To make sense of the feeder tables, it is important to understand the component parts.
There are two key numbers associated with each school listed in our tables: the total number of students attending college this year and the total number of incoming first-year undergraduate students who sat the Leaving Cert in 2022. It is also important to note that the percentage progression rates of Ireland’s second-level schools do not solely reflect the success of this year’s Leaving Cert class in securing college places through the CAO.
The percentage listed in the last column is not a “true rate” for the progression of the Leaving Cert 2022 class from each school to third-level institutions this past September.
The incoming first-year undergraduate class is composed of past pupils of any age, who sat the exam in that school at any stage of their life and are credited by the colleges to that institution.
- The 2022 intake consists of 3,592 successful applicants, made up mainly of those mature applicants over 23 years of age, who secured places in Round A in early July.
- A further 2,848 applicants secured their place in Round 0 in early August, made up predominantly of graduates of FE level 5/6 awards.
- A further 48,651 applicants sat their Leaving Cert in the current year.
- More than 12,000 applicants under 23 years of age sat the Leaving Cert in the past three-four years and sought college places in 2022 and received and accepted offers in Round 1 in early September this year.
- Among those in the previous Leaving Cert cohort are 7,690 applicants who have previously attended a higher education institution but who sought to re-enter college in 2022.
- Also included in that Round 1 offer group are applicants from Northern Ireland, the UK and other EU countries.
In the numbers provided to The Irish Times, each third-level institution includes all incoming first-year students who attended a given school, without identifying in what year they sat the Leaving Cert.
The CAO is precluded from stating how many students from the current Leaving Cert class of 2022 secured a place in college this year. But from the data provided by them, we estimate that 75 per cent of Republic of Ireland successful applicants are current year Leaving Cert students, with the remaining 25 per cent being made up of past pupils of all ages from previous years.
The State Exams Commission (SEC) figures on the number of students who sat the Leaving Cert in all schools in 2022 (the Sits) show that 60,197 undertook the traditional Leaving Cert.
The SEC provides The Irish Times with this data which allows the publication of the Sits number next to each school’s name. Combining this data from the CAO and SEC shows that 80 per cent of sixth-year students in Irish second-level schools sought a place among the 40-plus institutions it represents.
The remaining 20 per cent of this year’s Leaving Cert class decided – in consultation with their teachers, guidance counsellors and, most importantly, their parents – that applying to the CAO was not the appropriate or best career development move for them. As access to accurate data for application numbers to the CAO from the individual schools themselves is not possible, The Irish Times includes this cohort in the SIT numbers, upon which the success percentage of each school is based. It is worth noting that the fact 20 per cent of school-leavers do not apply for a CAO college place is not an indication of failure.
They may be planning to pursue a further education course, through an ETB college, or an apprenticeship through Solas, which is more appropriate to their career goals. Every year, thousands of Leaving Cert students take level 5 QQI courses in post-Leaving Cert colleges. Many complete them and progress to CAO courses the following year (and are credited back to their original school in the data supplied by the colleges when they register).
There are more than 1,000 undergraduate Irish students now studying at first-year undergraduate level in Dutch universities alone
Another cohort from that 20 per cent who do not apply for a CAO place may be going outside Ireland to continue their studies. They may also have applied to colleges in Northern Ireland or to colleges in the UK. In the past 10 years, a growing number of Irish students have opted to study in continental EU universities with high international rankings, which offer courses through English.
There are more than 1,000 undergraduate Irish students now studying at first-year undergraduate level in Dutch universities alone. Many more attend colleges in other EU countries. Again, these students are not credited to their schools for progression to third-level status in The Irish Times charts as we do not have any data on such students.
The presence of a third-level college in an area increases the progression rates of students to third level within commuting distance of those colleges
Each year, the tables show very large numbers of students who go to college have attended schools in socially advantaged communities. The data shows these students tend to opt predominantly for universities and teacher-training courses. Higher Education Authority (HEA) data shows these institutions have the lowest drop-out rates (from 4 per cent in teacher-training colleges to 9 per cent in universities). Is that surprising, given the support these students receive from their parents?
The HEA data also shows students from schools in less-advantaged communities get far fewer places in high-points university courses and tend to progress to institutes of technology or technological universities. HEA data shows these students have more difficulties completing college, with drop-out rates of up to 20 per cent common. Student Universal Support Ireland (Susi) figures show a large proportion of successful grant applicants go to ITs rather than universities, confirming the social-class divide reflected in institutions’ student intake.
The progression tables also show how parochial our college choice can be, and how the presence of a third-level college in an area increases the progression rates of students to third level within commuting distance of those colleges. Unlike in the UK, where students tend to select colleges far from home, Irish students gravitate towards local colleges if they can get a place in the discipline they want.
This may reflect the lack of a student-loan scheme which would allow consideration of a wider range of options and may also reflect the acute ongoing shortage of student accommodation, with recent reports indicating that more than 10 per cent of students are couch-surfing or, in some cases, sleeping in cars.
Publishing this data is not passing judgment on the success of any school in supporting their students to get to college. For schools where both parents of many students are graduates, and where they have been supported throughout their education, getting a college place is no great reflection on the success of their school. Alternatively, we are keenly aware that for schools in disadvantaged communities, securing third-level progression for even a small proportion of students reflects highly motivated teachers, and is a fantastic achievement.
These charts are the only indicator of a school’s academic performance available to the public
The Irish Times publishes these progression charts annually because they are based on data provided by the State Examinations Commission – total number of Sits per school, and the third-level CAO colleges – total number of former pupils of each school attending first year in 2022.
Even if the information supplied to us could be more comprehensive, these charts are the only indicator of a school’s academic performance available to the public.
Third-level colleges point out that this school’s data originates at the State Examinations Commission. It is forwarded to the Central Applications Office, which forwards it to third-level institutions.
As the data is provided to each university for particular administrative purposes, they say they cannot stand over the accuracy of the data if it is used for any other purpose. The data provided includes every school setting in which a candidate sat the examination, even if for only one subject.
Therefore, the data will not always reflect the number of incoming students to a third-level college, because in cases where, for example, a candidate sat the examination twice, that candidate will appear as a statistic under both institutions and be doubly entered in the data. The double counting occurs even where the candidate repeated the examination in the institution where he or she first undertook the examination.