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Number of sixth year students studying a foreign language falls as STEM gender gap persists

A report has found that “strong differences can be seen in the percentages of girls and boys when it comes to STEM, particularly when biology is excluded”.

FOREIGN LANGUAGE STUDY among Leaving Certificate students has slowed over the last five years, with the percentage of sixth years studying at least one foreign language falling for both girls and boys.

As of the start of the 2019/2020 academic year, 67% of sixth year boys and 84.6% of sixth year girls did at least one foreign language, compared to 72.2% and 87.1% at the start of the 2015/2016 academic year.

However, the percentage of Leaving Certificate students taking a foreign language other than French has grown from 37.5% in 2015 to 45.5% in September 2019.

These languages include German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Japanese and Arabic.
74.4% of post-primary schools offer at least two foreign languages, an increase from 71.4% in 2015.

The figures have been released in a report from the Department of Education on Education Indicators for Ireland, which look at education from early childhood to third level.

The report found that “strong differences can be seen in the percentages of girls and boys when it comes to STEM, particularly when biology is excluded”.
90.2% of sixth year boys and 85.7% of sixth year girls took one or more of the following STEM subjects in 2019/2020:

  • agricultural science
  • applied mathematics
  • biology
  • chemistry
  • physics
  • physics and chemistry
  • engineering
  • construction studies
  • design and communication graphics
  • technology

However, if biology is from that list, only 41.6% of sixth year girls took one or more of the subjects, compared to 72.5% of boys. 

In 2019/2020, 70% of fifth and sixth year students studied the Leaving Certificate, 25% opted for the Leaving Certificate Vocational, and 5.1% of students chose the Leaving Certificate Applied.

The number of students who opted to repeat the Leaving Certificate has steadily dropped over the last five years, from 1,658 in 2015 to just 655 in the last academic year.

Uptake of Transition Year has risen each year, with 48,268 students taking the programme in 2019 – 74% of the year group.

There were 2,823 early school leavers in 2019 who started fifth year but did not sit the Leaving Certificate, and a 9.3% gap in the retention rate between DEIS and non-DEIS post-primary schools.

The proportion of primary and secondary students in Catholic ethos schools has remained high but has continued to slightly decline – from 91.3% in 2015 to 90% last year of primary students and from 52.9% to 50.5% of secondary students over the same period.

The number of students who engaged directly with the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) fell to 7,392 in the last academic year from 8,561 in the previous year, which has been attributed to the impact of Covid-19.

Meanwhile, the number of days NEPS psychologists dedicated to support and development activities in schools rose from 5,285 to 6,260.

The report outlines that the “fall in casework and consequential increase in support and development work often delivered remotely reflects the impact of Covid-19 on the ability to provide such direct services to the pupils as a result of temporary school closures”.

The average number of students per teacher is primary schools in 2019 was 150, while average primary class sizes was 24.1.

In post-primary schools, the average students per teacher in 2019 was 12.8.

Higher education

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris said that there has been a “big jump in the number of people studying in a part-time or flexible way, including remote learning, and this was before the pandemic struck”. 

“I hope that we will retain this flexibility into the future, allowing people to learn in the right place for them and at the right time,” Harris said.

The number of part-time students rose from 37,249 in 2015 to 43,029 in 2018, and the number of students studying remotely increased from 6,015 in 2015 to 92017 in 2018.

The number of people registered on apprenticeships in September was 17,829, compared to 8,317 in 2015.

71,347 students in higher education received support through a grant in 2019, a fall from more than 80,000 in 2015.

Further data on indicators in higher education for the 2019/2020 academic year is to be released in the first three months of 2021.

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