Figures compiled by The Irish Times show that, while the students in the middle are catching up on those who attended a fee-paying school, the overall proportion of students from disadvantaged (Deis) schools who secured a college place has fallen, after two years when calculated and accredited grades were widely seen as helping to close the inequality and class gaps.
Fee-paying schools still dominate our most sought-after courses in our traditional universities. They secured 2,935 places, or 71.5 per cent, as a proportion of their 2022 6th year numbers. Deis schools on the other hand secured 2,205 places in traditional universities, representing 22.3 per cent of the numbers who sat the Leaving Cert in those schools. Of the 40,986 students who completed the Leaving Cert cycle in non-Deis/non fee-paying schools, 42.9 per cent of the 2022 Leaving Cert cohort (17,572) progressed to places in traditional universities.
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.
In terms of overall progression nationally from all school types to traditional universities, eight of the top 10 schools are fee-paying, with Coláiste Íosagáin Stillorgan and Muckross College Donnybrook being the two non-fee paying schools. Their student social class profile would be similar to their neighbouring fee-paying schools.
The top mixed feeder school table shows the greatest representation of Irish-medium schools, highlighting perhaps a dual benefit of mixed education and Irish-medium education. Of the 28 schools listed, more than a third teach through the medium of Irish. Of the top 10 schools listed, five are private fee-paying English-medium schools. School availability remains one of the biggest barriers to secondary-level Irish-medium education. Out of 728 post-primary schools in Ireland, only 50 are Gaelcholáistí. Seven counties have no Irish-medium post-primary school provision at all and it should not be a surprise that only over a third (1,688) of the 4,723 pupils in sixth class in Gaelscoileanna in June 2020 transitioned to a Gaelcholáiste that year, while the majority enrolled in English-medium schools.
Of the 20 boys’ schools with the highest third-level progression rates in 2022, 11 are fee-paying, including St Michael’s College in Dublin 4 which had the highest recorded progression rate according to our charts, and nearby Gonzaga College in Ranelagh, which appears in the second spot.
Only five of the top 16 girls-only second-level schools are fee-paying, with three of the six most successful colleges being non-fee-paying. In 1st place is Presentation College, Kilkenny; in 4th place is Our Lady’s Templeogue, Dublin, and in 5th place, Muckross College, Donnybrook, Dublin.
Irish young people, unlike their compatriots in the UK, tend to apply for third-level places at their local colleges. Research carried out with those who have progressed to third-level indicate that most Irish school leavers apply to attend colleges where they can continue to socialise with their peer group. There is also a growing economic factor causing students to select their local institutions, driven in large part by the soaring cost of accommodation in our towns and cities: living away from home adds hugely to the cost of attending college. There are significantly lower third-level progression rates among students in counties or geographic locations which do not have access to third-level institutions and who are therefore unable to attend a chosen course without living away from home. Contrast Cavan, at 61 per cent overall participation in third-level, with Carlow at 78 per cent.
Although these tables would seem to suggest that fee-paying schools have better outcomes for their students, there is copious academic evidence which indicates that these students do better, on average, because of prior ability, the education level of their parents and the money that their parents were able to spend on additional tutoring and grinds. None of these schools are inherently “better” than their non-fee paying counterparts.
The tables here measure just one thing - how many students are progressing to higher education from second-level schools.
A good education will encourage personal growth and social awareness, students will learn how to innovate, to build relationships, how to adapt rapidly to challenges and communicate effectively. Critical thinking skills and the development of problem-solving abilities will be encouraged, while cultural understanding and empathy will also be promoted.
While these statistics provide important and useful information about progression rates, none of the aforementioned indicators are measured, and it is important to consider these factors when evaluating a school.
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