Monday 23 September 2019

Katherine Donnelly: 'New approach is needed if all children are to have an equal chance'


(stock photo)
(stock photo)
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

The simple message from the latest research on the postcode lottery is that a new approach is required if education is to be a level playing field for all children.

The Department of Education's DEIS programme, which was introduced in 2006 and offers additional supports to schools in disadvantaged areas to break the cycle of inequality for these communities, has made a difference.

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Various pieces of research point to progress, via DEIS and other initiatives, in raising educational attainment levels for children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and improving access of under-represented groups to higher education.

Earlier this year a report from the Educational Research Centre (ERC), Drumcondra gave examples of how pupils in DEIS schools are narrowing the gap, such as fewer sitting foundation level papers in Junior Cert English and maths, with more also taking higher level papers in these subjects.

But this year also saw how high achievers pushed out the boundaries for entry to UCD's prestigious economics and finance course, with an unprecedented cut-off of 601 CAO points.

There may be progress but not enough. According to the ERC "significant gaps still exist", mainly based on income inequality, which plays out in many ways, not least in how some families can buy advantage, whether that is sending children to private schools with their smaller classes and extra resources or paying for grinds in a push for extra CAO points. It may not always provide the desired results for parents, but at least they have the choice.

Inequality and the impact of intergenerational disadvantage comes through at a much earlier stage. Studies by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) into data from the Growing Up in Ireland surveys provide rich insights.

Among the findings is that three year olds whose mothers have a third-level education are 50pc more likely to have books read to them than those whose mothers left school early.

The children who lose out as toddlers play catch up through their education.

The relatively new early years childcare scheme will help, but can only do so much. The ESRI also reports how socioeconomic background is a factor in participation rates in after-school classes such as dance, art or music. By the time they reach 13, those children who frequently read and attended such classes are more confident about coping with school work.

The problem is well documented; new thinking, and probably a lot more well-directed funding, is needed to tackle it.

Irish Independent

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