School support cuts could reverse fall in dropout rates, warns expert

CUTS to school supports are hitting the most disadvantaged children and could reverse record falls in dropout rates, a leading education researcher has warned.

The most recent figures on the numbers who leave school early, obtained by the Irish Examiner, reveal that the proportion of entrants to second level in 2004 who made it to Leaving Certificate was the highest on record.

But while fewer than one-in-six — 8,826 of the 57,000 first years — dropped out, there are suggestions in the Department of Education statistics to be published today that those who are falling out of the system may be doing so at an earlier age.

There is also a problem in Limerick city, where 125 students or almost 10% of its second level intake in 2004, did not sit the Junior Certificate and another 175 did not do the Leaving Certificate.

However, much of the progress on school retention rates could be undone by cutbacks, as an expert on early school leaving has warned that cuts to a range of school supports are having a disproportionate effect on those most at risk of dropping out.

Dr Emer Smyth of the Economic and Social Research Institute said they may particularly effect students who are disadvantaged but not attending schools that get extra supports, migrant students who need language support, and those in schools losing resource teachers to help with Traveller pupils.

“As a society we will pay in other ways later because if they leave school early, it often leads to long-term unemployment or other difficulties around social welfare dependence and even crime, it’s just a matter of the timing of those costs,” she said.


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