Barriers to education facing vulnerable groups March 2018

The following statement made by Professor Kathleen Lynch UCD Professor of Equality Studies
UCD School of Education at a presentation to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills
May 29th 2018


I will make the following points based on my written submission:
Barriers to education facing vulnerable groups March 2018
1. Note that the successes of Irish education are considerable. 

2. The Intersectionality of Inequalities for Vulnerable Groups

a. There is compelling national and international research evidence that economic
inequalities translate directly and indirectly into barriers to education for all
vulnerable groups, not just those on low incomes and/or the working-class-poor.
While children with disabilities, those from ethnic minority, lone parent or
immigrant backgrounds, Travellers, children in direct provision, and other vulnerable
groups, such as those who are gay or lesbian, all experience unique barriers to
education, in all cases those who are most adversely affected within these groups
are those from poor families.

3. As all forms of inequality are intersectionally related (see Table 1 Section 4.3 of submission),
we need to address inequalities and barriers for vulnerable groups at Macro, Meso and
Micro levels simultaneously. This means that addressing inequalities at national and regional
(macro) policy-levels, at school/college and local community (meso) levels and at micro
(family, household) levels.

4. As inequalities in education are directly link to vulnerabilities in other social institutions
education policy needs to be closely aligned with other social policies including housing,
health care, transport, taxation etc. if it is to succeed in addressing vulnerabilities

5. The equality principle governing Irish public policy, and particularly educational policy, is
that of equality of opportunity which is theoretically based on merit. The evidence does not
support this claim: major social and economic inequalities inevitably undermine all but the
thinnest forms of equality of opportunity in education because privileged parents will always
find ways of advantaging their children in an economically unequal society

6. Research evidence from the US that parental investment in children’s education outside of
school is now a major barrier to equality within education as it often exceeds state
investment per capita inside school. There is a need for a systematic review and regulation
of the private (for-profit) education market in Ireland at all levels of education.

7. The limits of Equality of Opportunity and the need for Equality of Condition in education
a. In educational terms, equalizing opportunity is about promoting fairness in the
competition for advantage. It implies that there will be winners and losers, people
who do well and people who do badly. An ‘opportunity’ in this context is the right to
compete, not the right to choose among alternatives of equal value. So two people,
or two different groups, can have formal equal opportunities in education even if
one of them has no real prospect of achieving anything of value.

b. The principle of equality of condition is rooted in changing and changeable social
structures and institutions that promote inequality although it accepts that such
structural and institutional changes are complex and take time. Without equalising
conditions between students, particularly equalising economic conditions, they
cannot participate equally in education. Gaeilge and Music are two examples of
leaving certificate subjects that rely heavily on out-of-school private capital

Founder of UCD School of Social Justice 2005 and UCD Equality Studies Centre