Ireland among best at reducing educational inequality in EU/OECD but fears children most in need being left behind – UNICEF Report Card

30th October 2018

Ireland among best at reducing educational inequality in EU/OECD but fears children most in need being left behind – UNICEF Report Card

Traveller children, children experiencing homelessness and immigrant children among groups lacking adequate supports

Peter Power, UNICEF Ireland’s Executive Director is available for interview.

DUBLIN / FLORENCE, 30 October 2018 – Ireland ranks 2nd of 41 wealthy nations in reducing education inequality between children, according to UNICEF’s latest Report Card.

Despite the positive findings, substantial gaps still exist between the best and worst performing students and there are concerns that vulnerable groups such as Traveller children, children experiencing homelessness and immigrant children are in danger of being left behind due to insufficient educational supports.

An Unfair Start: Inequality in Children’s Education in Rich Countries focuses on educational inequalities in 41 of the world’s richest countries, looking at two principle indicators of inequality, 1) the percentage of students enrolled in organised learning one year before the official age for entering primary school 2) the gap in reading scores between the lowest and highest-performing students in both primary school (fourth class, around age 10) and secondary school (age 15), using PIRLS and PISA results respectively. The ranking at age 15 is the lead indicator in the report as this represents the level of inequality towards the end of compulsory education. The report also explores in depth the relationships between educational inequality and factors such as parents’ occupations, the child’s gender and school characteristics.

The ranking results for Ireland show that inequality among children decreases as they move from early childhood education (33rd) to primary school (16th) and on to secondary school (2nd). However, with 1 in 10 students not reaching basic proficiency in reading by secondary school (age 15), a large minority are still falling through the gaps and not getting the resources they need.

UNICEF Ireland Chief Executive Peter Power said: “UNICEF’s latest Report Card shows that Ireland can lead the way when the right funding and polices are in place. This is to be celebrated. However, we are concerned that some of the children most in need, be they from vulnerable groups such as Traveller children, children experiencing homelessness or immigrant children, or those children living outside of the DEIS support system, are being left behind.

“In Ireland, around 86% of the inequality in reading scores is between children within schools, and only a small amount is between schools. This means that while our schools produce good results for the many, there are some children, and often those most in need, who are falling through the gaps. We need to ensure that every child has the right wrap around supports they need in school to achieve their highest potential.”

For many students, the report delivered positive findings for Ireland, with a clear improvement visible in terms of education inequality from early childhood education to secondary school.

Other significant findings for Ireland:

The report identifies several factors which drive educational inequality, globally and in Ireland:

Many voices not being heard

This Report Card has drawn on the best available data, yet it doesn’t capture the experiences of many children. These include children who are not in school, perhaps because they are in institutions, are home schooled, or have severe health problems or disabilities.

Global findings 


UNICEF’s Report Card suggests providing a fair start for all children today is essential for achieving both equality and sustainability, and that the problems are not inevitable but rather shaped by policy. Based on the results, UNICEF Ireland calls on policy makers, educators and government in Ireland to take action in following areas:


Download the full report:

About UNICEF Ireland

UNICEF is the United Nations’ organisation for children. UNICEF fights for children’s rights and promotes the well-being of every child, in everything we do. We work in 190 countries taking practical action to help all children, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable children. UNICEF has been in operation for 70 years. Follow us on TwitterFacebook or YouTube

About the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti

The Office of Research – Innocenti is UNICEF’s dedicated research centre. It undertakes research on emerging or current issues to inform the strategic directions, policies and programmes of UNICEF and its partners, shape global debates on child rights and development, and inform the global research and policy agenda for all children, particularly the most vulnerable.

Data sources:
Source: Sustainable Development Goals Indicators Global Database (UNESCO, OECD and EUROSTAT Surveys of Formal Education) (See except Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany and Slovakia (Age 5 enrolment in formal childcare, EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions 2015) and Canada (Indicator 4.2.2, 2015-16, Government of Canada Sustainable Development Goal Data Hub,

Primary school: Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2016, the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement. See

Secondary school (15-year olds): OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2015. See


For more information, please contact:

Danny Smits, | Tel: +353 1 878 3000 | Mob: +353 87 1308070

Help protect children
UNICEF | for every child

Stay informed

Add value to your inbox!
Sign up to keep up to date on what's going on around the world.