The Economic and Social Research Institute-Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment 1998 early school leavers survey indicates that approximately 81% of students currently complete second level education. This figure is broadly in line with my Department's analysis of data in this area which indicate a retention rate of some 83% when account is taken of factors such as mortality and movement to private schools. While the achievement of a retention rate of 90% has been a long-standing policy objective, it is important to stress that early school leaving is not a simple matter to resolve and that by their nature interventions require time to make an impact. The problem of early school leaving requires movement on a number of fronts and that is the approach that we are taking. In the first instance it is important that we offer curricular choice which meets the needs of the diversity of pupils in our second level schools. The junior certificate schools programme and the leaving certificate applied are two programmes which aim to achieve a greater level of inclusiveness in curricular provision.
An important element in improving school attendance and retention rates in our schools is the establishment of the national educational welfare board. The board will play a central role in implementing the provisions of the Education (Welfare) Act, 2000, with a view to promoting regular attendance at school and discouraging early school leaving. Strategies are in place to encourage and support schools in retaining pupils to completion of senior cycle. The focus of the 8-15 year old early school leavers initiative and the stay in school retention initiative at second level, which form part of the school completion programme, is to target resources at those schools and communities experiencing the greatest difficulties with early school leaving. It is only by sustained action across a number of fronts – curricular, legislative and direct support – that we will make progress in relation to this intractable problem.