One in six pupils dropping out before they reach Leaving Cert
ONE in six pupils is dropping out of school before the Leaving Certificate, a major new report by the State's economic think tank reveals.
And despite spending millions on programmes to keep them in school, the Government has failed to meet its target of cutting the numbers of early school leavers to one in ten. This failure is leaving many young people -- especially young men -- facing a life of 'low quality' employment and high unemployment rates.
And it is a huge drain on the public finances at a time when the Government is trying to upskill people for a 'smart economy'. Early school leavers are also more likely to be unemployed, in poor health, be in prison or become lone parents.
The report by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) reveals that some 9,000 young people are dropping out of school every year before taking their Leaving Cert.
The figure has remained high since the mid-1990s, even though a series of initiatives has been taken to improve retention rates.
Meanwhile, a second ESRI report has found that students who take the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) are facing major difficulties on leaving school because of the 'stigma' attached to the programme.
The LCA is now being reviewed in the hope more employers and third level colleges will accept it as a valid qualification.
Both reports show how social class is still a big factor in educational achievement. Young people from semi-skilled and unskilled manual backgrounds are 2.7 times more likely to drop out of school than those from higher professional backgrounds. The LCA students are predominantly working class.
Irish drop-out rates are significantly higher than in countries such as Norway, Finland, Sweden, the UK, France and the Netherlands, but better than in the southern European countries of Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal. Negative educational experiences have emerged as the main reason for dropping out but the report also gives fascinating insights into the type of students who quit early.
Those who have more active social lives outside school, particularly in first year, are more likely to drop out of school before their Leaving Cert.
Similarly, those who drink alcohol with friends or go on dates more than once a fortnight in third year are more likely to drop out.
So also are truants; those who are regularly late or absent from school; those who are suspended regularly; and those who do not have friends from primary school in their first year of secondary school.
Students in lower stream classes are almost 13 times more likely to drop out than those in mixed ability classes, according to the research by Prof Emer Smyth and Dr Delma Byrne, who combined a study of 1,000 students with interviews of former students who left before their Leaving Cert.
The report found that early leavers tend to experience poorer health status and young women who leave school early are more likely to become lone mothers. In addition, imprisonment rates differ markedly between early leavers and other groups of men.
All of this involves substantial costs to society as a whole in the form of social welfare expenditure, health services and imprisonment rates, the report says.
Early leavers are much more likely to experience unemployment than their more highly educated counterparts.
Among males, almost 40pc of those with no qualifications are unemployed compared with 7pc of those with a Leaving Cert.
For female leavers, the gap is even greater: over 50pc with no qualifications are unemployed compared with 12pc of their Leaving Cert peers.
The gap in unemployment due to lowerrates by education has increased over time, even during the boom years.
The report defines early leaving as the end of a long-term gradual withdrawal from school, marked by non-attendance and truancy. The Leaving Cert is now the basic qualification needed for access to further education, training and quality employment, the report finds.
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