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Private school leavers retain a strong grip on the most sought-after third-level courses, despite millions of dollars spent to close the class gap in education.
The annual Irish Times Feeder Schools list – which measures the proportion of students progressing to third grade – shows a yawning social divide between rich and poor areas.
Half of the 25 schools that sent the largest proportion of their students to graduate school this year were fee-based schools.
Almost all of the students in these schools went on to higher education, and most were in affluent areas of South Dublin.
In contrast, the proportion of students going to tertiary education in some of the poorest schools is as low as 15 percent.
The predominance of the private school sector should revive the debate on state subsidies to the sector, which amount to 90 million euros per year.
This funding covers teachers’ salaries in the 51 fee-paying schools, as well as capital expenditures, grants for computer equipment and sports facilities.
State aid to disadvantaged high schools – known as the Deis program – amounts to around € 60 million per year.
This targeted funding goes to additional teachers, grants for textbooks, school meals and other supports, in addition to regular funding.
On average, fee-paying schools send 100 percent of students to higher education, while this rate drops to 57 percent in Deis schools. That gap has not narrowed over the past six years, the data shows.
The social divide is more marked when third cycle participation rates are broken down by schools sending the most students to the most successful courses. These are courses offered at universities and other colleges.
Some 18 of the 25 schools that sent the highest proportion of their students to the most advanced courses were fee-paying schools.
When the overall third cycle progression rates are broken down by type of school, it shows that there are significant differences.
Voluntary secondary schools – usually schools owned or operated by religious groups – send the highest proportion of students to tertiary education (82 percent).
They are followed by comprehensive schools (79%), community schools (72%) and the Education and Training Council – formerly vocational schools – (69%).
There has been no significant change in these trends over the past six years, according to the data.
A sign that rising college housing costs may be a factor for students, this year’s data shows lower third-level progression rates in counties that don’t have a large third-level facility on their doorstep.
For example, the third-level progression rates in Cavan (69 percent) and Longford (66 percent) lag far behind Galway (82 percent), home to NUI Galway and GMIT.
The biggest increases
When this year’s primary school figures are broken down to show which schools have seen the largest increase in tertiary participation in recent years, some underprivileged schools come out on top.
For example, Adamstown Vocational College in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, a school in Deis, has seen its third level progress rates jump nearly 50% in the past six years.
Education analysts say that while data from nurse school lists shows the proportion of students who go to third level, it does not reflect whether one school is better than another.
Factors such as social class and geography play an important role, as more affluent students can afford additional support such as grinds.
The data also does not show the proportion of students progressing to higher education or apprenticeships.
The Irish Times has requested the data, but education authorities have yet to release it.