NUI Galway publish first report of its kind on educational inequality in Ireland

Pictured at the launch of NUI Galway’s report are pictured l-r: Martina von Richter, Impact and Operations Director, Rethink Ireland, Dr Noel Dempsey, Former Minister for Education, Dr Leonor Rodriguez and Dr Cormac Forkan, UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre, NUI Galway. Photo: Aengus McMahon
Nov 09 2021 Posted: 07:50 GMT

Ground-breaking report systematically explores alternative educational provision 
Report presents critical challenges, findings and a call to action for more equal and diverse future education in Ireland for all young people

Social Return on Investment value generated for project beneficiaries was just over €68 million

A groundbreaking report by NUI Galway has documented for the first time that the average progression rates of students in seven alternative education programmes (who complete QQI levels 3 to 6 qualification)  amounted to 80% between January 2018 to July 2020. The progression rate reached in excess of 90% for some projects.

Whilst Ireland has a high post-primary school completion rate, with 92.3% of students completing the Senior Cycle in both 2018 and 2019 (DES, 2020), school completion rates in schools serving areas of acute economic disadvantage are statistically and significantly lower than in schools serving more affluent populations (Houses of Oireachtas, 2019).

A significant proportion of the 8% of pupils not completing post-primary education avail of alternative or second-chance education.

Apart from Youthreach, which is a state-provided programme of second-chance education, very little systematic, robust, scientific information has ever been gathered on Ireland’s alternative educational provision landscape. This is aggravated even further by at least a three-year delay in the publication by the Department of Education of a formal review of Alternative Education.

To address this gap in knowledge, the report focused on seven projects awarded funding under Rethink Ireland’s €7.5 million Education Fund (2017-2020). The research investigated the extent to which practices used by these projects can serve as models of excellence in overcoming inequality in education.

The Fund was open to projects focused on improving educational outcomes for those experiencing educational disadvantage, supporting students to progress from Levels 3–6 on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ). The seven projects (six in Dublin, one in Cork) involved were An Cosán VCC; iScoil, Trinity Centre for People with Intellectual Disabilities; Aspire2; Citywise Fast Track Academy; Cork Life Centre; and Trinity Access 21.

The average progression rates amounting to 80% over the course of the three-year study, shows that in most cases, people in these projects had significant success in progressing their education and is comparable with the completion rates of those within the mainstream system.

The study also found that the total Social Return on Investment value generated for project beneficiaries was just over €68 million with a total cost of €7,790,285 for the seven awardee projects over three years. For every one euro invested in the seven projects, €9 of social value was created.

Social value return and benefits include increased independence, maturity, increased self-confidence, and a more positive future outlook. Some 55% of the social value was directly created by Rethink Ireland’s Education Fund investment of €4,302,479, where every euro invested in the seven projects, €12 of social value was created.

The report also presents critical challenges, findings and a call to action for a more equal and diverse future education in Ireland.

The research team led by Dr Cormac Forkan from the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre in NUI Galway carried out the three-year academic evaluation of the Education Fund.

Dr Forkan says: “Our work allowed us to look inside the ‘black box’ of how these projects support their learners. This model shows how the projects developed and implemented innovative approaches (called ‘actions’) to address various areas of the five strategic goals in the Action Plan 2016–2019. We found that progression is of course about participants moving along Levels 3 to 6 of the QQI framework of qualifications and achieving ‘hard outcomes.

“However, our data and subsequent model shows that it is also about their personal transformation and development of their ‘soft outcomes’, like increased independence (maturity), increased self-confidence, and a more positive future outlook. Our new evidence-based model on Educational Progression and Transformation, recognises that awardee projects provide critical and enabling actions for their participants in both of these domain areas and ultimately address better wellbeing for participants.”

Martina von Richter, Impact and Operations Director, Rethink Ireland, said: “Rethink Ireland is delighted with the results of this thorough and innovative academic evaluation. The work of the Education Fund awardees is outstanding and we now have proof that their alternative models of education work and have a far reaching and sustainable positive impact on their learners.

“Every young person should be supported to reach their full potential and the evaluation demonstrates clearly the need for substantial change in Ireland: the alternative education sector in Ireland needs to be recognised and supported by the government, and integrated into the mainstream education sector so that all learners have the opportunity to benefit from them.

“Young people don’t come in one size fits all, and neither should their education.”

Recommendations for policy

  • Develop a cross departmental strategy on tackling educational disadvantage by tackling the social and economic inequalities facing children, young people and their families, using the learning on what works from this study on alternative educational provision.
  • The Department of Education to formally recognise Alternative Education provision as educational providers in their own right and fund them in the same way as the formal education system.
  • Create a forum for mainstream and alternative education providers to exchange evidence-based knowledge and experiences to support all students.
  • Organise a showcase where the learning about actions and processes used by the awardee projects to tackle education inequality can be shared with mainstream and alternative education providers and with broader society.

A student from the Aspire 2 project, said: “It’s the mind-set of ‘oh you go to this particular school so that means you can’t do things’. The support and the funding that they’re giving us, it makes me feel like I’m not just someone that goes to a DEIS school. I can go to college. I can do things that I want to do because of the Aspire 2 programme.”

A student from An Cosán project, said: “Some of our lives are crashed and An Cosán can support us to help us to construct our lives once again. It has been very supportive and has given us a different meaning to our lives. When you get a certificate, because not so many colleges around here would accept an application from asylum seekers but An Cosán (does).  So, it is a backbone of what we are doing, and we are grateful.”

Read the full report here:


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