Address to the ESRI “Leaving School in Ireland” Conference


6th November, 2014

Check against delivery

·     Good morning ladies and gentlemen, it is a great pleasure for me to welcome you all to this Conference here in the ESRI today.

·     My thanks to Donnacha Ó Súilleabháin, ESRI for the kind invitation.

·     The themes that you will explore this morning, relating to the various transitions when leaving school, are of vital importance if we are to ensure that our education system produces the best quality outcomes and experiences for our young people.

·     The Leaving School in Ireland study has offered a unique insight for us into the direct experiences of a cohort of school-leavers who moved through second level education during a period of economic prosperity but left school at the beginning of the deep recession from which we are now emerging.

·     It allows us to link their experiences in second level with outcomes later in their lives – in higher education, in further education and in the labour market.

·     We now have more information on the critical success factors for students throughout their second level experience.  We have evidence of what kind of school climate is optimal to ensure student engagement and achievement.

·     The study illustrates the high levels of student stress caused by state examinations and the huge pressure experienced by second level students in endeavouring to make the right choices in relation to continuing to further and higher education.

·     The rich seam of knowledge that we have been given through this longitudinal study is invaluable to policy makers and to practitioners alike.

·     As we make decisions about educational reform, we need high quality research to inform us.  Leaving School in Ireland allows us to hear the voices of our young people and to ascertain the impact that their educational environment has on the quality of their lives and their future choices.

·     The findings of this study confirm, that many students, parents and guardians struggle with the enormous complexity of choices that are open to young people today who wish to pursue further education and training after school, and that young people can come to regret the choices that they have made.

·     The findings affirm the rationale behind reform of the Transition from school into higher education that is being led by the Department of Education and Skills in response to widespread concern with regard to the pressures on young people at the interface between second and third level.

·     Under the Transition reform process being led by my Department, in co-operation with higher education institutions and other key state agencies, a range of measures have been agreed to improve the experience of students during this transition.

·     For the first time, we see the concerns around the high stakes nature of the points system and the leaving certificate being addressed in a coherent way across both second and third level.

·     I know that all partners have been working intensively in the Transition reform group and within their own sectors to achieve progress on a better learning experience for students as they move through all stages of their education.

·     One of the key commitments made by higher education institutions is to broaden the entry into higher education programmes.  This will reduce the number of entry routes into an institution while still allowing a diversity of choice for students as they move through their degree.

·     I feel very strongly, as many others in the education sector do, that relieving the pressure on second level students and helping them to make the best choices possible will be of enormous benefit not only to students but also to their families.

·     Working together we need to ensure that higher education is not viewed as a remote or intimidating experience by our young people.  All of our citizens deserve to have an equal chance to identify and access the type of education that best fits their needs.

·     The Transitions reform process has now reached a point where the analysis is giving rise to a number of concrete proposals for change.

·     Strong commitments, that were first signalled in the report “Supporting a Better Transition from Second Level to Higher Education: Key Directions and Next Steps”, have been made by both second and third level partners.

·     These are as follows:

•               A commitment to address any problematic predictability identified in an analysis of predictability in the Leaving Certificate examination.

•               A commitment to reduce the number of grading bands used in the Leaving Certificate examination.

•               A commitment to review and to significantly reduce the number of entry routes into honours degree programmes in the higher education sector.

·     These proposals and some other measures are being finalised and further details of a package of reform in this area will be announced in the coming months.

·     While it is extremely useful to have qualitative research to inform the development of new programmes and policies in education, it is of course of equal importance to be able to evaluate their effectiveness.

·     Here again, studies such as Leaving School in Ireland play a valuable role, allowing us to measure the impact of reforms on the experiences of our young people in the education system against our objectives.

·     I would like to thank the ESRI who have been leaders in Ireland in this kind of research.  I know that the work that they do will continue to contribute in a very positive way to our shared objective of ensuring that we have high quality educational opportunities for all.

·     I am pleased that this conference will allow full engagement with the findings of this research with a wide variety of stakeholders. I wish you every success with your deliberations and I look forward to hearing of the outcomes of your discussions in due course.

Thank you.

– See more at: