Situation in Ireland today

Ireland is sometimes known as “The Land of Saints and Scholars”.  The Irish have understood the power and importance of education for a long time.  On this Emerald Isle education is often viewed as the key to success.  However some of our young people are not experiencing success in education and have become disillusioned with the education system.   




Jack Lynch was Taoiseach of Ireland from 1966 to 1973 and 1977 to 1979.  It was he who said in the 1960s that it wasn't that Ireland was too poor to invest in education; it was that Ireland was too poor not to invest in it. This statement preceded the huge investment in education which happened in Ireland in primary education the 1970s in second-level education and third-level education in the late 1970s and 1980s.


“It is ironic that in 1987, in the middle of a recession, Ireland was investing 6.7% of its GNP in education.  In 2008 in the height of the Celtic Tiger it was investing only around 5%”.[1]


It is an undisputed fact that we must invest money in education.  Despite the reduction in investment in education Ireland has introduced a number of initiatives to try to allow more young people succeed in education, to keep our students in school and in doing so reduce Early School Leaving (ESL).


The legal definition of early school leaving refers to non-participation in school before reaching the age of 16 years or before completing 3 years post-primary education, whichever is later.”


A more specific definition of early school leavers is those who leave the education system without a minimum of 5 passes in the Leaving Certificate or equivalent qualification. Young people who leave education without recognised qualifications are at a disadvantage in the labour market and are at increased risk of poverty and social exclusion.[2]


Here is some of the ways that Ireland has been investing in education. 


`           In 2005 after a review of initiatives that were already in place, the Department of Education and Skills (DES) published an action plan for tackling disadvantage in education “Delivering Equality of Education in Schools”(DEIS).  The plan provided a system for identifying and reviewing levels of disadvantage.  It introduced an integrated School Support Programme (SSP) to bring together and improve the previous schemes.


The SSP involves:

1.      Home School Community Liaison Scheme (HSCL)

Teachers were initially appointed as liaison officers in a number of primary schools throughout the State in areas of urban disadvantage. In 1991 the scheme was extended to post-primary schools. The scheme is targeted at students who are at risk of not reaching their potential in the educational system because of economic or social disadvantage.

The aims of the liaison scheme are:

·         To promote active co-operation between home, school and relevant community agencies

·         To raise awareness in parents of their ability to contribute towards enhance their children's educational achievement and to help parents acquire relevant skills

·         To improve retention in the educational system and encourage continuation to further education and to third level and their attitudes to life-long learning.


2.      School Completion Programme (SCP)

The School Completion Programme aims to help students from disadvantaged areas stay in school to complete their Leaving Certificate.  SCP has been in existence since 2002. Currently there are 82 projects nationwide comprising 299 primary schools and 112 post-primary schools. Local Management Committees in each project area work to put together retention plans supporting young people between the ages of 4 and 18 who are at risk of early school leaving. School Completion Programme model has a ‘bottom-up’ approach, which allows Local Management Committees to put together plans and supports that target the needs of local young people at risk of early school leaving

3.      Early Start Pre-School Scheme

This is an intervention offered to pre-school children (3/4year olds) in some designated disadvantaged areas. 

4.      The Learning Support Teacher Scheme

Learning support teachers provide extra support teaching for children experiencing learning difficulties, particularly in the areas of literacy and numeracy. This extra support is usually provided in the form of extra teaching in small groups or individually.


5.      The School Meals Programme

The School Meals Programme aims to supplement the diets of school-going children from disadvantaged backgrounds to help them fulfil their potential within the school system and in doing so reduce the risk of early school-leaving.

There are two schemes.

       I.            The Urban Scheme supports school meals for primary schools in urban areas. It consists of daily sandwiches or buns and milk.

    II.            The Local Projects Scheme gives funding directly to primary and secondary schools, local groups and voluntary organisations, which operate their own school meals projects (the meals may be hot or cold).

 Funding for school meals comes from the Department of Social Protection and local authorities. [3]



Young people who drop out of school do so for a variety of reasons and come from diverse backgrounds.  Early School Leaving (ESL) usually happens over time as a result of personal, social, geographical, economic, education or family related reasons.  The reasons can be external or internal to the school.  Disengagement from school can be caused by poor academic performance, lack of motivation, falling in with a particular crowd, bullying, drug or alcohol abuse or homelessness to name but a few.  Lack of support and guidance from within the school can also contribute to disengagement.  For many years the second level curricula in Ireland did not offer enough options to students for hands on, experiential learning and flexibility.  Ireland has tried to counteract this through a number of different programmes for learners in second level education.



During the first three years in second level education students follow one or both of the following programmes:



Junior Certificate (JC) – The traditional three year course leading up to the first state examination.  Students who follow this programme can access any of the three Leaving Certificate programmes.  (See below).



Junior Certificate Schools Programme (JCSP) – This programme aims to make the traditional Junior Certificate more accessible to young people who otherwise may be in danger of leaving school with no formal qualification (i.e. those at risk of failing the traditional Junior Certificate).  The JCSP aims to help young people experience success in education and to develop a positive self image by providing a curriculum and assessment frame that suites their needs.  On completion students receive an official record of all their achievements over the three year programme.  Students who access this programme generally progress on to the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme.  (See below).


During the final two years students follow one of the following programmes:

1.      Established Leaving Certificate (LC) – this leads to the traditional examination and results are the main basis for entrance into college and university.


2.       Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) – Concentrates on technical subjects and includes additional modules with a vocational focus (work experience).


3.      The Leaving Certificate Applied Programme (LCA) – The primary objective in LCA is to prepare students for working life through relevant learning experiences.  This is not a direct route to third level education but students can progress to third level through Post Leaving Cert Courses (PLC’s).


If you think education is expensive, try ignorance[4]



ESL is a big concern in Ireland and throughout Europe because it is a major factor contributing to social exclusion in later life.  As well as this the early school leaver is a financial burden on society as a whole.



In Ireland, the annual cost to the state in benefits, together with lost tax revenue per male early school leaver, has been estimated at EUR 29 300, even before costs associated with health or crime are considered” [5]



“A young person staying in school for an extra year can earn an additional lifetime income of more than EUR 70 000”.[6]



These figures imply that ESL affects the entire population of a country and therefore it should be an area of concern for the general population.  A country with high levels of ESL will spend more on social welfare and will raise less money through taxation. 


“To reduce the European rate of early school leaving by just one percentage point would provide the European economy with nearly half a million additional qualified potential young employees each year”[7].



It has long been recognised that poor attendance in school is a contributory factor to Early School Leaving.  Since the commencement of the Education (Welfare) Act, 2000, schools are obliged by law to submit a report to the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB) on the levels of school attendance. The Annual Attendance Report is submitted by each school when they close for the summer. Schools were asked for the total number of student days lost through absence, the number of students absent for 20 days or more and the number of students who were expelled.  Students who have missed in excess of 20 school days in the previous year will be visited by the Education Welfare Officer to investigate the problem. 


The latest report of the Analysis of School Attendance Data provides evidence of the highest ever levels of schools reporting on absenteeism with 97.1% of primary schools and 95.8% of post-primary reporting. According to the data collected annually from schools by the NEWB and analysed by the Educational Research Centre, the figures for General Non-Attendance are lower for 2009/10. The percentage of student days lost through absence is running at just over 6% (or 11 school days per year) in primary schools and around 8% (or 13 school days per year) in post-primary schools and are at the lower end for the five year period 2005/06 - 2009/10. However in DEIS schools, rates of non-attendance are significantly higher than in non-DEIS schools with student absences over 20 days running at 30%, compared with 15.3% in non DEIS schools.[8]








[4]Attributed to both Andy McIntyre and Derek Bok.

[5]Smyth, E. and McCoy, S. (2009), Investing in Education: Combating Educational Disadvantage, Economic and

Social Research Institute, Dublin, 2009.


[6]()NESSE (2009), Early School Leaving: Lessons from Research for Policy Makers.


[7]European Commission (2011), Tackling early school leaving: A key contribution to the Europe 2020 Agenda.

Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and

Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. Brussels, 31.1.2011 COM(2011) 18 final.


 St. Kevin’s Community College is a DEIS school under the Delivering Equality of Education in Schools Government Programme. As such it benefits from extra funding and personnel. We have lower teacher pupil ratio along with funding for the School Completion Programme (SCP), Home School Community Liaison (HSCL) officer, School Meals scheme and the Learning Support Teacher Scheme

 St Kevin’s also has a part time  Career Guidance Counsellor,  a Chaplain,  an Attendance Officer,  Gluais Student Leadership Group, Student Council as well as a system of Tutors and Year heads for each class group. 

School Completion Programme (SCP)

There is an SCP co-ordinator who works with St. Kevin’s and three of the local Primary Schools.  The co-ordinator has responsibility for ensuring the funding is spent in the best way to assist students at risk of early school leaving. The SCP targets the students most at risk of dropping out of school early but also supports the whole school community.

The programmes that are funded by SCP in St. Kevin’s include:

1.      The Transfer Programme

Throughout the year incoming first year students take part in different activities in St. Kevin’s to help prepare them for the move to their new school.  Many of  the 6th Class students from the primary schools who will be attending St. Kevin’s in the following September are invited to take part in a Summer Camp in St Kevin’s where they can become familiar with what will be their new school and create a sense of belonging before arriving into first year. 

2.      Junior Study

Junior students are provided with a quiet place to study, supervised by a teacher who is there to give guidance and direction with both homework and study

3.      Homework Club

First and second year students are given a quiet structured atmosphere in which to do their homework.  A teacher is there to supervise guide and direct.

4.       Horse riding

A different group of students every week (usually from the main target group) go horse riding after school.

5.      Other Extra Curricular Activities (ECA)

Many different sports activities are c-ordinated and run as part of SCP to encourage students to take more of an interest I school.

6.      Transition Year (TY)[1]

This year 2012-13, St. Kevin’s re introduced TY into the school.  The SCP made a contribution towards running this very costly one year programme. TY was re-introduced as we saw the need to keep students in school an extra year. If we only ran a 2 year senior cycle 86% of students would be only 16 years of age completing school.

Home, School, Community Liaison (HSCL)

Our HSCL person  has a vital role in St. Kevin’s This person works closely with the parents committee in the school, visits families of our students and works to create partnerships with relevant organisations in the community. The HSCL is a vital link between home and school.

School Meals

Every day the students at St. Kevin’s are given a sandwich and a piece of fruit.  Those taking part in activities after school will also be offered something to eat after school. 

Learning Support Teacher Scheme

A high proportion of our students have varying degrees of educational and emotional difficulties and as a result there are often extra hours available to management to allocate learning support.  Learning support can be in the form of literacy and numeracy, and or behavioural support.  The extra help may be one on one or in small groups.  We also have the support of the National Behavioural Support Services –NBSS - for very challenging students.

Career Guidance Counsellor

The role of the guidance counsellor is to advise and assist students with career and subject choices and to help the student discover their future path.  The guidance counsellor also has a pastoral role and assists students with a variety of issues from academic to personal.




School Chaplain

St. Kevin’s is a multi denominational school and has the services of a full time Chaplain who looks after the faith formation of the students in the school.  The Chaplain also teaches and works as a counsellor for all students in the school regardless of belief or lack thereof. 

Attendance Officer

In St. Kevins’ the attendance officer is funded by the SCP to  keeps record of absences, and explanatory notes.  A record of attendance is provided for tutors and year heads each month and is also sent to parents on a regular basis.  The attendance officer will make regular phone calls to the homes of students who have been missing a lot of school. 

Gluais group

The Gluais group are a group of senior students who receive intensive leadership and team work training over five days.  This group work with incoming first years to aid the transition from primary school to secondary school.  Each new group of first years will have two or three senior students who they can go to with any problems they might have.  The Gluais also organise events for first years in the school.

Student Council

Each class in school from first to sixth year have the opportunity to have one or two students from their class on the student council to represent them.  The student council represent the students and are consulted by the wider school community on policy making.  The Council try to make the school community aware of the needs of the students in the school and work to meet those needs. 

Tutors and Year heads

Our Tutor and Year Head system is an integral part of St. Kevin’s. Each class has a tutor and each year group has a year head.  These people are usually the first port of call for students if they have queries, requests, issues, problems etc.  Each class meets their tutor twice per day; once in the morning for 10 minutes for morning registration and in the afternoon for five minutes for afternoon registration.

During morning registration the tutor calls the roll, ensures students are prepared for the morning and checks the homework journal for the following:

·         Has homework been written in and ticked off when completed

·         Has any teacher written positive negative comments into the journal on the previous day

·         Has the parent seen and signed the journal (must be signed at home every day).

During afternoon registration the tutor calls the roll and ensures students are prepared for the afternoon.

The Students Support Team

The Student Support team in St. Kevin’s meet weekly to discuss students who may be having difficulties emotionally and academically. The team is made up of the Home School Community Liaison Officer, the School Completion Programme Officer, the Guidance Counsellor and the Chaplain. The team would liaise very closely with all Tutors and Year Heads and have a remit of referral to outside support agencies.

The Student Support team ensures that there is a coordinated, whole school approach to supporting students in the school.  



[1]Transition Year follows the Junior Certificate examination. This year is free from formal examinations and allows students to experience a wide range of educational inputs, including work experience.