Fee-charging schools continue to have an advantage - but it is slipping

Feeder Schools 2022: Overall proportion of students from disadvantaged schools who secured a college place has fallen

Students from fee-paying schools continue to have an advantage in securing college courses, but that advantage has slipped somewhat as grade inflation and expanded college places open up third-level to more students from non-fee and disadvantaged schools, according to an analysis of this year’s Irish Times feeder school lists.

Figures compiled by The Irish Times shows 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.

Feeder Schools 2022: Third-level progression by school type

In 2020, when there was no Leaving Cert as a result of the pandemic, 15 per cent of all college places were secured by Deis schools. This figure was the same in 2021. In 2022, however, the number of Deis students as a proportion of the overall college progression figures fell to 13.8 per cent.

Ireland has about 48 fee-paying schools, of a total of about 730 post-primary schools, representing 6.5 per cent of the overall number of schools. This year, 7.5 per cent of students who sat the Leaving Cert were from fee-paying schools, compared with 18 per cent who attended disadvantaged (Deis) schools and 74.5 per cent who went to all other schools.


This year, Gaelcholáiste na Mara in Arklow, Co Wicklow, sent the highest number of its students to third-level. Irish medium schools generally tend to have relatively high progression rates.

This was followed by St Michael’s College, a fee-paying school in Dublin 4.

When the figures are examined through the lens of students from Deis schools, fee-paying schools and students from all other schools – broadly, the students in the middle – the inequities become stark. Our data shows that the most prestigious, highest points courses in universities are dominated by students from fee-paying schools.

Of the students who progressed to any third-level course from fee-paying schools, 71.5 per cent of them went to a university, where points tend to be highest, while just 19.8 per cent of these students went to a technological university or one of Ireland’s two remaining institutes of technology, with the remaining 6.8 per cent attending other colleges*. Overall, 98.1 per cent of students from fee-paying schools attended third-level, with the remaining 1.9 per cent more likely to have opted to study overseas than to have deferred or gone directly into the workplace.

By comparison, 18 per cent of this year’s Leaving Cert sits came from Deis schools, and they took just 22.3 per cent of the university places, 28.5 per cent of places in technological universities or institutes of technology, and 9.4 per cent in all other colleges. In total, 60.2 per cent of Deis students went to third-level. While this is an improvement over the national average of many previous generations, it still lags behind the progression rate of students from fee-paying schools today.

Many other Deis students may have gone on to apprenticeships or further education courses, but this data is not systematically collected or released, making it unfortunately impossible for The Irish Times to provide the appropriate credit to those students.

Looking at other schools, which represent 74.5 per cent of all Leaving Cert sits in 2022, 42.9 per cent secured a place in a university – a full 28.6 percentage points lower than the same figure for students from fee-paying schools. Meanwhile, 26.9 per cent of students from these schools attended a technological university/ institute of technology, and 11.4 per cent of them went to other colleges. In total, 81.1 per cent of these students went to third-level in this academic year.

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.

Of the 20 girls’ schools with the highest third-progression rates, however, just six are fee-paying.

In 2021, 20 of the “top 50” feeder schools were fee-paying and, in 2022, that figure remains the same.

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 apparent discrepancy between the success of boys and girls fee-paying schools may be connected to the fact that girls, on average, perform better academically than boys, who may be more likely to benefit from interventions associated with fee-paying students, such as additional tuition.

As the lists show, non-fee paying schools in wealthier parts of Ireland also tend to perform well, and the reasons behind their apparent success are the same: those parents have money, prior education and income to spend on grinds.

Although there is regular criticism of these feeder schools lists, they do serve to highlight the embedded educational inequality between children lucky enough to have family wealth, and those who do not. This is an issue, often unspoken, that is gaining more attention among millennials and Generation X students who have been able to get on the housing ladder with the help of their parents, or have inherited familial wealth, and those who haven’t been able to buy because they don’t have the good fortune of having wealthy parents or inherited wealth.

*Universities in Ireland include UCD, UCC, the University of Galway, Maynooth University, the University of Limerick, Trinity College, DCU and RCSI, as well as Queen’s University and Ulster University.

Technological universities include TU Dublin, SETU, ATU, TUS and MTU, and the two remaining institutes of technology, IADT and Dundalk IT. Other colleges include smaller teacher-training colleges and the independent, fee-paying third-levels.

There are some other factors which can influence how likely a student is to progress on to third-level, including a student’s address. Over the years, it has been more likely that students from more affluent parts of the country and city would progress to higher education, compared with those in the north and west of the country, or students in more economically challenged areas of Cork and Dublin cities.

This year, our data shows that students attending schools in Dublin 6, Dublin 2, Dublin 6W, Dublin 4 and Dublin 14 – all in south Dublin – have the highest chance of securing a college place, at 96 per cent, 94 per cent and 93 per cent, respectively. This compares with a third-level progression rate of just 48 and 49 per cent in Dublin 11 and Dublin 12 (mostly the Ballyfermot area), respectively. Dublin 24, mostly Tallaght, has a progression rate of just 48 per cent.

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.