Leaving Cert numbers at all-time high

THE recession may be having a positive impact in schools as the numbers staying on to sit the Leaving Certificate have reached an all-time high.

However, while the proportion of students who do not finish school has fallen to less than one-in-six for the first time, statistics to be published today also suggest those who leave school are doing so at an earlier age.

The 5.5% of almost 57,000 students who started second level education in 2004 but who did not sit the Junior Certificate in 2007 is up from less than 4% of those who should have taken the exam in 2004.

The Department of Education report on student retention rates for the first year classes of 2002, 2003 and 2004 will caution that the figures may be skewed by up to 1,300 students from each group who sat the Junior Certificate but were not tracked because they did not provide a PPS number to the State Exams Commission.

Figures for the three years show a progressive increase in dropout rates to Junior Certificate throughout the period and may be a cause of concern in the absence of more definitive data.

The headline figures are nonetheless good news for the education system, with greater difficulty for early school leavers to get work a likely factor. The retention of such students, more likely to be weaker academically, has already been highlighted as a contributor to the falling standards in Irish 15-year-old’s scores and rankings. Results in the 2009 international testing of literacy and numeracy, published last December, have caused alarm across the education system.

The 15.5% dropout rate for those who should have done the Leaving Certificate last year or in 2009, depending on whether they did transition year, compares to almost 22% of those who started second level a decade earlier. While there has been progressive but slow annual improvement in these figures in more than 20 years of analysis, the most recent group of students showed the biggest rise in school completion in any year since 1991.

When the figures are adjusted to take account of students who may have died, left the country or left the State-funded system to attend private colleges, the dropout rate is estimated at 12.3%. A statistically significant rise in this figure over the last two years may be linked to a fall in families who can afford to send their children to fee-paying institutions to maximise their results.

At the other end of the socio-economic scale, one of the biggest improvements has been in schools given extra staff and other supports because of high numbers of disadvantaged students.

Of more than 11,760 students who began first year in 2004 at hundreds of schools in the Department of Education’s Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) scheme, 26.8% did not get to Leaving Certificate. While it is close to double the national average, it shows a 5% increase in just thee years, as almost one-in-three of their 2001 counterparts dropped out of school.

The change will most likely be lauded by the department as proof of the value for extra resources provided to DEIS schools. However, students in these areas are the ones who would most likely have dropped out early but for the absence of work in construction and other sectors.


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