Date of Award


Document Type

Master Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (Research)


Applied Social Studies

First Advisor

Prof Margaret Linehan

Second Advisor

Dr Judith Butler


Educational disadvantage continues to be a cause for concern, and addressing it remains at the forefront of education policy in Ireland (Houses of Oireachtas, 2019; Weir et al., 2017). This research extended across the academic years 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 and during the period of the global COVID-19 pandemic, which imposed public health measures, and enforced an emergency online digital learning environment. A socio-economic profile of Ireland’s student body registered an attainment gap between rich and poor, finding that young people from backgrounds of disadvantage continue to be underrepresented at third-level when compared to their middle-class counterparts (HEA, 2020). The primary aim of this research is to investigate the choices and routes taken by sixth-year students after completing their Leaving Certificate, and what lies in front of them. A range of potentially influencing factors was investigated, including socio-economic background of the student, familial culture and value of education, and type of school a student attends accompanied by its culture of learning and expectation of student achievement. A qualitative methodological approach was implemented through the use of in-depth interviews that sought to ascertain the unique viewpoints of twelve professional educators, across three differing demographic school types: non-DEIS community colleges, DEIS schools, and fee-paying schools. Thematic analysis was applied to these findings. The findings suggest a myriad of barriers that can impact on a student’s overall educational experience and may deter students from lower socio-economic backgrounds from progressing to third-level. A significant finding of this research is that the premise of equality of education opportunity for every young person, regardless of their background of origin is not being realised. Through inclusion in the scheme, DEIS schools receive a range of targeted interventions. This research has found these additional resources are inadequate to mitigate for the concentrated levels of disadvantage, experienced by those students attending DEIS schools. Additionally, non-DEIS schools receive no such targeted interventions to support their students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This is expressed at policy level by the lack of fairness within an education system that neither recognises nor responds to the fundamental, deep-seated relationship with broader economic inequalities, across Irish society (Fleming and Harford, 2021). Arising from this current research, recommendations for policy and practice are suggested, including the need for DEIS to be individualised, person-specific and therefore inclusive. Furthermore, this study finds that Home School Community Liaison (HSCL) should be fully funded by the Department of Education and Skills (DES) and available in every school regardless of the socio-economic demographic of the school.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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