No Way Back? The Dynamics of Early School Leaving

Media Release for "No Way Back? The Dynamics of Early School Leaving" by Delma Byrne and Emer Smyth (ESRI), a joint publication of the ESRI, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), and the Department of Education and Science (DES).

15 April 2010


No Way Back? The Dynamics of Early School Leaving

Study Provides Detailed Account of the Processes Shaping Early School Leaving The most comprehensive study to date of the processes shaping early school leaving in Ireland is published today. No Way Back? combines detailed information from surveys of second-level students and in-depth interviews with early school leavers. The study highlights many new findings relating to early school leaving. The report deals with four aspects of early school leaving: (1) The Profile of Early School Leavers, (2) School Organisation and Process, (3) Insights into Decision Making, and (4) Post-school pathways. Results include: On the Profile of Early School Leavers:

  • Every year, around 9,000 young people leave school before taking the Leaving Certificate. The proportion of young people staying on in school has remained relatively stable since the mid 1990s.
  • Early leaving rates differ markedly by social class background, with much higher levels among young people from working-class and unemployed households. Working-class young men are particularly likely to leave school early. Disengagement from school is therefore a significant source of inequality in Irish society.
  • Early school leaving has its roots in early experiences of educational failure and struggle with schoolwork, often as far back as primary level.
  • Drop-out rates tend to be higher in schools with a concentration of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

On School Organisation and Process:

  • Drop-out rates vary considerably across individual schools, even taking into account differences in their student profiles.
  • Ability grouping (allocating students to base classes according to their academic ability) has a significant effect on school drop-out. Students allocated to lower stream classes experience a climate of low expectations and negative student-teacher interaction, and are much more likely to leave school early.
  • The school climate, that is, the quality of relations between teachers and students, emerges as a key factor in young people staying in education. Negative interaction with teachers is commonly reported by early school leavers, with many feeling they did not receive the help they needed or were not listened to.
  • In some cases, school disciplinary procedures, such as suspension or expulsion, can trigger early school leaving.
  • Poor interaction with peers, through being isolated or bullied, also contributes to early school leaving.

On Insights into Decision Making:

  • Early school leaving is generally the culmination of a longer-term gradual withdrawal from school, marked by non-attendance and truancy.
  • High-impact personal issues, such as bereavement, may trigger early school leaving, reflecting the complexity of the circumstances faced by some young people.
  • Job opportunities may precipitate early school leaving but only where young people are already disaffected with school.

On Post-School Pathways:

  • Most early leavers experience unemployment at some point after leaving school. Where they obtain jobs, they tend to be insecure and/or in low-skilled areas. They are therefore particularly vulnerable to the current economic conditions.
  • Early school leavers rely heavily on personal networks to obtain apprenticeships and jobs.
  • Young people regret having left school early because they see their lack of qualifications as a barrier to employment or further education/training. However, they generally see 'no way back' to second-level education to improve their prospects.

No Way Back? contains many more insights into the processes shaping early school leaving. The authors highlight issues for policy development with regard to early school leaving. In particular, they suggest that a positive school climate, more active teaching methods and flexible ability grouping would help to engage young people with learning and encourage them to complete second level education. The report also points to the importance of providing clear pathways back into education and training for early school leavers.

Note to Editors: 1. No Way Back? The Dynamics of Early School Leaving, by Delma Byrne and Emer Smyth (ESRI), is a joint publication of the ESRI, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), and the Department of Education and Science (DES). The study was funded by the NCCA and the DES. 2. The report is published on the ESRI website at 00.01 a.m. Thursday 15th April.

Link to publication details