(Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools)
Work began in 2007 on an independent evaluation of the SSP (School Support Programme) component of DEIS in primary and post-primary schools. Since then, the evaluation has been monitoring implementation of the programme and assessing its impact on participants.
Monitoring achievement and other pupil outcomes during the periods 2006/07 and 2015/16 has been a key feature of the evaluation at primary level. In 2007, pupils took tests in English reading and mathematics and completed a questionnaire about their attitudes to school and leisure pursuits. Their parents and teachers were also asked to complete brief questionnaires. In schools in the urban dimension of the SSP, pupils in Second, Third and Sixth classes were involved and in the rural dimension of the SSP, Third and Sixth class pupils were involved. Testing was repeated in the same schools and with many of the same pupils in the spring of 2010. At this point, Fifth class pupils were added to the testing programme, the purpose of which was to provide a second cohort of pupils for longitudinal study in the 3-year testing cycle (i.e., 2nd to 5th class). Outcome data showed that pupil achievement in urban schools had increased significantly between 2007 and 2010 in both reading and mathematics at all grade levels (Weir & Archer, 2011). Testing was repeated in the sample of urban schools in May 2013, and this revealed that the gains made between 2007 and 2010 had not only been maintained but have been built upon. A report describing cross-sectional and longitudinal changes in pupils achievement was published in late 2013 (Weir & Denner, 2013).
A fourth round of testing took place May 2016 in urban schools and a report on the outcomes of that exercise will be available in due course. Investigating the nature of disadvantage in rural areas represents an ongoing aspect of the Centre’s programme of work.
Accounts of the evaluation in rural schools, and characteristics of disadvantage in rural areas, are also available (Weir & McAvinue, 2013; Weir, Errity & McAvinue, 2015). The evaluation in rural schools revealed qualitative and quantitative differences in educational disadvantage in urban and rural areas, and pointed to a much stronger relationship between poverty and educational outcomes in urban DEIS schools than in rural ones.
Implementation studies have been a key feature of the evaluation since the outset. Weir and Archer (2011) noted high levels of programme implementation in general in participating schools. This was particularly true in the case of school planning for DEIS. Engagement with planning and target setting required in key areas (e.g., in relation to pupil achievement and parent involvement) was found to be very high among participating schools. In another implementation study, Weir and McAvinue (2012) noted that the programme had largely had the expected effects on class size in schools participating in the urban dimension of the programme. Analyses of more recent class size data in urban DEIS schools have also been completed (Kelleher & Weir, 2017).
At second level, in 2007/08, all participating schools were asked to facilitate a questionnaire survey of all students in First year and Third year. The questionnaire covered a number of issues, including students’ experience of transition from primary to post-primary school, their attitudes to school, their leisure activities, and their educational aspirations. Students’ responses revealed that, in general, they held very positive attitudes to school, although a minority of ‘disaffected’ students was identified.
In 2012/13, all of the 195 second-level schools in the SSP were visited and interviews were conducted with principals. The visits also facilitated the administration of a questionnaire concerned with implementation issues including planning. Interview and questionnaire data, along with feedback provided by those that visited schools, formed the basis of an evaluation report on implementation at second level (Weir, McAvinue, Moran & O’Flaherty, 2014). That report also described socioeconomic and educational trends using data provided by the DES and the State Examinations Commission (e.g., Junior Cycle retention rates and Junior Certificate Examination performance) in SSP and non-SSP schools since the programme began. Analyses of trend data in educational outcomes for more recent years confirmed the earlier findings (McAvinue & Weir, 2015). As with primary schools in the programme, the ongoing evaluation will involve continued monitoring of implementation and outcomes in participating post-primary schools.