A critical examination of government policy addressing early school leaving

Morrissey, Seamus (2010). A critical examination of government policy addressing early school leaving. EdD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000ed68


The issue of early school leaving is currently viewed as a particular concern in Galway City, Ireland. Despite national policy and numerous programmes, early school leaving continues to be prevalent. The central focus of this study is to critically examine government policy addressing early school leaving. Through qualitative methodologies, primary data was collected from students, teachers, principals and education personnel. The student voice was viewed as a significant source of data within the study.

Thirty-two semi-structured interviews were completed; sixteen of which were with early school leavers. These early school leavers, defined as having left the school system prior to completing the Leaving Certificate, were aged between fourteen and twenty-one. Sixteen professionals, including teachers and principals, working with schools in Galway City were interviewed.

The study identifies disaffection and early school leaving as significant issues within the Irish education system. Disaffection, while complex, is identifiable among students through aggressive behaviour, disrupted attendance, poor relationships with teachers, lack of interest and non-engagement in academic processes. The research provides evidence that in some cases the education system, rather than alleviating disaffection, is actively perpetuating disaffection which contributes to early school leaving.

Furthermore, through the implementation of Grounded Theory, the contextual issues of socio-economic within families and communities emerged. The research established that current policy aimed at tackling early school leaving is working on the periphery of schools rather than affecting change within schools. The research also highlighted the existence of two original factors which are contributing to the issue of disaffection: 1) Tension among key constituents of the education system and 2) A 'culpability culture' among those who contribute to disaffection and the issue of early school leaving. Recommendations are outlined, including the need for a greater emphasis on inclusive policy and practice within the Irish education system.

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