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Home, school and wellbeing in DEIS and non-DEIS schools

'Beyond Achievement: Home, school and wellbeing findings from PISA 2018 for students in DEIS and non-DEIS schools' is the latest report from the Educational Research centre examining the home ‎and school learning environments of 15-year olds in DEIS and non-DEIS schools.  The report provides a detailed examination of the home and backgrounds of students in DEIS and non-DEIS schools and examines broader issues including wellbeing, the value that students place on education, their motivation, and aspirations for future learning and employment.

Main findings on student home background:

  • Students in DEIS schools had access to fewer books at home than students in non-DEIS schools.
  • Almost all students in DEIS and non-DEIS schools reported having their own smartphone (DEIS 92%; non-DEIS 94%) and about three-quarters had their own laptop or tablet (DEIS 77%; non-DEIS 74%).
  • Students in DEIS schools scored significantly lower than their peers in non-DEIS schools in terms of home possessions, home educational resources, cultural possessions and family wealth.
  • Less than one-third of students in DEIS school had at least one parent with a university degree compares with over half of students in non-DEIS schools.
  • Two-fifths of students in DEIS schools had Economic, Social and Cultural Status (ESCS) scores in the lowest quartile nationally compared with one-fifth of students in non-DEIS schools.

Main findings on parental involvement in education:

  • Over 90 per cent of parents of students in both DEIS and non-DEIS schools indicated that ‘important’ or ‘very important’ criteria in choosing a school were: a safe school environment; a good reputation; students doing well academically; and, an active and pleasant school climate.
  • Over half of students in DEIS schools, compared to two-fifths in non-DEIS schools, had parents who reported that low costs were ‘important’ or ‘very important’ factors in selecting a school. Parents of 43% of students in DEIS schools and 28% in non-DEIS schools, selected as an ‘important’ or ‘very important’ factor the availability of financial aid (such as a school loan, scholarship or grant).
  • Attendance at parent-teacher meetings was reported by parents in Ireland to be high, with parents of 86% of students in DEIS schools and 88% in non-DEIS schools indicating attendance. 
  • Three-quarters of students in non-DEIS schools, compared to just over half of students in DEIS schools, had parents who expect them to complete a university degree
  • Compared to students in non-DEIS schools, students in DEIS schools had a statistically significantly lower score on the index of parental support for learning at home.

Main findings on school diversity, practices, resources and climate:

  • According to principal reports, almost a quarter of students in DEIS schools (one-seventh in non-DEIS schools) had special educational needs.
  • Three-fifths of students in DEIS schools (one-fifth in non-DEIS schools) were reported by principals to come from socio-economically disadvantaged homes.
  • The average size of Third year English classes was significantly smaller in DEIS schools than in non-DEIS schools. While DEIS schools had an average of just over 22 students per English class, non-DEIS schools had almost 25 students per class. The average enrolment size of DEIS schools (492 students) was also significantly lower than that of non-DEIS schools (676 students) and the student-teacher ratio in DEIS schools (10.6) was significantly lower than in non-DEIS schools (13.5).
  • Ability grouping into different classes for some subjects was much more common in Ireland than on average across the OECD, with over 90% of students experiencing this in DEIS and non-DEIS schools (compared to 35% on average across the OECD).
  • Over three-quarters of students in DEIS schools (compared to half in non-DEIS schools and over one-third on average across the OECD) had principals who reported that unauthorised student absence hindered learning.

Main findings on student wellbeing and aspirations

  • There was no significant difference between students in DEIS and non-DEIS schools in terms of experiencing bullying, with about one-in-six students in Ireland reported that other students had made fun of them a few times a month (or more frequently) in the previous 12 months.
  • Students’ perceptions of the value of schooling was significantly lower in DEIS schools than in non-DEIS schools.
  • Students in DEIS schools reported a higher level of engagement in activities designed to prepare for future career or work such as work experience placements; job shadowing/work place visits and speaking to a guidance counsellor.
  • A substantially higher percentage of students in non-DEIS schools (62%) than DEIS schools (45%) indicated that they expect to attain a qualification at degree-level.
  • Students in non-DEIS schools were more likely to indicate that they expect to take higher level for Maths (59%; DEIS 39%); Irish (55%; DEIS 40%); and English (87%; DEIS 67%). There was a similar pattern for Biology/agricultural science and other science subjects.
  • At least 70 per cent of students in DEIS and non-DEIS schools indicated that important factors influencing their decision-making about future careers were: the school subjects they were good at, their school grades, employment opportunities, expected salary of the future occupation, and their own interests.

Main findings on key strengths and challenges in DEIS context:

  • Parents in DEIS schools held more positive perceptions of home-school communication; parental involvement opportunities; and the provision of parent education and supports than parents in non-DEIS schools.
  • Students in both DEIS and non-DEIS schools are reported to have access to a wide range of extra-curricular activities and over half of students in DEIS schools were reported to have opportunities to engage in volunteering or service activities and half of DEIS students had principals who reported collaborations with local libraries.
  • There were no significant differences in wellbeing scores between students in DEIS and non-DEIS schools.
  • Less than one-third of students in DEIS schools have a parent with a university-level qualification and less than half of students in DEIS schools expected to complete a university-level qualification and the perception that university is not a viable or realistic option remains a key challenge for DEIS schools.
  • Despite very high levels of technology ownership in students’ homes, 13% of students in DEIS schools indicated that they did not have a quiet place to study. A similar percentage (17%) did not have a desk for study at home while nearly one-fifth (19%) reported that they did not have a computer to use for schoolwork at home.
  • The percentage of students reported by principals to have Special Educational Needs in DEIS schools (23%) was significantly higher than in non-DEIS schools (14%). It is likely a substantial challenge for teachers in DEIS schools to adequately cater for the diverse needs of the student population.
  • Over half of students in DEIS schools (55%) had principals who indicated that a lack of teaching staff impacted on the school’s capacity to provide teaching while principals of one-quarter of students in DEIS schools (24%) identified as a hindrance the issue of inadequate or poorly qualified teaching staff. Principals of nearly one-third of students in DEIS schools (30%) indicated that teacher absenteeism represented a problem. These findings suggest that teacher retention and wellbeing may represent particular challenges in DEIS schools. This merits a considered policy response, since teacher retention and wellbeing may have a significant impact on the quality of teaching and learning as well as on the teachers themselves.
  • Principals indicated that several student behaviours had a negative impact on teaching and learning in the school. Given the central importance of second-level education in providing future opportunities for study and work, it is undoubtedly an important challenge for DEIS schools if students are absent or present but not fully able to engage in their learning.
  • Students in DEIS schools had a significantly lower mean score on an index measuring students’ attitudes towards the value of schooling.

Implications for research, policy and practice

  • One-in-eight students in DEIS schools do not have a quiet place to study at home and one-in-five does not have a computer for study at home, underlining the importance of ongoing school-based support for study outside of school hours.
  • Lower rates of parental participation in university combined with lower expectations regarding progression to university amongst DEIS students themselves underscore the continued importance of university-access programmes, school-based career guidance, and opportunities for student work-placements with exposure to graduate roles. It is important for all teachers to act as role models and to create a school culture of high expectations. In creating a culture of high expectations, there is a need to support boys in particular to recognise the importance of education and the value of qualifications for future life opportunities.
  • Findings regarding the prevalence of special educational needs in DEIS post-primary schools lend further support to the continued inclusion of an indicator of socio-economic disadvantage in the Resource Allocation model for Special Education Teachers.
  • There is an ongoing need for schools to focus on subject take-up at higher level in DEIS schools and to monitor take-up of higher-level subjects in DEIS and non-DEIS schools.

Social Justice Ireland supports the provision of extra resources to DEIS schools to ensure that all students, but particularly those in disadvantaged areas, have equality of opportunity once they complete their second level education.  Welcome progress has been made at primary and post primary level in terms of closing the achievement and attainment gaps between DEIS and non-DEIS schools.  However significant gaps still exist – many of which have their bass in income inequality, and this is a cause for concern.  The findings of this latest research should inform policy in relation to education disadvantage.
Download the ERC Report here.