Absence of pupil tracking ‘hinders research’

THE absence of a tracking system to follow the progress of pupils from the start of primary school is hampering work that could help improve education policies, according to a leading researcher.

Since 1991, the Department of Education can monitor patterns of second-level attendance and levels of disadvantage through a database used to calculate dropout rates and other statistics.

However, despite calls from various interest groups over many years and a promise in the 2007 Programme for Government, no database has yet been set up to track primary pupils.

Economic and Social Research Institute senior researcher Dr Selina McCoy said the absence of such a database hinders the ability to collect important information.

“We have very little understanding, for example, of the level to which students transfer from primary to second level, but one of the biggest areas we need it for is in special education,” said Dr McCoy, whose research includes work on early school leaving, school attendance, special needs education and the different experiences of boys and girls in primary school.

“There’s a huge shortage of information about how special needs pupils progress through the system and how they fare at second level, something that’s not factored in the post-primary database either,” she added.

“There have been huge delays introducing one at primary level but it is crucial that there should be a database, and that it is accessible for research that can feed into policy-making. It would also be useful, for example, in looking at how programmes for disadvantaged schools are operating,” Dr McCoy said.

It emerged this week that a principal plans to resign from a Co Meath primary school where a number of his pupils were listed as being enrolled at another school where his wife was principal in 2007.

The matter was only brought to the attention of the Department of Education after a complaint was made, as a database that might flag duplication does not exist.

A department spokesman said the development of a primary pupil database is being considered in the context of an integrated learner database for all primary and second level schools that would replace the existing post-primary pupil database.

“The development of such a database is contingent on the availability of resources having regard to the position of the public finances and reductions in public expenditure,” he said.

A 2008 Department of Education data strategy identified “imprecise and poor quality data on school drop- out, especially at primary level” and poor linkage of data from primary to second level, including pupil transfer. It is estimated that around 1,000 children never go on to post- primary education each year but the lack of a primary database makes it impossible to verify. “The development of such a database could transform the potential for data to inform policy and serve learners, schools and communities more effectively,” department secretary general Brigid McManus wrote in the strategy report.


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