Thousands of children are showing signs of slipping through the education net by the time they reach 13.
While most 13-year-olds are broadly positive about school, a significant minority are already having negative experiences. And if that happens, it can be the first sign of early school leaving, under-performance in the Junior and Leaving Cert and can have a bearing on whether a child goes to college.
Boys are more at risk than girls and children from disadvantaged backgrounds are at the greatest risk, according to the latest study from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).
ESRI researcher Emer Smyth said that gender and social background differences were of concern to policymakers given the importance of school engagement for longer-term educational achievement.
The findings are based on data collected in the 'Growing up in Ireland' project, which tracked the educational experiences of about 7,500 children at the age of 13, as a follow-up to similar interviews when they were nine.
It confirms much of what emerged in previous studies but is of significance because of the size of the sample, while it also offers new insights including how children with special educational needs are faring.
The transition from primary to second level is regarded as a crucial period because of the big changes involved and this confirms that by second year a significant minority are starting to disengage.
The interviews with children covered issues such as attitudes to school, relationships with teachers, behaviour and parental support.
It found that boys have more negative attitudes to school, are more likely to misbehave and to experience negative interactions with teachers.
Similarly, 13-year-olds from lower income and lower educated households are also more likely to misbehave and have negative attitudes to school.
Key findings include:
* 35pc of girls liked school "very much" compared with 23pc of boys.
* 35pc of those whose mother had a degree (or higher) liked schools very much, compared with 26pc of those whose mother had a lower secondary qualification.
* 36pc of those who were in first year liked school very much, but that dropped to 25pc among second years.
* 30pc of girls were praised by their teachers "very often", compared with 22pc of boys.
* 64pc of boys had been reprimanded by teachers for misbehaviour, compared with 46pc of girls.
* 20pc of students with special education needs were praised for their schoolwork "very often", compared with 27pc of students with no special needs.
* 34pc of those from non-employed households received detention, compared with 16pc of those from professional/ managerial backgrounds.
It also highlighted how the school experience can change between first year and second year – for instance, the chances of being reprimanded because of school work rose from 46pc in first year to 56pc in second year.