Leaving Cert students who continue to play sport while studying for their exams are more likely to go on to third- level education than those who don’t.
While students in exam years often sacrifice playing sports in order to hit the books, those who continue to participate in sports tend to get better exam results.
As tens of thousands of teenagers prepare to sit their Junior and Leaving Cert exams in just a few weeks’ time, a new report from the ESRI has found that students who participate in sports in the final years of second-level are “significantly and substantially” more likely to continue their formal education after they leave school.
Using data from a study of over 2,000 school-leavers, the report found that those students who continue to play sports are more likely to enjoy school and to do well in their exams.
Pete Lunn, senior research officer with the ESRI, said such students are between 9pc and 14pc more likely to go on to third-level education rather than entering the labour market.
“We found that the most important factor was not whether a student played extra-curricular sport during second-level, but whether they continued to do so in their final school years.
“Many students dropped out of sport during or after the Junior Cycle and/or Transition Year, while others kept up their participation during Senior Cycle. We found that this latter group were more likely to continue their formal education after leaving school,” he explained.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Mr Lunn said the type of sport played – whether a team sport or an individual pursuit – makes no difference to the outcome.
“During adolescence, girls especially, are likely to move on from team sports – such as Gaelic, soccer or basketball – and are more likely to move to individual sports – exercise classes, dance, racket sports.
“We found it didn’t make any difference as to the type of sport, as long as there was participation.”
He said the report, ‘Participation in School Sport and Post-School Pathways’ which was co-authored by Elish Kelly, only examined voluntary participation in school sport and did not include PE classes.
He added that the report’s findings suggest there might be benefits in increasing students’ opportunities to take part in sport while studying for the Leaving Cert – rather than cutting back.
Mr Lunn said it was important to look at the issue of sport and education from the perspective of students themselves.
“I think looking back, we forget what it’s like to be kids. Kids’ time horizons are very short – they’re not looking at how their short-term decisions will have long-term consequences.
“If one message is to come out from this I would like it to be to look at it from the perspective of young people. They’re looking at their immediate experiences, not at what they’re likely to earn over the next 40 or 50 years,” he said.
“Sport is just one good indicator of the extent to which a young person is engaged in the environment around them. If they are more engaged in sport, they’re more likely to stay in education longer.”
He suggested that one of the immediate attractions of college over the labour force may be “convenient opportunities to play sport”.
Mr Lunn added that the education of the young person’s mother was not taken into account in the study, although maternal education can be a determining factor on whether a student progresses to third level.