Monday 27 February 2017

In my opinion: Radical re-think needed to provide some equality

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames Fine Gael Seanad Education Spokesperson

The main difference between young people who stay in school and complete their Leaving Cert (LC) versus those who leave early is parental motivation for education, and money. This is the main conclusion I've drawn after completing the Oireachtas 18 months' study Staying in Education: The Way Forward: School & Out-of-School Factors Protecting Against Early School Leaving.

One in six of our young people still leave school prior to LC. The findings reveal socio-economic differences remain at the core of the problem. Despite continued investment over the years, instead of reducing Early School Leaving (ESL), there is clear evidence to show the education system actually reproduces inequalities.

Dr Jude Cosgrove (Educational Research Centre) and I held 41 interviews with early school leavers (ESL), targeting 'at risk' young people.

We worked with 25 practitioners and researchers and took contributions from 20 government agencies and departments. Early school leaving, we concluded, is the result of a complex interplay of home, school, community and individual factors.

Our children are not born equal. There is life and there is school. Ideally they should be mutually supportive but not so.

The second-level system values a type of learning, largely textbook-based, that is measured by a terminal written exam at the end of Junior and Senior cycles. It doesn't hang around for students who can't keep pace with curriculum delivery. For early school leavers, it is an over-loaded curriculum with content that bears little resemblance to their world.

In schools where weaker students with low levels of literacy were streamed they couldn't wait to turn 16 to leave school. It confirmed for them that they were failures. Our second-level system is reliant on an unrealistic 'one size fits all' approach that is not keeping our young people in education.

Our system is fraught with discontinuities. The NCCA found students made no improvement in Maths and literacy between the end of 5th class and the beginning of 2nd year. This is a damning outcome that points to the lack of joined-up thinking between the two levels.

This report agrees with the parents of ESL who recommended special attention be given to the transition to second-level.

If we needed further proof that second-level is not an attractive place of learning for children from lower socio-economic groups, David Millar's new study for the National Education Welfare Board provides us with just that -- a quarter of students in disadvantaged (DEIS) schools are absent more than 20 days a year and a tenth are suspended for indiscipline.

We have a two-tiered education system. Teachers have no choice but to squeeze as many kids through the second-level gap as possible.

We need a complete re-think of our second level provision, and how it should provide equality of opportunity for all our students. It is the responsibility of the Minister and the Department of Education to deliver on this goal. This Oireachtas committee report points to a way forward.

Irish Independent

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