You are here


‘One size fits’ all approach to education a major factor in early school leaving

May 25th 2010

The ‘one size fits all’ instruction and assessment approach in Ireland’s current school system is fundamentally wrong, does not facilitate many young people to grow or demonstrate and realize their full range of talents and skills and is a major contributory factor in early school leaving, particularly among boys, according to a new report by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Science.

Early school leaving and its related problems of poverty, deprivation and exclusion should be understood in a holistic context that is much broader than the education system, the report Staying in Education: A New Way Forward – School and out of School Factors Protecting Against Early School Leaving says.

The Department of Education and Skills needs to develop policy that strongly discourages streaming, or separating students along purely academic lines, at least in the first and second years, it found. Policy should be targeted particularly at schools in disadvantaged communities and all schools where boys are enrolled, according to the report which carried out 41 interviews with individuals and groups dealing with early school leaving and which had input from a 25-member expert group of practitioners and researchers.

Streaming is associated with negative outcomes and disengagement from school, particularly for students in the lower stream. Boys, Travellers, students with lower literacy levels and/or special educational needs, and from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and ‘at risk groups’ are more likely to be in the ‘bottom’ stream and the likelihood that they will disengage is higher, the report concluded.

Early parental involvement is of key importance in engaging children in education, according to the report. It also found that early parental involvement and an intergenerational approach to literacy development are effective for both children and their parents, and that gains in literacy persisted over time with this approach. Strong associations between poor literacy and disengagement from schooling were among the report’s findings.

Rappateur to the Committee Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames who produced the report said:
“One in six young people leave school before completing the Leaving Cert. These are the forgotten kids. They do not show up in the yearly education statistics for sitting the leaving cert or entering college. Sadly, for many of them, the only time they feature in State data is in a negative sense, through statistics for unemployment, the courts or drug abuse. This situation needs to be addressed urgently.

“It is clear from this report that the over-loaded exam-based system does not suit many young people. It loses them early. The majority of these young people are carrying embedded difficulties with school and learning from primary level. Any school system that largely relies on a ‘one size fits all’ instruction and assessment approach is fundamentally wrong. It does not facilitate these young people to grow or indeed to demonstrate and realize their full range of talents and skills.

Our post-primary education system as currently constructed and paced is doing these youngsters a grave injustice and society is paying the price in the long run. This does not represent equality of opportunity. The aim of this report, through its findings and recommendations, is to effect change across the education system and above all, contribute to better lives for our young people.”

Among the report’s other recommendations are:

*The DES needs to develop policies and practices to enable schools to achieve the target that all children leaving primary school will be able to demonstrate at least basic literacy as appropriate to the local context of the school. ‘Basic literacy’ could be defined on the basis of a level of literacy that permits independent functioning and equitable participation in society.
In order to better support families with literacy needs, and given the evidence of substantial returns to the State, the annual budget for family literacy initiatives should be increased substantially from its current figure of 200,000 euro.

*A national tracking system needs to be put in place that is capable of following the educational and training pathways of all young people to tackle early school leaving.The system, which the report says could be set up by a working group from the Department of Education and Science, the Health Service Executive and the Office of the Minister of Children and Youth Affairs, should track children from pre-school through to primary, post-primary and further education on an individual basis, the report said. It should also have the potential to track individual-level attendance in order to better inform the work of the National Education Welfare Board.

*In parallel with the development of the tracking system, the Department of Education and Skills (DES) needs to develop a strategy for retention that focuses in the short term on maximising retention at Junior Certificate level, and in the medium term, on a strategy that aims to achieve a minimum educational qualification of Leaving Certificate or its equivalent.

*The prioritisation of services for 0 to 6-year-olds should receive dedicated attention in the work of the Office of the Minister of Children and Youth Affairs in co-ordinating the efforts of all relevant bodies, developing strategy, identifying gaps and minimising duplication of services.

*An evaluation of the Early Childhood Care and Education scheme that focuses on indicators of uptake and quality of provision should be initiated immediately.
A comprehensive and large-scale survey of the school-going population is needed to ascertain the views of boys in particular about the education system and what, in their view, serves to engage or disengage them

*The DES’s policy on bullying needs to be updated and widely disseminated with reference to the relevant Acts. It should include clear guidelines on sensitive issues including sexuality, sexual harassment and ethnicity with reference to the findings of this study.

Paul Gogarty, TD, Chairman of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills, said: “From the outset, the Committee sought to produce a report grounded in reality supported by facts. Our intention was to ascertain the truth behind the media headlines. I genuinely believe that the published report has managed to quantify the true extent of the problem in Ireland today and through concrete and feasible recommendations to provide a clear directional path from which to move towards in the future.”

For further information, contact:

Daniel English
Oireachtas Communications Unit
01 618 4484
087 6949926

We work on many areas in education but for 2010 the two main issues we are focusing on are:

* Early School Leaving and Educational Disadvantage

* Part-time Fees

2.1 – Early School Leaving & Educational Disadvantage

What do we want to achieve?

Tackle educational disadvantage and do more to reduce early school leaving


Early school leaving and educational disadvantage is a major issue in Ireland.

  • Our level of early school leaving remains high with over 1,000 young people failing to progress to secondary school
  • 1 in 6 young people leave school before getting a Leaving Certificate.
  • All evidence suggests that young people who leave school early without a qualification are more likely to suffer unemployment in later life and will be paid less.


School absenteeism is an early warning sign that a young person may be at risk of leaving school early.

The National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) has been established to support children, young people and parents to provide supports to keep young people in school. It is essential that sufficient resources are provided to the NEWB and other educational programmes to ensure progress is made to combat early school leaving, increase the number of young people successfully completing second level education and keep young people in education and training.

2.2 - Part Time Fees

What do we want to achieve?

Support people in vulnerable employment to upskill, particularly those with no third level qualifications and whose income is below the average industrial wage.


Ireland needs to improve, promote and resource a range of education and training opportunities for young people with poor or redundant qualifications and skills. Such measures include:

  • Second chance learning opportunities.
  • The provision and promotion of up-skilling and re-skilling opportunities for young workers vulnerable to redundancy and unemployment.

The existence of part-time fees is a significant obstacle for many young people wanting to return to study part-time. The abolition or reduction of the fees would be a long term worthwhile investment by the State.


We want the Government to honour its commitment in “Towards 2016” and in the current Programme for Government to establish a €20 million scheme for free fees for approved part-time courses for employees attending public institutions who have never undertaken third level education before and who earn less than the average industrial wage.


Despite constant pressure this commitment has not be honoured and in the 2009 Budget a range of grants were abolished and top-up supports were withdrawn to schools not designated as disadvantaged. In addition, school supports such as English Language teaching for immigrant pupils were also cut.

What can I do?

As an organisation: Lobby government to provide required funding for a national education welfare service and the abolishment of part-time fees.

As an individual: Support us by engaging in debate with your local TD on the importance of these issues.


Pre-Budget Submission 2010

Towards 2016

Education Policy

Equality of Access to education and lifelong/lifewide learning are integral to the creation of an education system that is equitable and fully inclusive. The development of an education system which is attainable to all throughout the lifecycle is vitally important in addressing poverty and social exclusion and breaking the intergenerational cycle of educational disadvantage.

This report was ratified by NYCI’s board at the 2007 AGM.