Katherine Donnelly: We can't ignore fees issue much longer
Among the encouraging figures in today's report on school retention rates is that 80pc of pupils in disadvantaged areas are sitting the Leaving Certificate.
Another is the dramatic 15pc rise in young men – another high-risk group when it comes to school drop-out – staying on for the Leaving, when compared with a decade ago.
Why? Partly because the economic crash killed off the sort of jobs, such as in construction and retail, that lured young teenagers from the classroom. And partly because there is a greater understanding, generally, that having a job now, or in the future, requires the sort of skills gained through higher education.
So now more than 90pc of pupils are finishing school. This is not only an increase from 82pc a decade ago, but it is 90pc of more pupils as numbers have risen. That is a consequence of the baby boom going on since the late 1990s – a boom that will be felt for at least another decade.
Record applications to the CAO this year indicate that not only are more pupils doing the Leaving, but they are taking the next logical step of applying for college. At second-level, new schools are opening or existing ones being expanded because it would be repugnant for there to be no place for a 12 or 13-year-old.
But what preparations are being made for third-level? College say they are already stretched and rising numbers run the risk of damaging quality. College entry works on the law of supply and demand. Too much demand for a finite number of places pushes CAO points up, leaving many disappointed.
Impressive school retention rates will ring hollow if the gate for college entry is closed because of lack of space and funding.
The debate on who pays for third-level can't be ignored much longer. If the State can't pay or won't pay, will fees have to rise?