Fleming, Dr Ted and Murphy, Dr Mark
SQUARING THE CIRCLE: An analysis of programmes in Dublin schools to prevent early school leaving.
With recommendations for
effective best practice.
Dublin Employment Pact.
THE DUBLIN EMPLOYMENT PACT represents a very broad range of interests across
the Dublin Region. Its aim is to promote practical solutions and recommendations
regarding unemployment (particularly long-term unemployment), future sustainable
employment policy and the economic growth and development of the Dublin Region.
The Pact recognises the key role of educational disadvantage in the continuing problems of
long-term unemployment, social exclusion and skills deficits in the labour force in Dublin.
The Focus Group on Youth Employment and Education established by the Pact decided that
there was a critical need for an in-depth examination of the wide range of interventions and
pilot projects implemented in Dublin to tackle early school-leaving. Such a study needed to
establish the nature, aims and achievements of these diverse interventions and establish clear
and coherent parameters for future policy development in this area.
Disadvantaged communities in Dublin in particular have been affected by very high rates of
early school-leaving, which is known to be a key adverse factor in the life chances of young
people. Tackling this issue is now a major priority of government policy, which includes
ambitious national targets for increased retention rates at school. A very large range of quality
interventions have been developed and tried, both by the Department of Education and
Science and also by youth organisations, schools, other statutory and voluntary agencies and
Partnership companies at the local level. Many of these, however, have remained as local
pilots, sometimes even in competition for funding. The very diversity, range and uneven
spread of these interventions has possibly prevented a coherent overview of their individual
and combined effect.
The Pact therefore commissioned Dr Ted Fleming and Dr Mark Murphy of the National
University of Ireland, Maynooth, to examine the nature and structure of the diverse
preventative education projects in Dublin and to produce recommendations towards
establishing models of best practice.
Based on a detailed examination of existing reports and evaluations, the study establishes
that interventions tend to be based on one or more of a range of specific assumptions, viz.
that the cause of early school leaving lies primarily with either the individual, the parents, the
local community, the school or with society. The underlying assumption of a given
intervention necessarily influences the intervention. Where the individual child is the focus,
programmes will be aimed at enhancing social skills and developing self-esteem. Where the
school is the focus, programmes will tend to concentrate on resources, training and syllabus,
and where the family is the focus, programmes will concentrate on homework facilities,
breakfast provision and parent support.
The researchers introduce the concept of the overall âcapital contextâ of early school-leaving,
involving personal, social, cultural and economic factors. Each type of capital plays a role in
deciding whether or not a child stays on at school. They stress that all of these capital
elements must be included in any interventionist programme and to omit any one of them
fragments and reduces the effectiveness of the response.
The researchers further suggest that, given the strong correlation between socio-economic
background and early school leaving, policy must be directed as much towards inequalities in
society as towards schools, districts, parents and pupils. In tackling educational disadvantage
it is essential that a level playing field be established with access by all children to the key forms of capital.
In proposing a model of best practice applicable to all programmes of intervention, they
categorise the main components of an integrated response. This must include both adequate
human and material resources as well as close attention to how projects are organised
internally and externally â i.e. including the involvement of parents, students and the
The study concludes with a range of recommendations regarding this model of best practice
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