Ireland has been ranked second of 41 wealthy nations in reducing educational inequality between children, according to Unicef’s latest report card.
Concerns persist in relation to vulnerable groups such as Traveller children and those who are homeless or from migrant families.
The report card, titled An Unfair Start — Inequality in Children’s Education in Rich Countries, states: “In the world’s richest countries, some children do worse at school than others because of circumstances beyond their control, such as where they were born, the language they speak or their parents’ occupations.”
The report card looked at 41 high and middle-income countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and/or the EU.
Our primary concern is inequality in achievement among children as they near the end of compulsory schooling,” states Unicef.
Ireland ranked 33rd overall when it came to inequality at preschool level but was ranked 16th when it came to primary level and was second-best of all 41 countries when second-level schooling was considered.
According to the report: “Countries can have different degrees of educational inequality at different educational stages. Ireland and Slovenia are in the bottom third of countries (high inequality) for preschool enrolment, but move to the top third (low inequality) towards the end of secondary school.”
Ireland ranked ninth from bottom based on the percentage of children participating in preschool education in 2015, but performed better based on the percentage of children below the minimum compulsory school age attending centre-based education or care for at least one hour per week in 2016.
The variation in children’s reading achievement at grade four, explained by personal and family circumstances, was also less than in other countries assessed.
The data also showed that children in Ireland were less likely to have reported being bullied, with the third-best showing among all countries based on percentage of grade-four children reporting bullying.
However, about one child in four in Ireland said they experience bullying at least once a month and those who were bullied were more likely to have significantly lower individual reading ability.
Unicef Ireland chief executive Peter Power said some aspects of the report card were to be celebrated, but added: “We are concerned that some of the children most in need, be they from vulnerable groups such as Traveller children, children experiencing homelessness or immigrant children, or those children living outside of the DEIS support system, are being left behind.
“In Ireland, around 86% of the inequality in reading scores is between children within schools, and only a small amount is between schools. This means that while our schools produce good results for the many, there are some children, and often those most in need, who are falling through the gaps.”