DEIS schools narrow the gap but 'significant gulf still exists'
Report warns of need to continue supports for disadvantaged pupils
The education gap between pupils in post-primary schools in disadvantaged communities and others has narrowed, but there is still a significant gulf, according to an evaluation of the DEIS programme.
There was a general upward trend in student performance between 2002 and 2017, but pupils in DEIS schools have improved at a faster rate than others. However the report, by the Educational Research Centre (ERC), Drumcondra, warns "significant gaps still exist" and that they are mainly based on income inequality.
Report authors Dr Susan Weir and Dr Lauren Kavanagh say "while this is a societal problem, the impacts are evident in our schools and it is important to continue to provide educational programmes such as DEIS to address the needs of our most marginalised students".
The Delivering Equality of Opportunities in Schools (DEIS) programme provides extra supports, such as higher grants and additional teachers, to schools under its umbrella.
More than one in four - 198 - post-primary schools have a DEIS designation, which is linked to the socio-economic profile of pupils. While schools that are not designated as DEIS may have a lot of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, DEIS schools have higher concentrations.
The ERC used medical card possession as an indicator for low family income and DEIS schools had almost double the concentration of pupils from such families compared with non-DEIS schools.
Nationally, there has been a significant rise in medical card possession in the past decade, particularly for families that have pupils in DEIS, and, on average, in 2017, 41pc of pupils came from medical card families - up from 30pc in 2007.
However, DEIS schools had almost double the proportion (62pc) of pupils from medical card families compared with non-DEIS schools (34pc) - up from 49pc and 21pc in 2007.
Among the ERC findings are that, since the introduction of DEIS, fewer students in these schools have sat foundation level papers in Junior Cert English and maths, with more students also taking higher level papers in these subjects.
For example, in 2007, about 24pc of DEIS pupils took foundation level maths, and by 2016 this had reduced to 13pc, while the proportion of DEIS students taking higher level maths rose from 19pc to 33pc.
The report also notes the leap in numbers staying on to do the Leaving Cert. Of pupils who started post-primary in 1995, 77pc of those in non-DEIS schools and 62 pc of those in DEIS school did the Leaving Cert - rising to 90pc and 82pc respectively for those who started in 2011.
Education Minister Joe McHugh said the research provided "further valuable evidence that DEIS is working", although it was "still very apparent that a gap still remains. It is vital that we continue our commitment to support those schools with the highest concentrations of disadvantage under the DEIS programme".