New research has suggested the DEIS model may not be fit for purpose when it comes to fighting educational disadvantage, especially at post-primary level.
The study, published in Irish Educational Studies, found variations between DEIS schools, based on different factors such as whether they were based in urban or rural areas or the demographics of the local population, meaning that in the views of the authors, a 'standard' approach was not going to work in every school.
The delivering equality of opportunity in schools (DEIS) programme was launched in 2005 and revised in 2017, but the research indicates that even though it does provide extra resources, there are many different experiences within DEIS schools and the resources they are given sometimes doesn't match the challenge they face.
The research was conducted by Brian Fleming and Judith Harford of University College Dublin and involved six DEIS post-primary schools, with 43 teachers and principals giving their views.
Regarding differences between the schools, it said: "Factors such as the catchment area, the nature of the student body, enrolment patterns, the local education ‘market’, size, tradition, stage of development and school culture all contribute to that reality."
"On average, 22.4% of the pupils had been assessed as having additional educational needs and principals estimated about the same proportion had similar needs which had not been diagnosed; staff members at all levels expended considerable time and energy, both physical and emotional, responding to the care needs of students, many of whom were displaying signs of anxiety, anger and trauma."
It said one principal who had experience of four DEIS schools was able to grade them into "four distinct categories of disadvantage".
One teacher said: "90% of our kids are lovely kids that are normal teenagers dealing with whatever social, family and personal issues that are going on.
Many teachers said there were challenges, including one who spoke of an ‘epidemic’ of self-harm among her group of first-year pupils impacting about one in five pupils.
Co-author Brian Fleming, himself a retired principal at a DEIS school, said more resources, specifically targeted, were needed, such as bringing the pupil-teacher ratio in DEIS schools below those across all schools.
"You do have successes - I remember in my place the first kid who went on to become a doctor," he said.
Dr Fleming also said that the Department acknowledged the differences between DEIS schools at primary level, "but at post-primary...they're not all the same".