Those behind a new programme in which more than 600 students from 21 Deis schools are receiving additional support in certain subjects believe the project could be replicated around the country.
The Power2Progress programme is halfway through a two-year cycle, with students completing fifth year and now moving into sixth year, effectively receiving the equivalent of grinds in certain subjects from student teachers working out of University College Dublin.
The principal investigator on the project, Professor Judith Harford, deputy head of the School of Education at UCD, said the programme was a potential "game-changer" for the young people involved.
The 21 Deis schools are located around Leinster and the programme involves student teachers linking in with school principals and teachers to provide extra tuition in subjects where the students have asked for extra help.
In about 15% of classes, where only one or two students from a particular school require additional tuition, students from different schools form a digital cluster and receive the extra tuition online.
All students participating in the programme have also received a laptop, with Prof Harford explaining that during the pandemic, it became evident that as many as 40% of participating students were either forced to share a device in their home or work using their phone.
"We go out to the schools. We wanted to bring the tuition to them."
The programme was funded by the Zurich Foundation and Rethink Ireland, and participating schools are partnered with a Zurich employee who works with the guidance department on the delivery of career talks. The programme includes outreach days to UCD in order to "de-mystify" higher education and apprenticeships for the students undertaking the programme.
Prof Harford said there was a PhD aligned with the project, adding: "It is really important that we can go back and say to policymakers 'this is why this works, this is what needs to be changed in the system'."
The programme will ultimately compare Junior Cert and Leaving Cert results but also student self-sufficiency, resilience, self-confidence and career ambition before and after the programme, based on questionnaires completed before, during and after completion.
"It is not just about getting them to university or UCD, we are trying to get them to think about things like apprenticeships," Prof Harford said.
As for the subjects in which students have requested additional help, they range across the curriculum, but many have asked for tuition in maths and Irish, something which presents a challenge more broadly due to a shortage of teachers in those areas.
Prof Harford said the programme could be expanded into other parts of the country, and she said ideally there would be no distinction between a Deis and a non-Deis school.
"I think there is a blueprint that could be replicated," she said. "The thing is scaling it up — funding would be required."