Children in poorer areas more negative about school, research shows

By Niall Murray

Migrant children and those from disadvantaged areas start primary school significantly earlier than others and do not settle as well, significant new research shows.

The average ages at which all children begin school has been increasing significantly over the past two decades, but almost half have started junior infants by age four-and-a-half according to the long-running Growing up in Ireland (GUI) study.

However, a new study by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) shows that those from more advantaged homes start later, such as children with professional parents, mothers with a college degree, two-parent or higher income homes. But children from homes where nobody is working start an average of two months earlier than those with professional parents.

The report’s author, ESRI research professor Emer Smyth, found that children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds have more negative attitudes towards school, more socio-emotional difficulties and poorer literacy and numeracy skills than those from other backgrounds.

She said boys score lower on vocabulary tests and are reported by teachers to be more likely than girls to have poorer literacy, negative attitudes to school and greater socio-economic difficulties.

“The findings indicate a need to develop supports for children to enhance the transition to primary education,” Prof Smyth said.

More broadly, GUI data collected from families and schools about 9,000 children shows that just 4% to 5% of children complain often or get upset about school. The vast majority of five-year-olds look forward to going to school and have good things to say about it.

The analysis was commissioned by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), whose deputy chief executive Arlene Forster said the research will help its work to support children’s moves to primary school. Its play-based early childhood curriculum framework Aistear straddles early childhood settings and the junior and senior infant classes of primary level.

“The publication in autumn 2018 of NCCA’s national reporting templates for the transition from pre-school to primary school will respond to the need identified for the transfer of such information,” Ms Forster said.

The study also shows that, although children with disabilities start school later than average, they and pupils with special needs lag most behind average level of academic skills and socio-emotional capacities.

Meanwhile, a National Council for Special Education (NCSE) review of the Department of Education’s special needs assistant (SNA) scheme in schools will be published today, with Education Minister Richard Bruton strongly expected to announce significant policy changes arising from its recommendations.

The minister commissioned the review in September 2016 but there are concerns that it could lead to restrictions, in light of reported concerns in some Government circles about the level of spending on special education.

Sean Carabini, assistant general secretary with Fórsa, said the outcome will be examined very carefully if it changes the way SNA allocations are made to schools.

“Essentially, every SNA’s job is reviewed each year, so we hope there’s something in it that gives SNAs more jobs security. But we need to make sure it doesn’t do the opposite,” he said.

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