GROWING numbers of students are doing transition year, but it is still less of an option for teenagers from disadvantaged backgrounds.
A new study shows that 20 years on from its introduction, better-off students are up to twice as likely to have the opportunity to do the post-Junior Cert programme. The gap in provision between schools with the most and least disadvantaged student intake has not narrowed appreciably in two decades, according to the study.
The study raises questions about equity in education because transition-year students do better in the Leaving Cert, while it is also seen as important for social and personal development.
The study tracking the growth of transition year has been completed by Aidan Clerkin, of the Educational Research Centre, St Patrick's College, Drumcondra, Dublin.
The study, which has been seen by the Irish Independent and will be published in the 'Irish Educational Studies' journal, is the first to track year-on-year growth of the programme since 1992/93, when it was mainstreamed in schools.
It found that a large majority of schools now offer the programme and participation is at a record high, with 30,535 students doing it in 2010/11.
According to the figures, 81pc of all schools offer transition year – rising to 83pc among non-designated disadvantaged schools – but among designated disadvantaged schools it is 76pc.
Even though a school runs a transition-year programme, it does not mean that all eligible students take it. There is a 54pc uptake among students in all schools, compared with 44pc of students in schools in disadvantaged areas.
Unsurprisingly, schools in the Vocational Education Committee (VEC) sector, which have greater concentration of pupils suffering disadvantage, are least likely to offer the programme.
According to the figures, 57pc of VEC schools ran transition year in 2010/11, compared with 91pc of secondary schools and 88pc of community and comprehensive schools.
Mr Clerkin said his findings raised questions such as whether more should be done to encourage students from a broader range of socio-economic backgrounds into the programme.
"Questions of equity arise if participation in the programme is presented as a viable option to some students and not to others. However, in almost two decades, the gap in provision between the schools with the most and least disadvantaged student intake has not narrowed appreciably," he said.