Ireland – UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

ERI_logo_1Edmund Rice International

Briefing for the pre-sessional Working Group of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights review of


54th Session, Dec 2014



The Edmund Rice Network is a loosely affiliated grouping of Education Centres, Schools and non-profit organisations associated with the Christian Brothers and the Presentation Brothers around the world..

Our submission focuses on the education of children in our state and the failure of the State to cater adequately for a significant cohort of children who cannot function in the mainstream and to provide alternatives to the mainstream system.

Background and Framework

The Cork Life Centre is a voluntary organisation that offers a second chance at education to early-school leavers. Indeed the issue of early school leaving as being problematic in Ireland has been well established over the past two decades in reports and research as well as being linked with a range of negative future outcomes for children.[1] Despite a range of interventions to address school non-completion, approximately 14% of students (as of 2007) continue to leave school without completing their education every year[2]. The National Economic and Social Forum have stated that “Early School Leaving is among the most serious economic and social problems the state must address.”[3] It has remained a policy issue in the Irish context. In 2007 a Joint Oireachtas Committee on education and science was established and in 2008 the committee identified early school leaving as a priority issue.

The Cork Life Centre caters for children between the ages of 12-18 years who for various reasons have not thrived or coped in a mainstream educational setting. The Centre and its staff offer our students 1:1 tuition in the core Junior and Leaving Cert subjects and support them in their preparation for these State Exams. The approach to education is a holistic one and we value the social education of children as much as the academic. The centre endeavours to provide students with an open and accepting environment in which to encourage them to reach their full potential; to learn vital social and life skills; to develop positive trusting relationships with peers and staff; and to support them with issues and challenges they may face through the provision of counselling and through outreach work.

Yet the work of centre has yet to receive official recognition as an alternative educational setting and is funded minimally by the Department of Education and Skills.

Children’s Rights to Education

The focus of this submission by the Life Centre will be on Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, hereinafter the Covenant. Article 13 recognises “the right of everyone to education”[4] . In particular the Covenant states that “[s]econdary education in its different forms, including technical and vocational secondary education, shall be made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means…”[5] Additionally, Article 2 of the Covenant states that States Parties shall undertake “to take steps…to the maximum of its available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the rights recognized in the…Covenant”.[6]

The Irish State recognises the right to education in Article 42 of the Constitution, Bunreacht na hEireann and has legislated “to make provision…for the education of every person in the State, including any person with a disability or who has other special educational needs, and to provide generally for primary, post-primary, adult and continuing education…”[7] The Education (Welfare) Act, 2000 provides for the establishment of a National Educational Welfare Board[8], the functions of which includes ensuring “that each child attends a recognised school or otherwise receives a certain minimum education”[9]. As of January 2014 these functions were transferred to the Child & Family Agency under the Child and Family Agency Act 2013.[10]

We call on the State to clearly and unambiguously state how it intends to fulfil its responsibility under the United Nations Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to deliver an appropriate, accessible education for each and every child of the State. In particular we call on the State to explicitly set out how it intends to adequately address the problem of an education system that has failed to recognise and support the significant cohort of children that cannot function within a traditional educational framework.

While the measures taken by the State are welcome and necessary, there remains a significant cohort of children in Ireland that does not succeed within the existing educational system and which forms a group that is most easily identified as Early School Leavers.

Information and statistics concerning this cohort can be difficult to find and is not always consistent. The most recent report by the Department of Education – Early Leavers – What Next? [11] classifies children who were enrolled in a Department of Education-aided school during the 2009/2010 school year but who were not enrolled in such a school in the 2010/2011 school year as Early School Leavers. According to this report, the number of such children amounted to 7713, from a total of 257,060. Some of these children emigrated, moved to private educational institutions or to the Youthreach project but more than 1800 of them either entered the Social Welfare system or could not be traced.

The ESRI report No Way Back? The Dynamics of Early School Leaving defines Early School Leavers as “young people who leave school before the completion of senior cycle education”[12]. This report recognises that a “Leaving Certificate has become the minimum necessary qualification to attain a range of adult life chances”[13]. According to the authors, “almost 9000 young people every year” leave school with achieving a Leaving Certificate. This figure has remained fairly static since the mid 1990s, despite “the introduction of a range of interventions designed to counter educational disadvantage”.[14]

The State must be held accountable for its failure to adequately address the issue of Early School Leavers. On the one hand it convenes committees to identify “critical transition points in the education system…and how…these points [might] be strengthened in terms of continuity and consistency”[15] but on the other it fails to properly resource its agencies to gather key information on the subject.

At the Life Centre we see firsthand the evidence of the multi-faceted nature of the factors affecting children likely to become Early School Leavers and the impact on them of cuts to services.

The following information about our student-base, from the last academic year will clarify this: we facilitated forty students presenting with complex welfare needs – not just educational but also social and psychological – to continue to access education. Our offering is not limited to educational provision but includes a wraparound service encompassing support, outreach, advocacy and a relationship and referral network into other appropriate services where necessary.

While the profile of early school leavers in general and our young people in particular is diverse and multi-faceted the following background will highlight the socioeconomic status, social and personal issues and risk factors associated with the young people in our care. With a register of 40 students for the academic year 2013/2014, 70% of these young people are residing in what are known as RAPID Designated areas with particularly high numbers from certain well known areas of disadvantage. 24 of our students come from single or lone parent families; 5 of our present students are in the care of the state with a further 23 having been appointed social workers; 10 of our young people would be known to the gardai and/or courts with 5 presently having probation workers attached. 5 of our present students are engaged with autism services around the city and county and a further 19 students have been diagnosed with learning, psychological, behavioural or medical disorders including ADHD, ODD, OCD, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Anxiety and Depression, cystic fibrosis. Many of our students are currently accessing or have previously accessed the services of CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services). We also encounter the issue of suicide and self-harm and have 3 students attending Pieta House(Support Service for Suicide and Self-Harm)

It is clear that even among this small group of young people the factors influencing and affecting their capacity to achieve an appropriate education are incredibly broad and varied. However the State bears responsibility and the State must clearly set out what mechanisms it will put in place to support these young people and fulfil its obligation to each of them to provide an appropriate, accessible education.

We would like to ask: What steps is the State taking to identify those children at risk of becoming Early School Leavers and what measures, both preventative and corrective, are being implemented to minimise the number of children becoming Early School Leavers?

[1] Walsh 1996, O’Mahony 1997, Barnardos 2006;2009, Early-School Leavers Survey 2007, McGarr 2010, healy-Eames 2010, Byrne & Smyth 2010, Smyth & McCoy 2011, Mallon & Healy 2012

[2] Byrne & Smyth 2010

[3] Joint Committee on Education and Skills, First Report Staying in Education: A New Way Forward. School and Out-of-School Factors Protecting Against Early School Leaving May 2010 p35

[4] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Article 13.1

[5] Ibid, Article 13.2.b

[6] Ibid, Article 2.1

[7] Education Act, 1998 Long Title

[8] Education (Welfare) Act, 2000 Section 9

[9] Ibid Section 10 (1)

[10] Child and Family Agency Act, 2013 Section 72(2)

[11] Report on Early Leavers from Post-Primary schools – pupils enrolled in 2009/2010 and not in 2010/2011

[12] No Way Back? The Dynamics of Early School Leaving, Delma Byrne and Emer Smyth, ESRI p171

[13] Ibid

[14] Ibid

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