Sociology of Education

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With reference to your own critical understanding of primary education and what it means to be a teacher in Ireland, in 750 words, consider the DEIS strategy statement that ‘the pursuit of equity and equality as a social goal should form the basis of the role of the school and teaching profession’.  


When discussing equality and equality in education it is important to recognize that education and equality of education is a ‘fundamental human right’ (Baker et al, 2004, pg.141). Each child should be afforded the same opportunities in education; however, this does not always occur, due to the lack of equity in education.

How do we achieve equity in education? The OECD (2012) when explaining equity as fairness described it as “implying personal or socio-economic circumstances, such as gender, ethnic origin or family background are not obstacles to educational success”. Equity can be achieved when we account and cater to the barriers to education that some students may feel. 

Irish Education 

There have been attempts in the past in trying to make primary education more equal and equitable for all students. Programmes have been running in Ireland since the early 90s that have targeted support to children of disadvantaged areas. Smyth, McCoy, and Kingston, (2015) list the different programmes Ireland has had in the past to combat inequality and inequity in Irish education. Programmes such as the DAS (1984), HCSL (1994), Early Start Programme (1994), Breaking the Cycle (1996) and Giving Children an Even Break (GCEB. 2001) have all tried to breach the imbalance in Irish education by targeting areas which are designated at disadvantaged areas. Each has had its degree of success, but not enough to make a long-term effect on the inequality that exists in Irish education.

Studies have shown that lower economic status is linked with poorer literacy and numeracy skills. A study by Eivers, Shortt, and Shiel (2004) found that there is a long history of ‘children from poorer socio-economic areas and reading difficulties. This is also supported by numerous studies that have found there is a strong correlation between children attending disadvantaged schools and lower reading levels than that of children who are not attending designated schools ( Weir, Mills & Ryan 2002) cited by Eivers, Shortt, and Shiel(2004, pg.2). This supports the theory that while Irish Education has tried to provide the resources needed to offer certain students the equality to achieve a level playing field in terms of education, it has to this point not been a success, with numeracy and literacy proving to be major obstacles. 

Role of an Educator

The equality and equity children require for their education does not just revolve around throwing extra materials, teachers, and resources into a school and hoping that each child is then on the same level in terms of education. External factors can have a bearing on the outcome of a student’s education. Children look to adults for guidance and support. Watson, 2003 (cited by Gartrell, 2009, pg. 91) explains how a teacher can play a crucial role in a child’s development. Who are the key stakeholders in a child’s education and life? Two of those are teachers and the family network. These are the people a child has the most interaction with daily, they are the people that can help sculpt or guide the child into becoming the person they are. The evidence is there to support that teachers and parents have a large influence on the education of a child. This can be seen both positively but also occasionally negatively as when it is not done properly and left entirely to a teacher to try and offset the effects of social challenges in a disadvantaged area it can lead to negative effects on a child’s education. Archer and Weir (2005) cited by Downes and Gilligan (2007, pg. 7) found that lowering expectations of a teacher in a disadvantaged area can become an effect of attending a designated disadvantaged school.

 When discussing a student’s education The Department of Education and Science described how the growth of a good relationship between a teacher and family can be viewed as having a massive impact in addressing the issues students have weather it is educational or socially ( Ch. .20 of The Home, School, Community Liaison Scheme in Ireland, 2006). It can only be a good thing when the stakeholders play an active and engaging role in a child’s education. In a strong support of the community approach to education, a study in Baker et al (2009, pg. 151) book The Equality and Education showed that a study in Sweden found that to offset the disadvantage of being from a lower class, direct involvement of a parent, teacher, child dare, and education for adults can lead to educational fairness. 

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The educational system in Ireland is going in the right direction in terms of achieving equality and equality in the classroom. There is a range of schemes at present that is proven to improve education for children of lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Primary educators in Ireland have always tried to be best by their students. They have tried to treat everyone the same as was always the belief of fairness, however, we know that this does not work. The OECD (pg. 17, 2012) explained how the “once size fits all does not work anymore and it is approach of recognizing and meeting different educational needs”. 

Going forward it is clear that Ireland has adapted Primary Education to meet the requirements of all students. The introduction of areas such as additional learning supports for more one to one teaching and external aspects such as breakfast clubs, that enables a child to be well fed when attending school can have a profound effect on a child’s welfare and education. As Faubert (2012) cited by OECD explains how a ‘more fair and equitable education system can enable students to take full advantage of education regardless of their background’.

It is clear that equality and equity is the gold star for education in the Irish Primary Education, however, it is more than that. It is providing an education that enables each child to flourish and become an integral part of society. As Sonya Sotomayor (Aspen Institute, 2017) explains ‘Until we get equality in education, we won’t have an equal society’.

Word Count(999)


  • Baker, J.  Lynch, K, Cantillon, S, Walsh, J( 2009) Equality: From Theory to Action. 2nd edition. Palgrave McMillian.
  • Downes, P and Gilligan, A.L(2007) Beyond educational disadvantage. Dublin
  • Eivers, E., Shiel, G. and Shortt, F.(2004) Reading Literacy in Disadvantaged Primary Schools. Educational Research Centre. Dublin.
  • Gartrell, D (2009). A Guidance Approach for the Encouraging Classroom. 5th edition. Wadsworth Cengage Learning. United States of America.
  • OECD (2012), Equity and Quality in Education: Supporting Disadvantaged Students and Schools, OECD Publishing.
  • Smyth, E., McCoy, S. and Kingston, G. (2015) Learning from the Evaluation of DEIS. ERIS. The Economic and Social Research Institute. Dublin 2.