The postal code qualification

The President of Arizona State University, Michael Crow, has said on a number of occasions that the most reliable predictor of higher education performance for any person is available from the moment they are born: the zip code (US postal code). Where you are born and where your family lives will, more than anything else, affect the level of your educational ambitions, and will be decisive in determining whether you will go to university. The same is true in Ireland, and as politicians keep indicating that Ireland is to get postal codes shortly we will shortly be able to use these also to predict educational outcomes.

Yesterday the Irish Times published its list of university feeder schools, and this once again demonstrates that schools in affluent areas (often in South Dublin) send the largest number of students to the country’s universities. But beyond that, the Irish Times has produced a separate list that shows that private (fee-paying) schools dominate student entry to those programmes with the highest points and the greatest social cachet and income potential. These are the programmes that demonstrate more than anything else that free fees have not in any serious way affected the tendency of higher education to cement class divisions, and that they have not helped to end social disadvantage in higher education.

As a country, we are well aware of the educational inequality that we have been maintaining, but the only major measure we have taken to address it has actually had a disproportionate impact in supporting wealthier families and has done very little to combat disadvantage. We really should not go on like this.

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16 Comments on “The postal code qualification”

  1. Vincent Says:

    Why cannot I view a list of each and every school with the intake to University & IT’s sub-divided by course. And I do not care one hoot if the teaching unions has some sort of issue with these stats.
    Further, it’s about time that there was a sort of means test for the schools. For this is another universal benefit that’s bordering on the outright insane.

  2. Ernie Ball Says:

    In the US, zip codes are an accurate predictor because public schools are, as a rule, funded by local property taxes. The richer the community, the more revenue raised, the higher the education budget.

  3. copernicus Says:

    “free fees have not in any serious way affected the tendency of higher education to cement class divisions, and that they have not helped to end social disadvantage in higher education.”

    As a school governor of two low performing secondary schools in London for a few years, my experience was that the students in these schools are happy to get C and D grades in GCSE and and very few went to A levels, and when they did ended up with fails or very poor grades. When I was the chair of governor’s curriculum committee, teachers resented me saying to them that they should encourage these youngsters to have ambitions to go to universities, which means encourage them to work hard and get better grades than Cs and Ds, they were getting. Indeeed, only 5% of students in these schools went to universities, which are not Russell Group. There was no university fee, then. The Brown govt introduced some sort of social engineering so that students were positively discriminated giving the reason of access including admission to medical schools with their B and C grades , but most of them failed or dropped out. In England, most comprehensive schools are very poorly performing with plenty of bad teachers. It is said in the past 40 years only 40 bad teachers are removed. The unions say there are no bad teachers!!.In my opnion, there are over 50% of them. Scramble for post codes and moving houses near better schools and paying for private education by taking extortionist loans are some the solutions by the parents interested in sending their kids to good universities. The govt has also tried paying students from disadvantaged background incentives like £30-50 per week as a support if they stay in A levels. Most of these students spent them in drinks and drugs, and they were often hauled up in front of our governors’ committees. As there is no upfront payment of fee is involved, and the loans are often given as grants to them, there is no excuse here. But the only excuse is very often parents, bad teachers, and the students’ attitude.

  4. iainmacl Says:

    reform of education at secondary level is crucial in Ireland. Since my children started secondary school all effort by teachers has been directed towards junior cert and leaving cert exams….so much for the joy of learning…the sheer volume of material covered is staggering and i evidenced by the weight of the schoolbag!

  5. Gary Dubh Says:

    Ireland has a Digital Address Code – a Smarter Form of Postcode – already.. its is called a Loc8 Code and is already being used in Ireland and is available on all popular Garmin SatNavs purchased throughout Europe.

    It is better than a postcode as it is capable of applying a unique code to every property rather than just groups of poperties.

    Full details at

    • Gary, it’s better than a postcode for GPS satnavs, but not for the post, where the purpose is to sort mail into districts rather than individual properties…

      • Gary Delaney Says:

        Don’t need a postcode to sort mail into districts – that’s a 1950’s solution – keep pushing the mail along until someone knows where to deliver it to – that’s a bit old (postman’s)hat don’t you think!!!
        An Post in Ireland does not need that type of solution anymore – there are other modern technologies for that purpose now-a-days;- a bit like using a fire to boil a kettle really!

        However, any final destination can fit into any area you want – points and polygons – basic GIS – don’t need Area based postcodes. Once you know the exact destination – then organise into your own organisational areas – these will be different for Sat TV installers, as opposed to Couriers, as opposed to Fastfood outlets as opposed to service engineers or as opposed to careworkers;- all of which have a greater need than postmen – not to mention motorists, tourists, pedestrians etc etc.
        A tourist does not need to be brought to the Dublin Mail Centre to be organised into a group and be taken in a truck to a Hotel in Swords! – this is what you are suggesting though. An if you feel like you want to reply that “postcodes are for sorting mail” – they were in the 60’s and 70’s but not anymore and Ireland can take the benefit of starting late in this respect!

        So – postcodes for sorting mail ! – not required – digital address codes for positively identifying exact delivery points/destinations (as well as non properties) on Satnavs, iPhones, Mobile devices,GIS, route optimisation software – these are modern requirements!

        Anyhow a Loc8 Code is concatenated and consists of a Zone, a Locality as well as the exact destination – take your pick of the area you want!!!

        For evaluating University entry – pick any polygon you wish to test again – Atomic Small Areas were build by NUI Maynooth and OSI for that purpose – every Loc8 Code can be associated with one of the 18,000 Atomic Small Areas;- that’s what the CSO will be doing for the census in 2011 – no postcodes required there!

        All explained here:

  6. Aidan Says:

    Is the issue the postal code of the school or that of the parents? Dublin is a bit unusual in the sense that many rich suburbs are not far away from poorer areas. What about setting it up so that a mandatory percentage of the intake into the elite schools has to come from poorer areas (along the lines of some of the US positive discrmination practices.
    My belief is that children whose parents are well educated will generally do well whatever school they go to. If anything going to a normal school might help stimulate their creativity. There is more to life than being a doctor/dentist/lawyer/politician.

    • Perry Share Says:

      It is strange that those vociferously calling for the return/application of fees to tertiary education have not paid attention to the large state subsidy given to socially exclusive elite schools, including those listed in the Irish Times tables.

      These schools obtain state funding, so that they have the ability to use the fees parents pay to provide smaller classes, extra-curricular facilities that build social and cultural capital (like debating, school trips abroad) and grind classes.

      As long as ‘private’ schools are state subsidised (as is ‘private’ healthcare) the structural inequalities in education will never be addressed.

      Bringing in third level fees, while it may give a cash boost to Universities and Institutes, will not do an iota to address inequality at second level.

      • Jilly Says:

        To be fair, Perry, some of us (quite aside from the 3rd level fees debate one way or another) have been calling attention to this for a long time.

        Anyone who works in 3rd level education could not fail to be conscious of the fact that our students are 18 by the time we first get to them, with 12+ years of formative education behind them: it is quite impossible for us to remedy, in 3-4 years, the structural inequalities which those students have experienced in the previous 12 years. The primary and secondary school systems in this country need to be razed and begun again. Sadly if not surprisingly there appears to be zero political or popular will for this.

        • Jilly, I absolutely agree with your conclusion. One of our education system’s chief handicaps is that for so long so many thought it was excellent, when it had long ceased to be that. A new start is needed.

        • Perry Share Says:

          I don’t know if primary education can be tarred with the same brush. My impression (albeit based on very little direct evidence!) is that it is relatively student-centred, active, creative and progressive. The big problem is at second level where rote learning is increasingly the order of the day. If we could recruit students direct from primary into third level . . .

  7. Justin King Says:

    This amazingly interesting but let’s not forget that it’s a correlation, not a causation.

    Underlaying factors are the true root of the issue at hand, as many of you are pointing out.

  8. Myles Says:

    Shock as inequality in society linked to educational disadvantage 🙂

    Another clear example of why the Irish tax system needs major reform. If a segment of society could afford to pay tuition fees, they could equally afford to pay a higher level of taxation to fund third level and other services which can help to lessen the effects of class inequality in wider society.

  9. If all public servants had their income capped at €100k, would the children of public servants be required to pay fees under Fredinand’s reintroduction proposal?

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