Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 22 November 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Social segregation is at the heart of Protestant boys' poor school performance

Research by the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister in 2001 concluded that "the educational non-progressor was most likely to be a Protestant working class male." Yesterday's Peace Monitoring Report confirmed that working class Protestant boys' educational performance was, shockingly, just above Travellers and Roma.

The majority of low performing schools are in the predominantly Protestant controlled sector. A socially disadvantaged pupil in a Catholic maintained school has double the chance of going to university than a similar pupil in a controlled school. Performance gaps between communities, narrow in the early years and primary school, widen considerably at secondary level.

Socially segregated schools face too many challenges to sustain good performance.

Most performance differentials relate to social class. Bluntly, equal societies are more successful educationally. Our society, and education system, is far from equal.

The OECD ranks our education system the most socially segregated in the developed world.

Other issues are at play, such as parental involvement, negative peer pressure and a decline in readiness for school in linguistic and behaviour terms, as well as a lack of value placed on education in the community at large.

There is, of course, a community effect too. So, what are the issues that detrimentally affect the Protestant community?

The tendency towards elitism within Protestant community schooling is striking. Schools attended by Protestants tend to be more socially segregated than integrated or maintained schools. Prep schools are 97% Protestant, and don't exist in Catholic education. Grammars attended by Protestants are more exclusive.

Politicians need to "get" this. If you stack the odds, don't be surprised by the results. Social segregation promotes poor performance, QED.

Protestant working class participation in the manufacturing industry shaped its development.

The collapse of industry led to a loss of communal morale, self-worth and discipline. The trade union culture of Protestant Belfast evaporated, with a loss of extensive capacity in negotiating, dispute resolution and organisation in the community. Just look at the nihilism of the flag protesters and say I'm wrong.

The "community capacity" in Protestant working class districts is weaker than in similar, often proximate, Catholic districts.

Bishop McKeown recently articulated a view that Catholic communities, based on the parish unit, are more socially cohesive. Teachers in Catholic schools tend to have stronger links with the communities in which they work. Put another way, "Successful Catholics stay in their area, or stay in touch with it, whereas successful Protestants tend to move out and stay out".

Post-conflict, Catholic politics is more confident, buoyant, outward looking – a community on the up. Protestant politics presents as inward-looking, defensive, defeatist and prone to schism.

In the community, decades of so-called 'intelligence led' policing and turning a 'blind eye' to criminality has had a corrosive effect. Pandering to paramilitarism has accelerated the flight of the talented, decent and ambitious to the suburbs and beyond.

We pay too high a price for tolerating social segregation. It's time for an adult debate.

Mark Langhammer is director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and chaired the Dawn Purvis working group on Educational Disadvantaqge in Protestant Working Class Areas, Call to Action 2011

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