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Neighborhood effects on early school leaving in Ireland

Final Activity Report Summary - NEESLI (Neighborhood Effects on Early School Leaving In Ireland)

Few events in the adolescent life course determine subsequent social and economic opportunities more than receiving a quality education. On average, students with higher levels of education have more prospects for employment and earnings later in life. In addition to the economic benefits, higher levels of education are associated with greater social and cultural tolerance, which are important factors in developing and maintaining an integrated society. The importance of education for personal success and social inclusion is well understood in Irish education policy and is reflected in the large body of educational research that exists.

This research project built on existing research and was particularly concerned with understanding how the overlapping contexts of home, school and neighbourhood influence the educational opportunities of young people. Specifically, it focused on the educational outcomes and experiences of migrant and non-migrant youth attending school in Galway city and its rural hinterland. A large scale survey of over 500 post-Junior Certificate students and their parents was conducted to gather information on family, school and neighbourhood environments. This information was used to examine disparities in access, achievement and aspirations among migrant and non-migrant youth.

While analysis of the data is on-going, three important findings have emerged. First, it is clear that there are differences in educational achievement between migrant and non-migrant youth, as evidenced by clear disparities in Junior Certificate examination results. Second, these disparities are directly related to issues of student access, both in terms of the schools which migrants and non-migrants attend and possible streaming of migrant and non-migrant students within schools. Third, the achievement gap as measured by examination performance is not related to differences between migrant and non-migrant youth with regard to their level of participation and motivation (e.g. school attendance, homework completion) or their aspirations with regard to the pursuit of third level education in the future. This achievement gap and initial findings suggesting barriers to migrant achievement is all the more worrisome given the direct impact student performance in the Junior Certificate examination has for Senior cycle opportunities and thus post-second level pathways.

While the home and school environment are clearly important in explaining educational achievement, the role of the neighbourhood is less clear-cut. Given the large body of international research outlining the detrimental impact of neighbourhood poverty and deprivation on a range of social outcomes, it was expected that a similar relationship would emerge in this research. Analysis so far suggests that there are some differences in terms of urban versus rural neighbourhoods, with the latter providing a buffer for schools against early school leaving. However, the mechanisms through which the neighbourhood directly influences individual educational achievement and aspirations need to be examined more closely before any conclusive statements can be drawn.

Overall, this research has provided important insights with regard to the educational experiences of migrant and non-migrant youth. Given the current economic downturn in Ireland and internationally, the importance of securing higher level educational qualifications to enable access to and full participation in the labour market cannot be over-stressed. This is important for both the individual and society as a whole, since non-participation in the formal labour market is related to poverty, deprivation and social exclusion more broadly. Ensuring that the current generation of migrant youth living in Ireland have the means to achieve their educational aspirations is an important step towards ensuring their full integration and citizenship in Irish society.