas in the capital in third-level participation.

Students attending schools in Dublin 6 (96 per cent), Dublin 2 (94 per cent), Dublin 6W, Dublin 4 and Dublin 14 (93 per cent) — all in south Dublin — have the highest chance of securing a college place.

This compares with much lower third-level progression rates in Dublin 11, Dublin 24 (both 48 per cent) and Dublin 12 (49 per cent).

The findings back up research which shows that social-class background is a key factor influencing levels of progression to higher education.

Outside Dublin, the inequalities are less glaring, although Co Limerick has the highest third-level progression rate at 83 per cent and Co Cavan has the lowest, at 61 per cent.

The Feeder School 2022 data does not capture the proportion of students who may have gone on to secure apprenticeships or places in further education.

While The Irish Times has sought this information, education authorities say it is not systematically collected.

The class gap in higher education is also evident when progression to third level is broken down by traditional universities — which typically have higher CAO entry requirements — and technological universities.

The progression rate to traditional universities is highest among fee-charging schools (72 per cent), followed by the free post-primary school sector (43 per cent) and Deis schools (22 per cent).

Overall, this year’s numbers reveal Ireland’s exceptionally high third-level participation rate, among the highest in the world.

Ireland also continues to have one of the highest retention rates at second level across Europe, or the proportion of students who stay in school until the Leaving Cert.

The high proportion of third-level participation among Irish-medium schools is also striking this year.

Of the top-10 schools which send most of their students to higher education, four are Irish-medium schools. Gaelcholáiste na Mara (An tInbhear Mór) tops the overall list, while Coláiste Íosagáin and Coláiste Eoin (An Charraig Dhubh) and Coláiste Pobal Osraí (Cill Chainnigh) also feature in the top 10.

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

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Iriseoir agus Eagarthóir Gaeilge An Irish Times. Éanna Ó Caollaí is The Irish Times' Irish Language Editor, editor of The Irish Times Student Hub, and Education Supplements editor.