School dropout rates in poor areas twice the average

School dropout rates in disadvantaged areas is almost twice that of the national average, despite significant improvements.

The latest Department of Education statistics on the retention rates of students show that 9% of the 60,300 students who started second-level in 2010 left school before reaching Leaving Certificate. This means that around 5,300 did not do the standard exam or Leaving Certificate applied in 2015 or 2016, depending on whether there was a five-year or six-year cycle in their schools.

However, the overall national averages mask continuing differences depending on the background of pupils.

While the gap has practically halved in a decade, the dropout rate for schools supported under the department’s Deis (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) programme to tackle educational disadvantage is still nearly 16%.

That was the figure reported around eight years ago for students in non-Deis schools who started their second-level education in 2002 and should have finished school in 2007 or 2008.

Those non-Deis schools now report a dropout rate of just over 7%, slightly less than the national average. The gap between both groups of schools has reached a record low of 8.5%.

That compares extremely well to the gap of nearly 17% for 2001 first-year students, barely two-thirds of who made it to Leaving Certificate if they attended Deis schools.

Education Minister Richard Bruton said these results were very encouraging, particularly those relating to Deis schools. He said his department will continue working towards eliminating the gap, having expanded the Deis scheme to more schools earlier this year.

The minister acknowledged the role that school leaders, teachers and parents played in encouraging students to continue in second-level education.

Department data also show about 500 of 2010’s first-year students did not complete Junior Certificate, over 2.5% of all students. Again, the figure was much higher at Deis schools, where nearly 5% did not complete the first three years at second-level — almost equivalent to one in every class. Schools run by Education and Training Boards (ETBs) — which are also more likely to have Deis statues — continue to lag behind others on retention records.

These schools account for about 25% of students at the country’s 730 second-level schools. Around one in nine of their 2010 first-year classes did not go on to do the Leaving Certificate. This compared to just over 7% in religious-owned voluntary secondary schools, and nearly 9.5% of those at community and comprehensive schools which enrolled about a sixth of first-years in 2010.

Despite the continuing differences, vocational-sector ETB schools have improved their retention rates more than any other sector. Their 88.3% retention rate for 2010 entrants improved since 1991, when it was 61.5%.

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