Committee Reports::Report - Early School Leaving::26 May, 1999::Report


Report Of The Joint Committee On Education And Science On Early School Leaving

May, 1999


Orders of Reference


List of Members




Early School Leaving


Executive Summary


1. Features of Early School Leaving


    - Extent


    - Impact


    - Early Warning


    - International Comparison


2. Factors involved in Early School Leaving


    - Complex Influences


    - Problems for the Travelling Community


3. Mainstream Intervention to tackle Early School Leaving


    - Primary Level


    - Post Primary Level


4. Curricular Responses to Early School Leaving


    - Junior Certificate Schools Programme


    - Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme


    - Leaving Certificate Applied Programme


5. Community Based Pilots


    - Local Partnership Companies


    - Integrated Service Initiatives


    - Other Partnership Initiatives


    - Comprehensive Pathway Approach


    - Pilot Early School Leaver Initiative


6. Second Chance Education


    - Youthreach


    - Back to Education


7. Policy Conclusions and Recommendations


    Family Support


      - Parenting Support


      - Pre-School Provision


    - Education Related Expenses


    School Based Strategies


      - Engagement with Parents and the Wider Community


      - In-School Policies


    Educational Development Agency


    Educational Development Fund


    Pupil Support Services


      - Education Mediation Service


    Mixed Education Options


Joint Committee on Education and Science


Dáil Éireann

13th November, 1997, (** 28th April, 1998),


(1) (a)That a Select Committee, which shall be called the Select Committee on Education and Science, consisting of 14 members of Dáil Éireann (of whom 4 shall constitute a quorum), be appointed to consider such—

(i)Bills the statute law in respect of which is dealt with by the Department of Education and Science, and

(ii)Estimates for Public Services within the aegis of that Department,

as shall be referred to it by Dáil Éireann from time to time.

(b)For the purpose of its consideration of Bills under paragraph (1)(a)(i), the Select Committee shall have the powers defined in Standing Order 78A(1), (2) and (3).

(c)For the avoidance of doubt, by virtue of his or her ex officio membership of the Select Committee in accordance with Standing Order 84(1), the Minister for Education and Science (or a Minister or Minister of State nominated in his or her stead) shall be entitled to vote.

(2) (a)The Select Committee shall be joined with a Select Committee to be appointed by Seanad Éireann to form the Joint Committee on Education and Science to consider—

(i)such public affairs administered by the Department of Education and Science as it may select, including bodies under the aegis of that Department in respect of Government policy,

(ii)such matters of policy for which the Minister in charge of that Department is officially responsible as it may select,

(iii)the strategy statement laid before each House of the Oireachtas by the Minister in charge of that Department pursuant to section 5(2) of the Public Service Management Act, 1997, and shall be authorised for the purposes of section 10 of that Act,

** (iv)such Annual Reports or Annual Reports and Accounts, required by law and laid before either or both Houses of the Oireachtas, of bodies under the aegis of the Department(s) specified in paragraph 2(a)(i), and the overall operational results, statements of strategy and corporate plans of these bodies, as it may select.

Provided that the Joint Committee shall not, at any time, consider any matter relating to such a body which is, which has been, or which is, at that time, proposed to be considered by the Committee of Public Accounts pursuant to the Orders of Reference of that Committee and/or the Comptroller and Auditor General (Amendment) Act, 1993.

Provided further that the Joint Committee shall refrain from inquiring into in public session, or publishing confidential information regarding, any such matter if so requested either by the body or by the Minister in charge of that Department; and

(v)such other matters as may be jointly referred to it from time to time by both Houses of the Oireachtas,

and shall report thereon to both Houses of the Oireachtas.

(b)The quorum of the Joint Committee shall be 5, of whom at least 1 shall be a member of Dáil Éireann and 1 a member of Seanad Éireann.

(c)The Joint Committee shall have the powers defined in Standing Order 78A(1) to (9) inclusive.

(3)The Chairman of the Joint Committee, who shall be a member of Dáil Éireann, shall also be Chairman of the Select Committee.

Seanad Éireann

19th November, 1997, (** 30th April, 1998),


(1) (a)That a Select Committee consisting of 5 members of Seanad Éireann shall be appointed to be joined with a Select Committee of Dáil Éireann to form the Joint Committee on Education and Science to consider—

(i)such public affairs administered by the Department of Education and science as it may select, including bodies under the aegis of that Department in respect of Government policy,

(ii)such matters of policy for which the Minister in charge of that Department is officially responsible as it may select,

(iii)the strategy statement laid before each House of the Oireachtas by the Minister in charge of that Department pursuant to section 5(2) of the Public Service Management Act, 1997, and shall be authorised for the purposes of section 10 of that Act,

** (iv) such Annual Reports or Annual Reports and Accounts, required by law and laid before either or both Houses of the Oireachtas, of bodies under the aegis of the Department(s) specified in paragraph 1(a)(i), and the overall operational results, statements of strategy and corporate plans of these bodies, as it may select.

Provided that the Joint Committee shall not, at any time, consider any matter relating to such a body which is, which has been, or which is, at that time, proposed to be considered by the Committee of Public Accounts pursuant to the Orders of Reference of that Committee and/or the Comptroller and Auditor General (Amendment) Act, 1993.

Provided further that the Joint Committee shall refrain from inquiring into in public session, or publishing confidential information regarding, any such matter if so requested either by the body or by the Minister in charge of that Department; and

(v)such other matters as may be jointly referred to it from time to time by both Houses of the Oireachtas,

and shall report thereon to both Houses of the Oireachtas.

(b)The quorum of the Joint Committee shall be 5, of whom at least 1 shall be a member of Dáil Éireann and 1 a member of Seanad Éireann.

(c)The Joint Committee shall have the powers defined in Standing Order 62A(1) to (9) inclusive.

(2)The Chairman of the Joint Committee shall be a member of Dáil Éireann


List of Members


Richard Bruton (FG)


Pat Carey (FF)


John Ellis (FF)


John V. Farrelly (FG)


Mary Hanafin (FF)


Brian Hayes (FG)


Cecilia Keaveney (FF)


Michael P. Kitt (FF)(Chairman)


Paul McGrath (FG)


John Moloney (FF)


Denis Naughten (FG)


Brian O'Shea (Lab)


Trevor Sargent (GP)


Eddie Wade (FF)




Fintan Coogan (FG)


Labhrás Ó Murchú (FF)


Joe O’Toole (Ind)


Ann Ormonde (FF)


Máirín Quill (PD)


The Joint Committee on Education and Science was established following Orders of the Dáil of 13 November 1997 and Seanad of 19 November 1997. One of the issues it decided to address in its first year was the Department of Education and Science's policies regarding early school leaving and the implementation of the Department's schemes designed to meet needs in this area. I am happy to report that this work has been completed in the second year of the Committee's existence.

The Joint Committee examined witnesses on this issue at five of its meetings. I wish to thank the various representatives from the Department, the Teacher's Unions, the National Parents' Councils, CORI, Marine Institute of Education, Junior Achievement Ireland and Young Enterprise Ireland who shared their views with the Committee. I also wish to thank all the individuals who met with and assisted the Rapporteurs in their preparation of the report. The Committee is most grateful to all these people.

The Joint Committee requests that its recommendations in relation to this issue are taken on board and also requests that the matters raised in this report are debated in both Houses of the Oireachtas as soon as possible.

Michael P. Kitt TD




Executive Summary:

The Committee would like to thank Richard Bruton T.D. and Senator Fintan Coogan who acted as joint rapporteurs in this study and the Secretariat of the Committee for the painstaking work in facilitating and presenting their work.

1. Extent and Nature of Problem

(i)Early School Leaving is still a very significant problem in Ireland. It is estimated that 3,200 young people leave school without any qualification. Almost 1,000 of these are at primary level. A further 10,800 leave with only a Junior Certificate. In proportionate terms those leaving with no qualification represent 4.5% of the cohort and those leaving with only a Junior Certificate represent 15.7%. These proportions have halved in the years since 1980.

(ii)Early School Leaving is closely related to socio-economic disadvantage. Almost half of the children who leave school with no qualifications are drawn from households whose father is either unemployed or in an unskilled manual occupation. About 1/3 of children from such backgrounds do not proceed beyond the Junior Certificate.

Early School Leaving is acute among the travelling community and it is estimated that as many as 75% of traveller children leave school with no qualification.

Early School Leaving is also heavily concentrated among boys. Two boys leave school early for every one girl.

(iii)Early School Leaving has a very serious impact on future life chances. It is closely associated with poor literacy. Almost 60% of early school leavers are at the lowest level of literacy. It also is associated with a high risk of unemployment. Almost 2/3 of young people who leave school with no qualification are still unemployed one year later and even a decade later over 40% of such people remain unemployed. Early school leavers have not benefited from the employment expansion achieved by the Celtic Tiger economy. Early School Leaving also puts young people at greater risk of other social problems such as teenage pregnancy, substance abuse and even crime.

Internationally the problem of early school leaving is significantly greater in Ireland than in other advanced countries. Evidence would suggest that it is almost 80% higher than in the advanced countries of the EU (ie. excluding Spain, Portugal and Greece).

While second chance options for early school leavers have increased significantly in the past decade, the majority of early school leavers still do not participate.

2. Causes and Responses

(iv)The causes of Early School Leaving are complex. There is no one factor which can be singled out as decisive. The experience of parents and the resources of parents are undoubtedly factors influencing a decision to leave school early. However, the child's own experience in the school is also a very significant factor. Most early school leavers report very negative experiences at school. Early school leavers are generally ambitious but did not find that the school setting responded to their needs. Few expressed regrets at their decision.

Problems of cultural integration pose a big added barrier for travellers to continue on at school.

(v)The two main interventions funded by the Department of Education are the designation of schools as disadvantaged and the provision of remedial teaching. Funding for these programmes represent 5.5% of spending at primary level and 2.5% at secondary level. Neither has succeeded in evening up the chances of children with a disadvantage in the education system. Under the designation scheme there is no differentiation of the scale of disadvantage in different schools.

Both programmes are spread thinly across such a large number of schools that their impact is diluted. Current policy is to apply additional remedial resources to schools with no remedial service rather than to disadvantaged schools, where it was originally targeted. This is happening even though the programme has been found to have had little or no impact in disadvantaged schools as yet.

There has been a pattern where programmes first introduced to give schools in difficult areas a leg up, are gradually extended far more widely and the idea of targeting is lost.

(vi)New pilot approaches have been developed by the Department of Education in recent years. These pilots are much more targeted and devote considerably higher level of resourcing to the pupils involved. The programmes are still on a very small scale - Breaking the Cycle reaches 6,500 pupils, Earlystart reaches 1,600 pupils, the Teaching Counsellor Service reaches 40 schools. Only the Home/School Liaison Service is on a significant scale and is being expanded to all disadvantaged schools. These programmes are still in evaluation, their expansion to meet the potential areas of need will have significant resource implications.

(vii)The lack of support services such as the support of a psychologist, of a speech therapist or even a guidance counsellor is a constant complaint from schools. The availability of such services are undoubtedly an important element in any policy which seeks to head off early school leaving through early intervention.

(viii)Recent developments offering alternative curricula and certification to people at risk of early school leaving have been a very positive development. They recognise a broader range of intelligences and offer more suitable project based work. However, these programmes are still on a very small scale. The Junior Certificate School's Programme is only available in 11% of secondary schools and reaches just 1.4% of pupils. The Leaving Certificate Applied is available in just 27% of schools and reaches just 5.6% of pupils.

(ix)Community Based Pilot Education Programmes have been a rich vein of innovation in recent years. They are typically operating on very small budgets by comparison to the mainstream system. They have sought to give children additional support in a positive environment, and to broaden the range of options available to pupils at risk of early school leaving both inside and outside of the school. Youthstart has developed the concept of "a comprehensive pathway approach" to dealing with the problem of early school leaving. The focus in this approach is on facilitating the individual pupil to choose pathways most suitable to his or her need rather than expecting such pupils to fit neatly into pre-designed slots. This person-centred approach is also a feature of recent developments in employment services. It has a great deal to recommend it.

A number of "integrated service initiatives" are also being set up. They are still in embryonic phase in most cases. The thinking behind them dovetails well with the person centred approach pioneered by Youthstart. The concept of integrating the services of different agencies (Health Board, School Attendance, Juvenile Liason Officers etc.) as they deal with a child and their family is clearly very attractive but requires significant change in attitude by existing service providers.

(x)Youthreach offers a very significant programme for early school leavers. About 8,000 young people aged 15 to 18 enter the scheme each year. It is a programme tailored explicitly for the needs of early school leavers. It has been strengthened in recent years and is now achieving better rates of progression. Despite the consolidation of policy responsibility in the Department of Education, consistent analysis of participation and outcomes is not being provided.

Back to Education schemes are confined to persons aged 21 and over. Only about 20% of the participants are drawn from those who have left school early. This represents about 1,000 second chance education starts each year. The scheme is confined to persons who are unemployed.

Post Leaving Certificate courses have expanded rapidly in recent years, but only about 7.5% of participants on such programmes are early school leavers.

3. Recommendations:

The decision to leave school early has no single cause. It is fashioned by many experiences which a child encounters from the earliest years right through to the point when the decision is taken. The policy response must equally seek to reflect this life cycle and offer appropriate supports right through a child's learning career. If the cycle of educational disadvantage is to be broken, a much more substantial investment will have to be made in working with families to support a better learning environment in disadvantaged homes. Schools must be encouraged to address disadvantage as a central priority and be given the support and resources necessary to do so. The response of schools must be rooted in a community based model where the services of other agencies and of the community are enlisted to support the efforts of the school. The Oireachtas Committee puts forward the following recommendations:

(i)The Government should develop Parenting Programmes and deliver them as modules with other schemes such as Youthreach, One Parent Family Allowance and Community Employment. District care teams should be developed to deliver support to families in a more integrated setting.

(ii)The various Government Departments should urgently bring forward their proposals for pre-school and childcare and integrate appropriate educational curricula and home/school liaison into these programmes. Literary materials should be made available in the home for pre-school children who would otherwise be without.

(iii)The Department of Education should establish a fund from which flexible financial support for education would be made available through the Partnership Companies or other local agents for families experiencing financial difficulty in supporting children at school. The successful pilot of offering potential early school leavers a contract under which they would continue to attend diligently at school in return for certain financial support should be extended.

(iv)Every school in the country should be asked to set early school leaving as one of the key goals in its school plan. Under this heading each school should develop detailed components addressing;

-engagement with parents and the wider community,

-in-school policies,

-access to specialist support services.

(v)While the ingredients of best practice in and outside the school are now becoming clear, it is necessary to develop new policy approaches if they are to be realised. The Committee proposes the establishment of an Educational Development Authority with broad representation of all the education partners and the wider community, whose task it will be to support inclusive planning in schools within a community based model.

(vi)Within this framework a National Director of Remedial Education Services should be appointed to address the clear problems, and challenges in this area.

(vii)The Department of Education should alter its approach to resourcing schools to tackle education disadvantage. It should establish an Education Development Fund whose broad objectives would be to support the development of school policies and a school environment in accord with best practice. The fund would be used to fund specific strategies that have been developed locally in the school planning process. The criteria for allocating resources from the Fund to schools putting forward proposals would lay heavy emphasis on proposals addressing educational disadvantage and early school leaving.

(viii)The Committee believes that the present examination system with its heavy emphasis on the points required in a one-off exam must be radically altered. A new system must embrace;

-continuous assessment of the work of pupils through their educational career

-valuing the wider dimensions of a pupil's development rather than simply the retention of subject material

-the building up by pupils of a portfolio of achievements and aptitudes through their school life and later career.

The Committee recognises that this change will take time and will take resources and particularly resources focused on schools in areas of economic disadvantage.

(ix)The Junior Certificate Schools Programme and the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme should be expanded and strengthened. As a first step they should be available in all secondary schools that have been designated as disadvantaged. Clusters of schools should be encouraged to pool their resources so that the necessary infrastructure can be shared.

(x)The Department of Education should introduce a statutory right for a parent to have a professional assessment of their child carried out, followed by a clear statement in the form of a personal development plan for that pupil which would then form the basis for special provision and placement of the child.

(xi)The Department of Education should establish a local Education Mediation Service to track and support pupils at risk of early school leaving. It would develop a mentoring service and work closely with schools and other potential providers in the community to develop flexible educational offerings which could allow a mixture of formal and informal provision, in school and on the job. It should maintain contact with young people even after they enter employment and up to the age of 21.

(xii)The Departments of Education and Enterprise, Trade and Employment should develop part-time options for early school leavers both on the job and off the job which could be combined with work commitments. These options should be supported by:

-modular certification options

-financial support on a means test

-a legal right of release from employers.

(xiii)A serious effort should be made to develop second chance education opportunities targeted at early school leavers. The Committee recommends that any person who leaves school with the Junior Certificate or less should have a right of access to an education credit account with a value running to £10,000 which that person could draw down at any stage from age 18 over their future working life, whether in work or on social welfare.

(xiv)The Department of Education should establish a National Education Forum which would develop an education programme in tandem with the existing national social partnership programme. All the partners in education should be represented at this Forum and direct representation should be given to early school leavers, the youth service and local community education networks.


1. Features of Early School Leaving


1.1.Since free secondary education was introduced in 1968, early school leaving has steadily declined. In the past twenty years information has been systematically collected in the Annual School Leaver Survey. The proportion of school leavers who left with no qualification has dropped erratically from 9.4% in 1980 to 4.5% in 1997. The proportion leaving with no more than the Junior Certificate has halved from over 31.7% to 15.7%.

At present 3,200 young people leave school with no qualifications whatsoever each year. About 1,000 of these leave at the primary stage without entering second level at all. After that the biggest exodus is in the second year of Secondary School when almost 1,200 leave. Tables 1 - 3 set out detailed information about early school leavers.

Early school leaving is far more prevalent among boys than girls. At each significant phase of drop-out - at primary, before sitting the Junior Cert, and after the Junior Cert - boys outnumber girls in a ratio of about 2:1.

Early school leaving is closely correlated to social class. Almost 10% of children from families where the father is unemployed leave with no qualifications whatsoever. This is almost three times the national average. Early school leaving is also far more prevalent among unskilled than skilled manual workers. By contrast no children of higher professional employees leave without qualifications. In areas where you have a high concentration of disadvantaged families, early school leaving is even more prevalent than you would expect from looking at social background alone. In Dublin's North Inner City for example almost 12% leave school with no qualification whatsoever and more than 40% leave after the Junior Certificate. The concentration of children who have a high probability of early school leaving reinforces the likelihood of this outcome.

Table 1

Number of Early School Leavers


From Primary School

From Secondary School





with no qualification

with only Junior Certificate

Total Cohort





















Sources: ESRI/Department of Education

Table 2

Timing of Early School Leaving (1999)




Boys as % of Total

Before Entering Secondary




In First Year Secondary




In Second Year Secondary




In Third Year Secondary




Having Sat Junior Certificate




Source: ESRI/Department of Education.

Table 3

Early School Leaving from Secondary School by Socio-Economic Status (1997)


No Qualification


Junior Cert Only




As % of all children of that status


As % of all children of that status

Farmer/Other Ag





Higher/Lower Prof.



































Source: ESRI.

1.2.Among Travellers the problem of early school leaving is particularly acute. Even within the Primary system about 16% of Traveller children have dropped out. By the time they reach 15, 80% have dropped out. Overall only 44% of traveller children aged 12-15 participate in any education. This is an improvement on the 1995 estimates. The annual drop-out among the travelling community of children with no qualifications is approximately 500. This small community with no more than 10,000 children of school-going age, representing only little more than 1% of the school-going population, account for 1 in 6 of all unqualified early school leavers.


1.3.Early school leaving and poor literacy go hand in hand. The recent survey of literacy levels in the adult population illustrates this. Persons at level 1, the lowest level of literacy, would have severe difficulties coping with even basic literacy skills. The proportion at level 1 at different levels of completed education are;

Level of Completed Education

Proportion at Lowest Literacy Level

With no qualifications


The Junior Certificate


Leaving Certificate


Third Level Non-University




The same survey of adult literacy revealed that 17% of young adults aged 16 to 25 in Ireland are at this lowest level of literacy. This is remarkably close to the roughly 20% who leave school early.

1.4.Early school leaving severely affects the employment prospects of young people. Surveys of school leavers one year after they left school clearly demonstrate this. The rate of unemployment among those surveyed in 1997 was as follows:

Level of Completed Education

Rate of Unemployment one year after leaving

Those with no qualification


With Junior Certificate


With Leaving Certificate


With Third Level qualifications


In simple terms a person who leaves school with no qualifications is sixteen times more likely to be unemployed than a graduate, and four times more likely than a person with a Leaving Certificate. As the years go by, the rate of unemployment does decline for all groups, but the startling education differential in unemployment experience largely remains.

It is striking that the marginalisation of those with no qualifications in the labour market has worsened dramatically in the past twenty years. (See Table 4 for details) The unemployment rate experienced by those with no qualifications jumped dramatically from 21% in 1980 to 64% in 1997. This unemployment rate continued to grow throughout the boom years of the Celtic Tiger.

Those who left with only a Junior Certificate have derived some benefit from the boom. However it is predominantly those with good education qualifications who have really enjoyed the fruits of the Celtic Tiger in terms of the unemployment rate. Whereas in the mid '80's, those who left with Junior Certificate and those who left with Leaving Certificate experienced broadly similar unemployment rates. By 1997 those with only the Junior Certificate were experiencing an unemployment rate 75% higher than those with Leaving Certificate qualifications.

1.5.During the 1990's, there has been a far greater effort to pick up those who leave school early and involve them in schemes in one sort or another. Participation by those with no qualifications has almost doubled. None the less it is still those who go furthest in the education system who are most likely to participate in post school programmes of any

Table 4

Rate of Unemployment one year after Leaving School by Educational Attainment


No Qualification

Junior Certificate

Leaving Certificate

















Source: ESRI/Department of Education

sort, whether they be educational training or work experience. The rate of participation in post school programmes is:

for those with no qualifications


for those with no more than the Junior Cert


for those with the Leaving Certificate


It is quite clear that the further you go in the education system the better your chances of getting a job if you go straight into the job market, and also the better your chance of finding a gateway to further training or education and the high income rewards that they yield.

1.6.Early school leavers, are also more vulnerable to other social problems as their choices are attenuated. For young women who leave school with no qualifications, there is a much higher likelihood that they will become single mothers. This is almost 10 times more likely for an early school leaver than for someone who goes on to the Leaving Certificate or Third Level.

For young men early school leavers are much more likely to become involved in abuse of hard drugs and in criminal activities. Despite the over-all decline in crime levels there is still a worrying upward trend in juvenile offences. There has also been a dramatic increase in the number of teenagers presenting for treatment for drug abuse. Both of these are problems that affect young men far more than young women, juvenile offending is six times more prevalent among boys and drug abuse three times more prevalent. This mirrors the far higher prevalence of early school leaving among boys.

1.7.It is instructive to recall that an early school leaver would receive about £30 - £35,000 less in State education spending then a graduate. However the State pays dearly for its inability to retain such pupils in education. Over a twenty year period the State gets close to £100,000 more back from the typical graduate in tax revenue or social welfare savings than from the typical early school leavers. For the minority who become snared into drug abuse, or crime, the State could face a £50,000 cost of a prison place or a £30,000 cost of a heroin addict.

Early Warning

1.8.The statutory obligation to collect data on absenteeism under the School Attendance Act has long been abandoned by the Department of Education. The last detailed survey was in 1984 and a partial one occurred in 1992. This showed an average absence of 7% rising to 11% in disadvantaged schools on any given day. These figures are not very meaningful. The key question is what proportion of children are absent for periods that clearly disrupt their education.

Some more relevant information has come from various community surveys. These figures suggest that the scale of non-attendance in urban disadvantaged areas is very high. Up to 25% of pupils have been found to be regularly absent (i.e. absent for more than 25%of the time), and half of these are chronically absent (i.e. absent more than 50% of the time). Surveys of regular non-attenders show that 65% are from homes where the family is on social welfare and only 3% are from privately owned homes. Clearly absenteeism is very closely related to disadvantage.

Suspension is another problem on which little or no information is collected. The Committee received evidence from one suburb (which would be regarded as disadvantaged, but perhaps not a black spot) which showed that 19% of pupils experienced some period of suspension. The average period was for 2 days. The Department has not developed an effective method to ensure that protocols on suspensions are properly followed.

Absenteeism and suspension are often early warning indicators of early school leaving. The Department looks to the enactment of an Education Welfare legislation later this year to redress the obvious policy failings in this area. It will not be before its time.

International Comparison

1.9.Ireland has a greater problem with early school leaving than other advanced countries. Key international comparisons illustrate this:-

*The proportion of 17 year olds who are not in full time education is higher in Ireland at 19% than in other EU countries at 16% (or only 11% if you exclude the Southern European trio of Spain, Portugal and Greece).

*The 17% proportion of the Irish 16 to 25 age group who are at the lowest level of literacy is 80% higher than that of other advanced countries surveyed.

*The proportion of children aged 13-14 with low reading achievement at school is significantly higher in Ireland at 21% than in other developed countries (15%).

While Ireland is rightly proud of the success of our education system, it is clear that for some children our system has been far from successful.

2. Factors Involved in Early School Leaving

Complex Influences

2.1Early School Leaving is a complex process in which a wide range of inter-related variables contribute to a decision as whether to leave school or not. These factors interact with each other. They include school, home and community and encompass economic, social, cultural and educational factors.

Early School Leaving is the result of a process. S. Boldt, 1994, 52/53 suggested that there is usually an event which occurs in which the pupil decides that he or she no longer wants to participate in school or which results in the pupil being expelled or leaving the school. Included in the decision as to whether to remain at school or not are such issues as poor study facilities at home, inadequate or poor housing, health issues. The influence of peers can be an important factor in areas where early school leaving is prevalent - T O'Brien 1990 pointed out the strong bonds involved in the community and in a person's group, indicating that it is not socially acceptable to deviate from the community even in minor ways as any sort of deviation would be seen as a threat to the group and would be met with sanctions against the perceived offender or the social environment in which a student lives. Further issues are the quality of schooling and the perceived relevance of the curriculum to the pupil, teaching methodologies and the intellectual and academic capabilities of the student.

Rutter 1979 proposed that children exposed to only one risk factor do as well as those exposed to no risk factor and thus that children can do well in school if they are exposed to only one risk factor, but when there is more than one then they are at risk. Other issues include the lack of integration between school, home and the community, and selective and competitive schools that ignore lower level ability or educationally disadvantaged pupils. The policy of rigid streaming can have a negative effect and there is no evidence to support this practice. Hannon stated "Whatever the underlying reason - whether the negative 'labelling' effect, of the differential effectiveness of the challenge process on high and low streams, pupils in streamed schools - controlling for all the relevant factors - are then somewhat less likely to remain in school than in mixed ability or less rigidly hierarchial arranged systems" (Hannon in Crooks, Stokes, eds, 1987,138). He continued "This strong conclusion supports a lot of more recent research on the effects of streaming and tracking which show that, although these practices have no 'main effect' on student achievement, they have significant polarisation effects - tending to create greater inequalities between students at the ends of the ability and social class continuum".

(ibid., 149)

Significant factors influencing Early School Leaving include:

*Poor school attendance and poor school achievement

*Age variance where a student is older than the rest of his classmates

*Poor self-image

*Low motivation and limited family support

*Father's employment record.

*The cost of education, especially for those suffering from multiple disadvantage and the impact of the Social Welfare System.

Some of the factors can provide early warning of a likely problem and should be carefully monitored.

Low educational attainment by parents, absence of learning materials at home and single parent families - research in the United States of America has examined the relationship between family structure (single parents as versus traditional family) and Early School Leavers found that single parent families or step-parent families resulted in young people being more likely to leave school at an early stage.

Drug use is an increasing factor in the likelihood of Early School Leaving.

There is a tendency for educators to say that the causal factors of Early School Leaving can be found with the parents of the pupils, the home environment and their social background.

The Teacher's Union of Ireland in their written and oral submission to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Science describe the Early School Leaver as typically a person who is:

1.Educationally disadvantaged

2.From a home where the father is unemployed

3.From a household which is below the poverty line

4.From a household where the parents lack faith in the education system based on

the influence of their own schooling which terminated on completion of primary education

M. Boldt 1994 in his sampling of Early School Leavers noted that none of the sample expressed any regret about their decision to leave school and said that the findings indicate clearly that a pupil's experience in school is one of the most important factors in determining whether he or she remain in school and obtain a qualification, as it was apparent that this experience depended heavily on the relationship between the students and the teachers. Many of the students expressed the opinion that the teachers were unaware of them, were unable to relate to them or did not like them. Many of the students researched stated that they received little or no career guidance from their schools and were unaware of what services or opportunities were open to them.

Boldt found that of the 137 Early School Leavers that he interviewed only 21 expressed any regret with their decision to leave school. Many of them found that their decision to leave school was a good one and felt that they would have been worse off if they had remained in school and not taken up the opportunities that were available to them. Boldt felt that it was clear from the interviews that these students want to earn money, want to work and wanted to improve their circumstances.

While the negative perception of school is a 'push factor' we must also take into account the 'pull factor;' of the increased job opportunities in the labour market albeit part-time or short-term and low paid and of the payment of allowances on training programmes, which may be seen as a positive attraction.

Problems for the Travelling Community

2.2.Students from the Travelling Community who leave school early are at risk from the same factors that affect the settled community and additionally other specific risk factors pertaining to them, including low school attendance, lack of parental involvement, traveller nomadism and the lack of inter-cultural education.

While school attendance has improved in recent years, lack of regular school attendance remains a problem within the travelling community. The Task Force on the Travelling Community Report on 19 July, 1995 recommends as a model of good practice an integrated effort between the visiting teachers, the Gardaí and other community groups. Travellers support groups strongly recommend that parents of travellers should play a role in the educational development of their children, that they should be encouraged and assisted in this role and that the visiting teacher has a contribution to make in involving the traveller parents in the education of their children. They strongly support the view that traveller parents should enrol their own children in schools rather than leaving this to the visiting teacher. Furthermore they propose that traveller parents be encouraged to involve themselves in open-days and other similar events. The Task Force proposed that the traveller parents are very often unaware of what is happening with their children at school and this is due to a lack of good communication between the school and the traveller parents. The low level of literacy among traveller parents further exacerbates this problem. The Task Force further recommends that Boards of Managements should include traveller parents and that any policies that relate to their children should only be included after consultation with the travellers' interest groups.

Nomadism, while decreasing in numbers, is still a significant factor in the life of the travelling community and the education system does not take this fully into account. Difficulties arise with nomadism in that different schools use different books, placing an economic burden on the traveller parents. It is thought that this can be overcome by introducing an exchange mechanism to reduce the financial burden. Cut-off dates for enrolment can have major effects on traveller children moving from one area to another. It is recommended that flexibility of enrolment dates would help to resolve this situation. Distance learning is another possibility. This official approach is used in other European countries.

A circular letter issued to the Chairpersons of Boards of Management by the Department of Education, Primary Branch on March 1998, stated that resource teachers for travellers should liaise with traveller parents to keep them informed of their children's progress and to encourage them to develop parental involvement. This recommendation would be strengthened if the circular letter stated that resource teachers for travellers must liaise with traveller parents. The Task Force and other groups involved in travellers education heavily emphasise the need in our educational system for models covering simulation, integration, cultural pluralism to change negative attitudes and practices amongst the majority of the population.

This is summed up in a policy document published by the Irish Traveller Movement called Education and Travellers in which they called for an inter-cultural education in all Education and Training Centres."Inter-cultural education employs an education that promotes interaction and understanding among and between different cultures and ethnic groups and the assumption that ethnic diversity can enrich society". This policy statement was given a fillip in 1994 at a major international conference entitled Intercultural Education - Irish Perspective when the then Minister for Education stated that "recognition and acceptance of different cultures and life styles in our midst must inform decisions of the provision of education. In such decisions, attention must be focused on the development of mutual understanding and tolerance and the right of each child to an education based on the sum of cultures in his/her community and in his/her particular learning needs". The inter-cultural dimension can be met by the establishing of appropriate curriculum and adequate in-service training for teachers. Amongst the principles for a inter-cultural curriculum recommended by the Task Force among the Travelling Community are that the experiences of minority groups in particular travellers should be presented in an accurate and sensitive way, pointing out:

*That Irish society is not homogenous or mono-cultural

*That texts should be monitored to avoid ethnocentric and racist interpretations

*That the curriculum should avoid focusing on exotic customs of travellers or other minority groups which can re-enforce misconceptions and create negative stereotypes

*That the values of perceptions and views of minority cultures should be included as well as the material elements

*That the curriculum should avoid negative attitudes and stereotypes which are formed at a very early age

*That the students should be able to clarify their own identities, should be made aware of other cultures and alternatives and avoid alienation.

With regard to teacher training in the Programme for Competitiveness and Work it is stated that particular provision should be made for "undertaking a major expansion of in-service training at all levels for teachers to include this specific programme in respect of teachers of disadvantaged pupils. The INTO recommend that in-service and pre-service courses should be developed in consultation with traveller bodies and with teachers of travellers

Traveller support groups involved urgently request that the visiting teacher service for traveller education be rapidly expanded to meet the Department's target of one visiting teacher per 100 families. With regard to training centres the transfer to the Department of Education of the centres is welcomed. However the present emphasis on the curriculum in the centres which emphasises such skills as woodwork, and cooking should be changed in order to allow the students to develop skills for re-entry into main stream education and to the workplace and that the training centres should act as a bridge for such re-entry.

An area of major concern is the inadequate tracking system and data available particularly at second level.

3. Mainstream Interventions to Tackle Early School Leaving

3.1.The Department of Education classifies its measures to deal with early school leaving into

(a)Early intervention to head off drop-out

(b)The development of meaningful alternatives to the conventional education offering.

3.2. Primary Level

At primary level the main early intervention has been the remedial education service. This has a budget of approximately £30 million and employs over 1,300 teachers. The scheme will shortly be extended to every school in the country. About 55,000 pupils receive some remedial report, close to 12% of all pupils at primary level. The programme costs about £500 per year per pupil included. This is clearly a very significant programme. The recent Education Research Centre report on the scheme has highlighted some significant problems in its operation.

*Case loads for each remedial teacher are higher than recommended. This is not a huge problem in schools where they have a full time remedial teacher. However where a remedial teacher is serving a cluster of schools, the caseloads were found to be 40% higher than recommended in the 1993 SERC report.

*The selection of pupils for remedial intervention deviates from objective standards judged by cut-off points in standardised tests. The result is that similar proportions of pupils attend remedial classes in schools with high average achievement as in schools with low average achievement. Clearly this militates against school with high concentrations of pupils at risk. Resources should be more closely tied to objective need.

*Their is no ongoing in-service training for remedial teachers and poor back-up in equipment and computerisation.

*The report showed that 85% of the time of remedial teachers is spent in the withdrawal of pupils from the classroom. This left little time for working with the class teacher or developing the important links with parents. Both have been found necessary to derive maximum benefit from remedial intervention.

*There is a serious shortage of remedial intervention in maths. It was particularly acute in disadvantaged schools where 85% of the pupils whom the principal

Table 5

Department of Education Programmes to Combat Educational Disadvantage (Primary) [1997]


Number of Participants

Number of Schools

Number of Teachers Allocated

Budget £m

Cost per Participant £

Designated Schools






Home-School Community Liaison






Early Start






Breaking the Cycle

- Urban

- Rural

- Total
















Teaching Counsellor






School Books and Miscellaneous






Total - absolute

-as % of all Primary Resource











Remedial Services













Note: (1)As well as teachers, there are also 56 child care workers employed in Early Start.

(2)The figure for participation in Home School Community Liaison (HSCL) and Teaching Counsellor Services are the total enrolment in the schools affected rather than the number of pupils actually engaged by the Service.

(3)There are 3,200 Primary schools in all with 450,800 pupils.

thought needed remediation in maths, were not receiving any such intervention.

*Possibly the most worrying finding of all was that pupils in disadvantaged schools did not improve their relative position following two years of remedial intervention whereas those in non-disadvantaged schools made significant progress.

Overall the report shows that this very substantial service has not been properly monitored or evaluated over the years even though it has been relied upon as the key intervention to tackle the problem of educational disadvantage and early school leaving.

3.3.The other significant early intervention has been the designation of 318 schools containing about 17% of primary pupils as "disadvantaged". These schools receive additional financial supports mainly through the £30 extra capitation grant and also the allocation of an additional teacher in most cases. In total the designation scheme costs about £10 million in teaching and non-teaching expenditure to operate and involves almost 300 teachers. Again it is a programme which has not been systematically evaluated. A Combat Poverty Study has shown that the resource allocation is too thin to make a real difference. It does not bring the resources available in the designated schools even up to the level of schools in more prosperous areas. This conclusion is borne out by the scale of the budget when divided among all the pupils involved. The extra resource involved comes to only about £120 per pupil - 60p per school day.

In response to this criticism of the designation of schools, the Department has developed, in pilot phase, two schemes which are much more targeted and offer far greater intensity of resources. Early Start is a pre-school programme available in 40 schools and reaching about 1,600 pupils. Breaking the cycle is a programme that guarantees a pupil-teacher ratio of 15:1 in junior classes in 33 urban schools with just over 3,300 pupils benefitting. A similar number of pupils are reached by the rural Breaking The Cycle scheme spread over 123 schools. In contrast to their predecessors, detailed monitoring and evaluation systems are being put in place for both of these programmes. Although the programmes are reaching very few pupils, they do involve significant resources costing close to £6 million between them and deploying almost 180 teachers. The cost per pupil of Early Start is £1,300, while Breaking the Cycle costs £700 per pupil in urban schools, £280 in rural schools.

There is much anecdotal evidence to suggest that the schemes have been a success. However, more systematic evaluation of the pilot is awaited by the Department. Early indications in respect of the Early Start programme suggest that results in terms of literacy may not be living up to expectations, but this would not be its sole aim. The big question facing the Department is whether it is willing to extend these quite costly programmes so that they reach all of the significantly deprived areas. The spending on these programmes would have to be increased to at least £30 million before they could be said to be reaching even the priority areas and far more if made available in all designated schools. Almost without exceptions the Committee heard strong endorsements of these pilots from all of those directly involved in the field and consistent recommendations for their expansion.

3.4.The other significant innovations designed to tackle early school leaving are the introduction of the Home School Community Liaison programme and the Teacher Counsellor programme. The Minister has announced his intention to expand the Home School Community Liaison service to all 318 schools designated disadvantaged. These innovations have a detailed evaluation built into them. The results of these evaluations are not yet available. Both of these interventions are aimed at supporting the children and their families rather than providing teaching instruction. Teacher Counsellors assist pupils to deal with the many problems that they encounter, while the Home School Community Liaison Teachers work with the parents explaining what the school is doing and encouraging involvement and offering parents personal development programmes as foundation for helping the pupil to stay on at school. It seeks to build a stronger home environment to support the pupil and also encourage the school to take a broader approach that is more welcoming to pupils from disadvantaged areas and to their parents. There is very strong support among those working in the field for the service which has benefited from good technical support and in-service development of the teachers in the field.

Overall the scheme targeting disadvantage in one shape or another at primary level cost £46 million in 1997 or 7% of the primary budget. The evidence suggests that the impact of those schemes is falling far short of evening up educational opportunities for children at risk of early school leaving.

3.5. Second Level

At second level early intervention programmes are thinner on the ground. Remedial services are available in less than 60% of schools. The service deploys only 350 teachers and reaches correspondingly far fewer pupils than at primary level. A higher proportion of schools at second level are designated as disadvantaged, but the level of support available averaging only £75 per pupil, is much lower than at primary level. There have been fewer innovations from the Department to develop new approaches to targeting pupils with particular disadvantage at second level. The only initiative in place is the Home School Community Liaison teacher service currently in just 52 schools. The Minister has announced that this will be extended to the 190 second level schools designated as disadvantaged.

The current budget of less that £20 million between remedial services and other programmes for disadvantaged pupils at second level is far from adequate, particularly against the background of the prevailing high levels of drop-out in the first couple of years at second level. It represents just 3% of the total second level budget to confront problems affecting almost 20% of pupils. There is clearly a need for the development of well resourced programmes to assist the transition of pupils from primary to second level.

3.6.Support Services

Support services to the school will often be vital in early identification of problems that may result in early school leaving, in helping pupils overcome problems and in

Table 6

Department of Education Programmes to Combat Educational Disadvantage (Secondary) [1997]


Number of Participants

Number of Schools

Number of Teachers Allocated

Budget £m

Cost per Participant £

Designated Schools






Home-School Community Liaison






School Books






Total - absolute

-as % of all Primary Resource











Remedial Services













*Estimate assuming the same caseload per teacher as applies at primary.

There are 759 schools at second level with a total enrolment of 362,200 pupils.

facilitating choices by students that allow their progress.

A psychological service to school has until recently only been available to secondary schools and a limited number of primary schools. Currently there are 26 psychologist covering well over 3,000 primary schools and 19 covering 760 secondary schools. Such support is very thin on the ground and effectively schools are given a ration of just a couple of referrals each year. This leaves the school in the impossible position of having to select from among several children with a justifiable need. The Minister has announced the establishment of a National Psychological Service as an executive agency of the Department. The recruitment of 25 extra professionals is planned, but a full service is estimated to require 200 psychologists.

A guidance counsellor service is available in all secondary schools. It is allocated on the basis of one post for every 500 pupils and pro-rata for larger schools. However, small schools only get a part post and to make matters worse have to make do with a lower proportionate allocation than 1:500. This means that only those schools with over 500 pupils have a full time guidance counsellor service. The service is very much under strain, in the face of far more complex social problems among pupils presenting for counselling and of fast changing career options. The service is largely confined to senior cycle pupils so that typically early school leavers will have had no contact with guidance counselling.

The position with more specialist professional services is often very difficult. For example in the area of speech therapy Ireland has 253 approximately working in the public service whereas on the basis of some international standard, we should have 800. Access by schools to such services is undoubtedly hampered by the responsibility of the Health Board rather than Education for provision of speech therapy.

4. Curricular Responses to Early School Leaving

4.1. Junior Certificate Schools Programme

Table 7

Participation in the New Programmes at Junior and Leaving Certificate Level (1998)


Number of Schools


Number of Pupils




% of Total


% of Total

Junior Certificate Schools





Leaving Cert Vocational





Leaving Cert Applied





Transition Year





Source: Department of Education

Note: 59,300 pupils from school sat the Leaving Certificate in 1998. The percentage participation as based on an assumed 3 year programme for Junior Cert and 2 year for Leaving Cert.

The aim of the JCSP is to ensure that the students receive positive experiences at school through a programme that is broad based and creative. The programme emphasises education as a process rather than a product. Social and academic achievements are the goals of the JCSP. The concern is with improving students self esteem. This self esteem goal is reaffirmed as they progress in the school and it gives a positive relationship between the school, the educational system and the student. The process uses an active cross- curricular approach combined with the usual core curricular subjects. It uses the concept multi-intelligence. Its value can be seen in the increased numbers of schools/centres currently participating in the programme. However, still only 11% of schools participate. Fewer than 2% of pupils take the option overall but in the schools where it is available about one in eight pupils opt for it. We believe that the JCSP has a valuable part to play in retaining potential early school leavers in the educational system. We would recommend the increase in the number of co-ordinators supporting the network of schools, also increasing the in-service programme and a substantial expansion in the number of schools offering the programme.

4.2. Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme

The Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) is described as the Leaving Cert with a strong vocational dimension and it is intended as an opportunity for students to use their full potential for self directed learning, for innovation and for enterprise. It was introduced in response to changing needs in the educational system and to changing work practices and business environments. It's emphasis is on developing a student with a broad sense, making the student an adaptable, self-starter., a multi-skilled problem solver and giving the potential for life-long learning. Almost 60% of schools offer the programme and about 22% of pupils participate overall, or about 37% of pupils in schools offering it.

It is different from the traditional Leaving Certificate in that it strengthens the vocational dimension of the Leaving Certificate and it does this by linking subjects into vocational groupings and by adding three Link Modules, enterprise education, preparation for work and work experience (in an attempt to prepare the student for further study and for the world of work).

At the core of the LCVP are the following elements students must take:

*A Leaving Certificate continental language or Vocational Language Module

*Two Leaving Certificate subjects from one of the subject groupings

*Three linked modules on preparation for work, enterprise education and work experience

In total LCVP students must take at least five Leaving Certificate subjects one of which must be Irish. Most students take six Leaving Certificate subjects.

Students take three Linked Modules or short courses as part of the LCVP. These modules can be described as units of study on a particular theme or topic. Modules include enterprise education, preparation for work and work experience. They are described as 'Link' in that each of the modules have close links with each other. The modules are activity based and thus the amount of extra study time involved is very little. Some other aspects of the modules involve a greater degree of time, such as visits to businesses and industry, running mini enterprises, and carrying out investigations in the local community. However, students do not perceive these activities as 'extra study'. Thus the activities are very often given an enthusiastic reception.

The modules are assessed by the National Council for Vocational Awards (NCVA) and the assessment is made up of two elements - a written examination and a portfolio of work. Students receive the same certification as the traditional Leaving Certificate with the addition of the Link Module results. The LCVP is intended to make the student more attractive to the employer on the basis that he is prepared for work and life in society and is orientated towards making a living in business.

The Leaving Certificate Vocational exists in a vacuum, is undervalued and if it is to have any value it must be supported by a committed promotional programme and the students should be allowed to take Leaving Certificate Vocational blocks with elements of the traditional Leaving Certificate programme.

4.3. Leaving Certificate Applied Programme

The Leaving Certificate Applied Programme (LAP) is intended to meet the needs of students who are not adequately catered for by the traditional Leaving Certificate programme or choose to opt-out from such programmes.

There are three main elements in the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme:

*Vocational preparation which is allocated approximately 25% of the overall time allocation and includes modules of vocational preparation and guidance, English and Communications

*Vocational education which is allocated 30% of the time and consists of modules of vocational specialist and mathematical applications.

*General education having a time allocation of 30% and incorporating modules such as Social Education, Languages, including two modules in Gaeilge Chumarsaideach and two modules in modern European languages.

The remainder 15% is discretionary time and thus is intended for schools to adapt the programme to meet the particular need and strengths of the student.

The LCAP covers a range of courses, each course designed on a modular basis. A module generally represents a half academic year's work. The year is divided into two sessions - September to January and February to June. The course is designed for 160 hours duration over the two years. Students are required to take short courses of eighteen hours duration in each of the following areas:

*Arts Education

*Information Technology (IT)

*Leisure and Recreation

The LCAP encourages cross-curricular activity and involvement. This cross-curricular activity and the Planning Team Meetings place great demands on teachers. Nevertheless, perhaps the success of the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme could be measured by its expansion from a base of 50 schools in 1995 to 205 schools in 1998.

This represents 27% of all schools. Overall just under 6% of pupils take the Leaving Certificate Applied. However, in schools offering the programme, it is quite popular with one in five pupils opting for it.

The Programme has received good backing from employers who express satisfaction with the performance of its participants in the workplace. They have pressed strongly for its expansion. This is clearly desirable. It is allowed a higher pupil teacher ratio by the Department. However, if it is to expand, the Department will have to give greater attention to the physical infrastructure in schools and the teaching time available to plan and implement the programme in schools.

While the LCVP and the LCA have grown significantly in recent years, senior cycle students in the main continue to pursue the traditional Leaving Certificate subjects. This may be due to the perception on the part of students and their parents that participation in the alternative programmes i.e LCVP and LCA reflects an inability to deal with the traditional Leaving Certificate which is perceived to have higher status. It may also be that some schools are reluctant to introduce these newer programmes for fear that they may damage their academic reputations.

The low take-up among the schools, parents and students may be due to a lack of confidence in the value of the qualifications of these alternative programmes.

The Leaving Certificate Applied originated as the senior certificate in Shannon and was an alternative to the Traditional Leaving Certificate. It carried with it not just changes in curriculum but also changes in methods of teaching and presentation. It was ring fenced in its entirety. This ring fencing had limited its application in particular to the smaller schools of 300 or less. If ring fencing was removed those schools should be able to offer some elements of the Leaving Certificate Applied.

Howard Gardiner in Frames of Mind; Theory of Multiple Intelligence (New York Basic Books, 1985) said that there are more than one intelligence, perhaps even more than these eight:

*Logical Intelligence

*Linguistic Intelligence

*Musical Intelligence

*Spatial Intelligence

*Bodily Intelligence

*Inter-Personal Intelligence

*Intra-Personal Intelligence

*Naturalist Intelligence

It would appear that the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme encompasses many of those intelligences - 'It has to be acknowledged that our existing criteria for educational achievement are primarily to do with analytical and linguistic intelligences as defined by Gardiner (1983). The Leaving Certificate Applied, with the emphasis on breadth and balance and on the application of knowledge and skills to the solution of practical problems, attempts to reward a very broad range of intelligences, abilities, competencies, achievements and practical skills. In doing so, it gives those who have been achieving poorly on the traditional criteria for up to eleven years of schooling, a chance to succeed.'

(Gleeson and Granville, 1995, 126/127)

A possible criticism of the LCAP is that it is still main stream education, structured and full time and that it is a product rather than a process and that in itself it might not be magnetic enough to retain many potential Early School Leavers.

5. Community Based Pilots

5.1. Local Partnership Companies

The establishment of the 38 Partnership Companies has given a significant boost to local development. Education programmes have been a significant pillar of this approach. For the five year programme up to 1999, a total of £10.5 million was earmarked for educational interventions aimed at disadvantaged groups. It is expected that by the time the programmes are completed, over 40,000 school going children and just under 20,000 adults will have participated in partnership education projects. In budgetary terms roughly half of the budget will be spent on support to pupils still at school, and the balance to young school leavers or adults after they have left school.

While in budgetary terms, these interventions are dwarfed by the close to £3000 million budget of the Department of Education, they have nonetheless spawned a great deal of innovation. They have also built local networks between schools and with the community which have traditionally being almost entirely absent from Ireland's strange educational structure. The OECD has frequently commented adversely on Ireland's highly centralised national Department of Education with no devolved structures, accompanied by highly independent schools, operating largely in isolation. Curiously these programmes are under the authority of the Department of Tourism and Sport, not of Education, which does not help their integration with mainstream Education Programmes

The range of initiatives undertaken is very broad. The following gives just a flavour of them

At pre-school there has been:

Provision of child care and education programmes.

Distribution of pre-school book packs to families who would have little literary material in the home.

The establishment of toy libraries

At primary level there has been:

Within the school, the establishment of Breakfast Clubs, Home-work Clubs, help with the development of broader school programmes covering music, gardening, pets, sports, etc., and peer-teaching

Out of school, there have been guided activities and visits, parent and child paired reading, computer clubs, summer educational projects, drug awareness programmes, supplementary tuition.

For parents there has been:

the development of home visitors to supplement the home school community liaison, parenting skills courses.

At second level there has been:

the establishment of tracking systems and out reach for early school leavers, counselling services, mentoring, mini-companies for enterprise development, school business linkages, youth career links, revision weeks.

At third level there have been:

taster programmes, bursaries, support for fees, books and transport, help with learning methods.

In further education there have been:

second chance programmes for those who have left school, bridging courses, guidance, projects for marginalised youth out of school and for young offenders, adult literacy schemes, taster courses, interview skills and personal development.

5.2. Integrated Service Initiatives

Outside of the Partnership Companies a number of pilot Integrated Service Initiatives have been developed. These projects seek to integrate the work of different service providers to give a broad based response to the needs of families whose children are at risk of drifting into poverty. Four integrated service projects are being developed by ADM and four others by Combat Poverty Agency. It is too early to judge their impact. However it is already clear that a very considerable amount of work has to be devoted to breaking down the territorialism of existing agencies and securing support right through the management systems of these agencies. There can be conflicts of philosophies and of approach. There can also be more basic conflicts between the time demands of the parent agency for delivery in the core skill area and those of the integrated initiative. There are also difficulties as result of an unwillingness to delegate responsibility from a hierarchical mainline agency to a multi disciplinary local team. Such delegation is essential if the integrated local approach is to work.

The sort of educational actions being developed in these integrated service initiatives are broadly similar to those developed by the Partnership Companies. However the hope is that they will be set within an integrated range of supports - involving health, recreation, training, adult education, housing, social order, financial support - as well as the school setting, so that they have a greater chance of success as part of a serious effort to break inter generational cycles of disadvantage.

5.3. Other Partnership Initiatives

There are other partnership projects involving schools and outside agencies which have had the dual aims of:

Transforming the school setting to make its environment better geared to retaining pupils at risk

Supplementing school projects by out of school activities and by links into other agencies or organisations operating in the community.

This model has been a key part of the various pilot projects under the EU funded Youthstart Programme. Mol an Óige is a good example. It brought together the local Health Board, VEC, Third Level College, FÁS, and the social partners to target young people at risk age between 10 and 19. The aim was to provide a resource to back effective "School Action Planning" for this group. The approach was to start from an assessment of the needs of this disadvantaged group with the school. Some of the problems encountered by the Mol an Óige project are instructive. It found:-

*An apprehensive reaction within with the school that it was under criticism or threatened.

*No habit in the school of teamworking of the sort necessary for such a process.

*No experience among teachers of working in multi-disciplinary context.

It proved important to the success of their project to undertake training relevant to multi-disciplinary working for both the teachers and the professionals from the support groups. This training looked at things such as recognition of the symptoms to facilitate early intervention and avoid unnecessary case conferencing procedures and at planning methods. Another key to success was to develop the concept of "partnership in a learning venture" with the school rather than being viewed as a "salesman selling a project".

Significant actions within the plans included:

*Changing the remedial teacher role from one of withdrawal to a consultative/collaborative approach in learning programmes for the individual pupil.

*Negotiated codes of discipline.

*Team teaching to share insights and to reinforce respected authority for teachers.

*Homework support.

*Giving those at risk roles of responsibility and experience of success in the school.

*Involving parents in a positive context (not just meeting in a formal context or on discipline problems).

Other successful partnerships have addressed the huge difficulty in transition from primary to secondary by developing networks between the schools and support programmes before and after the transition.

5.4.The merits of many of the in-school elements developed in the various partnership process are strongly endorsed in "Do Schools Differ" recently published by the ESRI. Emer Smith's study of over 100 secondary schools showed positive results from flexible curricula, good disciplinary climate, positive relations with parents and with pupils, mixed ability teaching rather than streaming, collegiate school management, staff mentoring. Such policies in the school were shown to improve the performance of the school in terms of absenteeism, drop-out and pupil exam performance, after controlling for other social factors, that affect these features across schools.

5.5. Comprehensive Pathway Approach

Many of these pilots are developing facets of what has been described as the "comprehensive pathway approach" by Youthstart. It reverses the traditional model where a central government department devises programmes to fill identified gaps. Instead it starts with the idea of facilitating the individual to develop the pathway most appropriate to his/her own needs. The approach separates out four separate stages.

Engagement -

making contact, outreach, induction, acclimatization.

Empowerment -

assessment, confidence building, mentoring and setting goals and plans, tasting options.

Learning -

skills, learning, work experience.

Integration -

placement and after care.

The model seeks to match services to where they find the young person rather than to fit the person into the mould of existing services. This model places new demands on policy making. It requires:

*Development of more inter-agency co-operative working and continuity between the offerings of each agency.

*Coherence and flexibility across the different programmes impacting on young people so that choices aren't distorted by rigidly structured options, by conflicting agency pressures, by financial incentives or by artificial barriers to progression.

*Development of sophisticated indicators of performance at each step on the pathway.

If we are to embrace this pathway approach, there is considerable work to be done in developing policy models for outreach, tracking, mentoring and for integrating professional support services.

The thinking of the National Youth Federation is very much in this vein. It questions the conventional targets of retention in the education system as the pillar of policy to tackle educational disadvantage. Instead it seeks to put in place a much broader definition of what activities constitute education, of what is certifiable, and of who is recognised as delivering education. It also seeks to break the highly rigid pattern of our education system which make it largely a full time, one chance, one route, one yardstick system. Their concept sees absence from school as a reality that has to be supported and managed rather than "suppressed". The key concept is life-long learning. The learning services have to continue to track and support young people in or out of school, in or out of work.

5.6. Pilot Early School Leaver Initiative

The Department of Education has introduced the Pilot Early School Leaver Initiative which it seeks to build upon these newer partnership approaches. This breaks new ground for the Department. It invited consortia of schools and community based organisations to bid for funds to run a programme aimed at pupils at risk of early school leaving. The programme was massively over subscribed. A total of 115 consortia applied for just 14 places on the programme. The 115 projects would have cost £16.7 million and targeted 13,700 children. The 14 selected projects, targeted 2,600 children and were given a budget of £3.2 million over three years - or £400 per pupil per year.

The level of application illustrates the scale of unmet need in this area. Most of the projects coming forward are very much modeled on the sort of concepts that have been successfully piloted in different partnership initiatives already. The Department obviously believes that further "piloting" is necessary before committing substantial resources to it. This is an extremely cautious approach. There is already a lot of evidence to suggest that these approaches do add significant value. It seems a terrible waste to have 115 consortia invest in the planning and preparation of a programme of work only to find that resources are not made available to activate them even though targeted at some of the most disadvantaged pupils in the country.

This is one example of the quite widespread frustration among those working in the field at the continued fresh "piloting" of approaches, without ever taking stock of the experience that has been learned for them or mainstreaming the very successful models that have emerged. It seems to many that the Department itself is not a very successful learning organisation!

6. Second Chance Education

Up into the mid eighties, state-supported second chance educational opportunities were virtually non-existent. Since then programmes such as Youthreach, the Back to Education Scheme run by the Department of Social Welfare and the Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme run by the Department of Education have been developed. Well over 10,000 people now participate in these schemes.

6.1. Youthreach

Youthreach targets the early school leaver. Administration is divided between VEC and FÁS, although policy has now been consolidated in the Department of Education. However, coordination of the programme still leaves much to be desired. There is no unified collection of relevant data about participants on the scheme. There is no consistent analysis of the background, the drop-out rate, or other qualitative information about the scheme.

Almost 8,000 people in the Youthreach category (i.e., aged 15-18 with less than the Leaving Certificate) start with FÁS or the VEC each year. Some go straight into Specific Skills Programmes, but most participate in foundation programmes in FÁS or the VEC. The attrition rate is high with about 25% dropping out without completing a programme.

Almost 70% of participants have no qualification whatsoever and the balance no more than a Junior Certificate. Participations in the programme are made up of about one third who left before Junior Cert, one third who sat Junior Cert but did not get 5 Ds and one third who left after the Junior Cert. The programme runs from 15 up to 18 years. An ESF evaluation in 1996 was critical of many aspects of Youthreach - the lack of counselling, of certification, of literacy and numeracy programmes and of progression. It found few opportunities for progression and qualification barriers in some suitable training outlets. The programme has been modified to address these issues. Over 1,500 progression places are being ring-fenced by FÁS for 1999.

Youthreach is generally well regarded by participants who feel they are treated with greater respect than at school. Over 70% of participants are now believed to progress to either employment, further education or training. Over 90% receive some accredited certification. A repeat evaluation of the success of this programme should now be undertaken. There needs to be an assessment of the long-term job experience of these participants rather than just their short-term placement.

Table 8

Second Chance Opportunities for 15 to 18 year-olds who left school with less than Leaving Cert: Annual Throughput


























Note: (1)Youthreach comprise the VEC provision, Community Training Workshops (75% of whose participants were 18 or under) Linked Work Experience and Vocational Preparation Training, all of which are administered by FÁS.

(2)The costs of the Youthreach Programmes was £32 million in 1998, £26.9 million in 1997.

Against a background where 13,000 - 14,000 leave school at or before Junior Cert, Government has repeatedly announced its intention to expand the Youthreach programme. This has not happened. Indeed, the attraction of part-time working is making it difficult to fill places. FÁS are exploring the possibility of introducing part-time options into Youthreach which would certainly be a positive development.

Schools are supposed to provide FÁS with information of school leavers twice a year in February and October. Many are failing to do so. No doubt concerns about triggering the loss of teachers is a factor in the reluctance of schools. Whatever the reason it must be urgently resolved.

The cost of Youthreach is currently running at £32 million close to £7,000 per year per participant. One major difference is that Youthreach pays participants a training allowance starting at £28.75 at age 15 and rising to £70.50 at age 18. About 40% of the cost goes on such allowances. Even allowing for this, the budget is sizeable at over £4,000 per person and in marked contrast to the poorly resourced schemes available to assist these pupils before they left school. It is perverse that a person has to leave school to be able to draw down income support and well resourced suitable programmes. This contradiction in policy needs to be addressed.

The Government has announced its intention to make attendance at school or Youthreach at least on a part-time basis compulsory up to the age of 18. While it is correct to compel employers to release young people to take up such opportunities, there is need for caution in imposing compulsory attendance. This can discredit and distort programmes in the eyes of the clients. The bottom up development of a personal plan to address a person's needs is the crucial objective. Compulsory attendance does not guarantee progression. A better approach would be to require compulsory registration with an appropriate mediation service up to the age of 21, but leave it to the client - mediator relationship to determine the best pathway.

6.2.Back to Education

The two back to education options sponsored by the Department of Social Family and Community Affairs and by the Department of Education are mirror images of one another. The Social Welfare Scheme caters primarily for those returning to third level education while the Department of Education Scheme is largely a second level programme. These schemes are open to all people regardless of how far they went in the education system first time around. Of the almost 9,000 participating in one or other of them, 47% are taking third level courses, and 31% post leaving certificates courses. Only 22% are therefore taking courses appropriate to students who could be described as early school leavers.

The Post Leaving Certificate sector has grown quite explosively since its introduction in the mid 1980's. It now has nearly 24,000 students. This programme has opened up exciting new options, particularly for those whose Leaving Certificates do not equip them for entry to third level. However the Post Leaving Certificate courses are not catering for early school leavers. Only about 7.5% of participants in Post Leaving Certificates are early school leavers. The vast majority are Leaving Certificate holders who go straight from school. Almost twice as many participants are third level graduates as are early school leavers!

The Back to Education Schemes cater only for those aged 21 and over and only those who are unemployed. One third of participants are aged 25 or less and another third aged between 26 and 30. One of the reasons why early school leavers do not figure more prominently in this scheme is that it is not available to persons under the age of 2l. For people who leave school at 15 or under, the best chance of bringing them back into the educational sphere would be by picking them up perhaps after the age of 18 when Youthreach eligibility expires.

Table 9

Back to Education Schemes: Number of Participants


Social Welfare



















(1) The cost of Back to Education

Social Welfare £17.6 million (includes training allowance only)

VTOS £23.4 million (includes training allowances and educational costs)

(2) Throughput on these schemes is much lower than participation levels because courses are typical of more than one year duration. For example in 1998, 4,600 participated in VTOS, but only 2,100 completed courses under VTOS.

7. Policy Conclusions and Recommendations

7.1. Family Support

The learning environment which a child experiences in the home in the early years is a formative influence on later educational progress. Economic and social disadvantage can deprive children of a supportive learning environment. If the cycle of educational disadvantage is to be broken, a much more substantial investment will have to be made in working with families to support a better learning environment in disadvantaged homes. Much of this investment is very long term. Some of the results will only be seen in the next generation. None the less it is critical in any coherent approach to early school leaving.

Parenting Support

It cannot be taken for granted that parents will intuitively pick up the demanding parenting skills now needed. The Home School Community Liaison Service offers valuable programmes for parents who come forward. However many with a need do not come forward. Arguably the support should start a lot earlier. There is a strong case for developing parenting programmes as an integral part of schemes such as Youthreach, the One Parent Family Allowance from the Department of Social Welfare, and on Community Employment where it is taken up by single parents. Parenting programmes should also be made available when couples separate when plainly children can suffer.

The delivery of support to families also needs to be improved. The concept of a district care team is one that should be developed. The public health nurse service to newly born babies provides a valuable opening contact with families. This could be built upon and a range of services delivered to families at risk in an integrated way.

The lack of literary materials in the home has also been found to be a significant draw-back to a child's subsequent progress. The Committee was impressed with the pilot scheme operating in some areas where some basic literary materials are made available to all disadvantaged families in the early years. There is a strong case for developing this concept and integrating it, into a system of community based toy and literary libraries for the very young.

Pre-School Provision

The Minister for Education has promised a White Paper on the development of a pre-school service and proposals on child care are also expected from the Committee established by the Minister for Justice. The Committee strongly endorses the need for a high quality pre-school service available to children from disadvantaged backgrounds. A number of models have been developed such as, Early Start staffed by primary teachers and other community based models. It would be a mistake, in the Committee's view, to set such stringent standards that many of the community based providers would be dislodged. Instead a developmental model should be put in place that allows variety, but provides in-service support to develop high standards. A Home School Community Liaisons Service should be integrated into any pre-school development.

Education Related Expenses

Low income families face real financial obstacles to full participation by children in school. The Committee was impressed by the community based efforts to offer needed financial supports in a flexible way to families. Most of these initiatives are at third level. There is an equal case for their application in the earlier stages of education. One "contract" model impressed the Committee. Senior cycle students at risk of early departure sign up to a contract, where they agree to attend school, to complete homework and to desist from taking up part-time work that would interfere with study, in return for a monthly financial payment. It must be remembered that if a young person drops out of school and joins Youthreach, they immediately receive a payment starting at £28 per week and rising to £70 per week at age 18. Income support policies should not distort education choices. If a young person or their family are in need of financial support, it should be available irrespective of the educational choices that they make. The Committee recommends that the Department provide a fund to develop the flexible financial supports for education operated by certain partnership companies and in particular the "contract" model.

7.2. School based strategies

The Committee heard evidence on best practice in schools coping with the problem of early school leaving and educational disadvantage. The first and most important ingredient is that the school at all levels would set this as one of its priorities and develop strategies to ensure that the approach of the school in all of its policies supports this goal. Schools will have to pursue this goal in the face of other conflicting pressures, some of them unwittingly created by existing departmental policies.

Engagement with Parents and the Wider Community

Active engagement with the wider community is an extremely important ingredient in improving the ability of the school to cater for the needs of more challenging pupils. Active policies are needed to promote this:

An open door policy for parents with strong development of the Home School Community Liaison Service and active programmes of personal development available within the school for parents.

Active recruitment of parents to become involved in community education liaison work. Parents drawn from within the community will be particularly effective at identifying problems and helping to overcome them. Once they can fall back on professional support where cases warrant it.

Partnership by the school with wider community organisations that can help develop both in school and out of school activities. The youth service, the business community, and local voluntary groups have fostered a wealth of initiatives around the country that have undoubtedly added significant value. As schools now cater more for children with a less academic bent, the practical schools project work and the out of school activity must assume a far greater importance in education. It is essential that schools develop this complementary activity which it is neither possible nor desirable for the school staff alone to deliver.

School participation in networks along with other schools can open up many avenues for co-operation and development. The isolation of schools and the extremely centralised Department has hampered the development of education policies in the community.

Over time communities should aim to see their schools develop into community education campuses where a host of activities take place involving not just school going pupils. Schools could easily become the centres for child care, for adult education provision and out of school activities. There is also a strong case for bringing professional support services for families into the school setting where access to children will be facilitated and where contact with parents will be easier to organise.

In-School Policies

Policies within the schools need to be adapted if early school leaving is to be successfully tackled. Some of the ingredients that make a real difference are:

Early detection policies for pupils with problems and quality interventions to support them as part of a whole-school approach.

An environment that promotes innovation in teaching methods and co-operation among teachers in reviewing the success of different methods and the progress of different pupils.

An approach to remedial intervention that is collaborative with the classroom teacher or rather than based on withdrawal.

The uptake of new curricular options such as Junior Certificate Schools Programme and Leaving Certificate Applied.

The development of support policies to facilitate the transition from primary to secondary school and later to third level.

Strong policies on attendance, discipline and reward to ensure that pupils know where they stand. Discipline must be firm but fair, and consistently applied. It is essential that pupils at risk taste success within the school and are placed in positions of responsibility.

The development of half-way houses for pupils who experience particular behavioral difficulties, where they can have a haven of support but retain to clear contact with the school.

Awareness of the ethos of the community in which they live and incorporation into curriculum of elements that respect and value that ethos, and embrace multi-cultural elements in the community.

It is essential that in and out of school strategies of the school be systematically developed in the context of the school plan. The development of this plan must be a collegiate effort of the staff working with the wider community. There needs to be openness in setting targets and monitoring results. It is clear that in many schools, staff do not have the time and often do not have the experience in management and team working necessary to developing effective school plans. This is clearly an area where schools will need support.

It is one thing to identify the ingredients of the best practice, it is quite another thing to see it realised in schools. To do so it will be necessary to introduce coherent support to schools in developing policies and strategies and to introduce a new system of financial support to schools.

Educational Development Agency

The Committee recommends that an Education Development Agency should be established with broad representation of all the education partners and the wider community whose task it will be to support inclusive planning in schools within a community based model. Amongst its functions would be the following:

The review of the many pilot initiatives undertaken in and out of school in recent years in order to identify the best practice and disseminate models for mainstreaming.

The support of community based education networks.

The provision of an advocacy service to work with schools in development of school strategies and school plans, along the lines outlined above.

The development of quality in-service training for teachers and others involved in the implementation of school plans with particular emphasis on the role of the principal.

The promotion of peer review within schools and across clusters of schools facing similar problems so that benchmarks of good practice can be developed and rolled out.

The provision of technical support and direction to the various school based interventions such as home school community liaison service, remedial intervention, career guidance counselling etc.

The Committee recognises that this development agency would be a very substantial innovation within the Irish system. Its developmental role will be particularly important to smaller schools which have little scope to devote time to research and development of new school policies and in the present structure operate largely in isolation. To be effective it would have to have a regional structure close to schools. It should as a priority appoint a National Director of Remedial Education Services to address clear problems and challenges in this area. It would free up the Department of Education from some of its day to day work with schools so that the Department could develop more fully its policy making role. Such a development is well overdue.

Education Development Fund

The Committee recommends that the Department of Education alter its approach to resourcing strategies to tackle educational disadvantage. The Department currently runs programmes designed centrally, for which schools may or may not qualify. Benefitting schools are selected according to an opaque calculus of need. In future resources should go to schools to fund specific strategies that have been developed locally in the school planning process. Sometimes it could be the allocation of additional teachers to reduce class size or for other specific purposes but it could equally be for a wide variety of non-teaching activities. It might for example fund a project worker to develop certain out of school activities. It might become a grant that would go directly to an out of school community organisation.

The Committee recommends that the Department should establish an Education Development Fund whose broad objectives would be to support the development of school policies and environment in accord with best practice. It would lay a heavy emphasis on educational disadvantage and early school leaving in outlining the type of policy criteria to be used in allocating resources from the Fund.

The Department would clearly emphasise certain targets of national importance in assessing the merits of school strategies presented to it. It would, for example, want to see that issues such as community involvement, school attendance, retention, literacy and numeracy were adequately addressed in the strategy.

The resources allocated would be ring fenced to the activity set out in the plan but the essential difference is that the choice would be locally made. The distribution of resources between the schools would be decided by the Department on an assessment of the needs of the school and the quality of its plan. While this change in approach to resources would represent a significant change for the Department, it has been the underlying approach of most of the ESF funded programmes such as Youthstart or Employment. There are well practiced systems for operating such an approach efficiently and flexibly.

The Committee believes that such devolution of authority to local schools and communities, to design specific innovative responses within broad policy criteria is essential. However it also recognises that with the devolution of authority goes responsibility to account for what is done. It would be essential that schools share with the Education Development Agency the evaluation of the results of different strategies in impacting targets which the school set.

Examination System

The Committee recommends that the present examination system with its heavy emphasis on the points acquired in a one off exam must be radically altered. This system militates against pupils who come from a background where academic work is less well established. The Committee also believes that the present system with its concentration on memory retention and highly individualised competition fails to foster the wider dimensions of the pupil and is imprisoning both pupil and teacher in an unnecessarily tight straight jacket. A new system must embrace:

*Continuous assessment of the work of the pupils through their educational career.

*Valuing wider dimensions of a pupil's development than simply retention of subject material.

*Allowing pupils develop a portfolio of achievements and aptitudes which would be built up throughout their life.

Such changes in the examination system would facilitate the integration of Junior Schools Programme, Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme and Leaving Certificate Applied into a unified framework.

Changes in the examination system will not, of course, guarantee that disadvantaged schools will be able to fund the more resource intensive project work and extra curricular activities. Positive discrimination in resource allocation must accompany the curricular and certification changes. The Committee realises that such changes present a serious challenge to the teaching profession which fears that new assessment methods would damage the teacher-pupil relationship by making the teacher judge as well as facilitate in the pupil's progress. It will take time to develop a new system. The changes will also force third level colleges and employers to develop new selection methods in place of the shorthand facility of the points system. These will also take time to develop if they are to enjoy public confidence in their fairness. The change should therefore be secured in stages giving all parties time to evolve new approaches.


In the short term, the Committee recommends that the Department invest resources in expanding and strengthening the Junior Certificate Schools and Leaving Certificate Applied Programmes. As a first step these programmes should be available in all schools designated disadvantaged. To assist its expansion, the Department should encourage clusters of schools to pool their resources so that the necessary infrastructure can be shared.

7.3. Pupil Support Services

There are clearly serious weaknesses in the present policies for assessment of pupils in need of special intervention and in the tracking of pupils through the education system. Although there is an obligation on schools to maintain school attendance records and to report pupils who have dropped out of school to FÁS, much of this has fallen into disuse. There seems to be a reluctance on the part of schools to identify early school leavers because of the close connection between resources and pupil head count under Departmental rules. The school attendance service is archaic. The responsibility of schools in relation to rolling suspensions and expulsions remains obscure.

School support services must be strengthened by:

The development of a proper education welfare service that would have national coverage and would have legislation attuned to modern conditions.

The development of an adequately resourced psychological service that would allow the timely assessment of special needs of pupils.

It is to be hoped that the promised school attendance legislation and the promised development of the psychological service will address the huge defects in this area.

The Committee believes that the Department of Education should introduce a statutory right for a parent to have a professional assessment of their child carried out, followed by a clear statement in the form of a personal development plan for that pupil. This plan would then form the basis for special provision and placement of the child. The Committee realises that such a move could not be made overnight, however it believes this shift to the design of a programme attuned to the particular needs of the pupil is an important and necessary change.

Education Mediation Service

The Committee recommends the establishment of a local Education Mediative Service to track and support pupils at risk of early school leaving. The function of this service would be:

To establish a proper data base that allows the service to track pupils through their educational progress.

To develop a mentoring service that would work with pupils who are having difficulties or are out of school. The aim of this service would be to develop the comprehensive pathway approach discussed earlier in the context Youthstart. It would help pupils to identify progression paths for themselves and place them appropriately.

To work closely with schools, training agencies or other potential providers in the community to develop flexible offerings which could allow a mixture of formal and informal provision, in school and on the job.

To maintain contact with young people up to the age of 21 even if they have left school and entered employment offering them continued advice and support in seeking personal progression.

This tracking service would be an important independent advocate for the potential early school leaver. It would help to broaden the definition of what passes as education. It would continue to support young people after they drop out of the formal education system. Too often early school leavers are now left adrift, once they sever their links with the school.

One of the most important objectives of the service will be to achieve the closer integration of the services now offering support - schools, VEC Youth Services, voluntary community organisations, FÁS, Juvenile Liaison Officers, Social Workers etc. It should have a steering committee drawn from these various sources which would seem to shape a coherent local response to the client needs.

If this service is to succeed, each of the constituent service providers must be mandated by their controlling agency to work in this structure. Too often integrated initiatives fail because of conflicting pressures from the parent bodies. The service should also have a right to a certain block of places on suitable programmes for its clients and a budget to contract in services or placements not available from State providers.

7.4. Mixed Education Options

It is quite clear that objectives such as 100% retention to senior cycle are at best very far off and may be quite unrealistic. For a long time to come there will be a need for out of school options for many young people. In recent years there has been a very welcome emphasis on the development of such programmes as Youthreach. Significant progress has been made in achieving high rates of progression from Youthreach into further training or employment. However much remains to be done in developing quality progression paths.

It is time to accept that part time working will remain a very attractive option encouraging many to leave school after the compulsory years. This is a reality which cannot be entirely reversed. Instead there is a need to develop flexible options that can fit in with part time working. This means that schools at second and third level and training providers must develop much more flexible offerings. Part-time attendance should be encouraged. Post Leaving Courses in particular should develop part-time options. Certification should be built up in a modular form so that pupils can take a much longer period to acquire certain certification if that fits in with their other commitments. Schools and training providers should repeat course delivery at different times in the day to facilitate this development.

The Department's refusal to extend any concessions on fees or maintenance to part time students must change. The Committee recommends that a means-tested support scheme be devised.

A new relationship with employers must be worked out by government in order to ensure that we can fulfill the potential of those who leave school early to enter employment. The Committee recommends that young people up to the age of 20 entering employment without sitting their Leaving Certificate should be entitled to certain periods of block release from their employer for the purpose of continuing in education or training. The Committee also recommends that there should be very active expansion of certified workplace training schemes. This would require FÁS and the VEC's to actively work with employers in developing certifiable training modules in the work place. The traineeship programme is a good example of this. The Committee believes that this programme should be expanded rapidly to its target of 5,000 and also that the Vocational Educational Committees should use their network to develop a PLC type programmes linked to the work place.

The Committee believes that second chance education is still far too rare in Ireland. It commends the VTOS and Back To Education schemes. However these have the weakness in that they are confined to Social Welfare recipients, they have not facilitated part time participation, and those aged 18-21 cannot participate even if they are early school leavers. The Committee recommends that any person who leaves school with only the Junior Certificate or less should have a right of access to an Education Credit Account with a value running to £10,000 which that person could draw down at any stage from age 18 over their future working life whether in work or on social welfare. This would demonstrate the seriousness of the governments desire to facilitate life long learning. It will also be a very tangible statement to early school leavers that there was a second chance. It would also encourage schools and colleges to develop flexible programmes with suitable entry points to meet the need of this group for whom opportunities are currently almost non-existent.

7.5. Partnership in Education

In recent years there has been a welcome recognition that all education partners should have a systematic role in the work of the school. It is now time to put in place a more formal social partnership at national level to contribute to the setting of national targets for education and the development of policy. The Committee recommends that the Department of Education should establish a National Forum to develop a social partnership programme for education. Such a forum should include all of the education partners - management, union, parents and students. The Committee also recommends that Early School Leavers, Youth Service and local community education networks should have representation in this partnership forum. It should aim to work in tandem with the cycle of National Partnership programmes and develop its own review and monitoring structure.

Joint Committee on Education and Science

Proceedings of the Joint Committee

Tuesday, 25 May 1999

1.The Joint Committee met at 5.00 p.m. in Room G2, Kildare House, Kildare Street.

2.Members Present

The following Members were present:-


Michael P. Kitt (Chairman), Richard Bruton, Pat Carey, John Moloney.


Fintan Coogan, Camilus Glynn1 and Labhras Ó Murchú.

3.Draft Report on Early School Leaving

The Chairman brought forward the Draft Report for consideration.

Draft Report agreed to.

Ordered: To report accordingly.


The Joint Committee adjourned at 5.10 p.m. until 5.00 p.m. on Tuesday, 1 June 1999

1 Pursuant to Seanad Standing Order 66(i), Senator Camillus Glynn substituted for Senator Maureen Quill.