Issues

Closing the gaps

eolas summarises the ESRI evaluation of support for disadvantaged students and the scope for further improvement.
E-SA-HR-9
Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) provides extra funding for schools with a high proportion of disadvantaged students. Complex patterns of school choice can mean disadvantaged students attend schools in higher income areas. DEIS covers a total of 657 primary schools and 192 second post-primary schools i.e. one in five primaries and one in four post-primaries.
The highest level of disadvantage are found in ‘urban band 1’ primary schools with higher enrolments from Travellers, non-English speakers and students with special educational needs. Test scores are higher in rural DEIS schools than in their urban counterparts. DEIS schools are more likely to rigidly group students by their abilities (streaming) which has been associated with disengagement, lower exam results and higher rates of early school leaving among those placed in lower stream classes.
Dublin City University’s Educational Research Centre and the department’s inspectorate have found a track record of improvement in several areas i.e. how teachers plan for teaching and learning, setting targets for achievement, and primary schools’ maths and (especially) reading test scores. In doing so, they have kept pace with the national trend but that gap in achievement has not been narrowed. Progress, though, is being made in retention rates i.e. the proportions of students completing the junior and senior cycles. The gap between DEIS and non-DEIS students (see graph) stood at 22 per cent among those who entered post-primary education in 1995 but this declined to 10.5 per cent in 2008. In ‘urban band 1’ primary schools, the percentage of pupils absent for 20 days or more has decreased from 24.4 per cent in 2005-2006 to 20.7 per cent in 2011-2012.
In summary, DEIS schools have seen some improvement but the continuing concentration of disadvantage – especially in urban band 1 primary schools – highlights the need for continued support for such schools. Numeracy stands out as a particular area for improvement and the report reaffirms that the exam-focused approach in post-primary schools can create barriers for working class boys.
Lead author Emer Smyth commented: “Moving away from rigid forms of ability grouping, improving the school climate and fostering high expectations for students would enhance student outcomes in DEIS schools and build upon the progress made to date.”
The researchers found that evaluations have, to date, focused mainly on reading and maths, especially in primary schools. However, less is known about other outcomes for students including school engagement, achievement across other subjects, and data on leaving certificate performance (especially as the latter has a strong bearing on future education and employment prospects).
Collecting data on individual student social backgrounds could separate out the effects of a student’s background from the effects of the concentration of disadvantage in particular schools. Case studies of schools with different rates of improvement would yield useful insights into the factors which make a difference.

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