Feeder school league tables are here to stay and parents love them

Laurel Hill Colaiste FCJ Limerick students Rebeca Ni Laoi, Cait Nic Suibhne, Fiona Ni Aznin, Lucy Ni Choncubhair, Mhadain, Alison Nic Gearailt & Ciara Ni Mhordha & Caoimhe Ni Mhurchu . Laurel Hill Colaiste FCJ was voted the best school in Ireland. Photo: Brian Gavin / Press 22

John Walshe

They upset the educational establishment but parents love them. Feeder school tables have flaws and limitations and don't give the full story about the real life of a school. But they do, more or less, what it says on the tin. They give a good indication of how many students from each second level school go on to institutions of higher education on this island.

This special Sunday Independent supplement goes further than the usual annual supplements by combining the individual tables published for each of the past seven years.

It provides a wealth of information of benefit to parents. It shows which schools have been consistent in sending high percentages to college and which have improved dramatically. It also raises questions about the performance of co-educational schools versus single sex schools. And it confirms that some schools in the Free Education scheme, particularly Gaelscoileanna, are increasingly matching the performance of fee-paying schools.

It seeks to find out the reasons for consistently good results.

It's clear that there is no single answer to the question of why some schools do better than others. Principals of the more successful schools are proud of their students and their results. But they don't see their role in terms of crudely putting their students under pressure to get the maximum points possible.

You can explore the data on each school by clicking here

Ken Whyte from the Presentation Brothers College in Cork puts his school's enviable record down to three factors - "personal responsibility, societal responsibility and, latterly, a focus on academic achievement and what suits an individual student's exact skills set".

A third of the students in Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair in the Donegal Gaeltacht achieved between 500-600 points in their Leaving Cert last year. The principal, Séamus O Briain, attributes the improvement in his school's academic fortunes in recent years to "the atmosphere which we have here now".

Principal Richard Lawlor from Coláiste Gleann Lí in Tralee puts its record down to its core values and the belief that a student performs better in an environment that is caring, respectful and inclusive - something, he says that the Co Kerry school constantly strives to maintain.

What none of them mentioned is the quality of leadership they provide - a key ingredient in the achievements of their schools. Supportive parents are important, as are eager students, but leadership is essential to motivate the teaching staff to work together. That way they can provide the right atmosphere for good teaching and learning to take place.

There is a lesson here for boards of management in other schools which have remained static in terms of sending students to college over the past seven years.

Standing still is no longer good enough for many parents at a time when increasing numbers of young people are going on to higher education.

The obvious trend from the Sunday Independent data is the rising numbers of students going on to college each year.

The statistics are startling. Last year there were almost 80,000 applicants to the CAO - up from nearly 64,000 a decade earlier.

Not everyone who is made an offer of a place accepts it, of course, sometimes because it is not what they want or because it does not suit them.

The latest figures show that last year 48,000 accepted offers of places in college, up from 38,000 in 2005. So the trend has been upwards. And it will continue to be, as a report due to be launched by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan on Wednesday will show. The new National Skills Strategy will set out revised targets for numbers in higher education, further education and training. It will stress the importance of acquiring skills for a rapidly changing labour market.

Not everyone has to go to college to get skilled training and the further education sector is at last starting to come into its own. But a third level qualification will remain the wish of the majority of students. They and their parents can see their chances of realising their ambition from today's tables.

But bear in mind that the information given by the colleges to the newspapers is supplied in different ways. Some list the last school a student attended, some give two schools if a student repeated the Leaving Cert elsewhere. Also included are deferrals, mature students or those who change courses within a college. The end result is that some schools seem to have more students in college than sitting the Leaving Cert that year.

So read the tables with a pinch of salt - but make it a small dose as data over seven years give a better picture of the college success of individual schools than any other tables published to date.