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Ideas sought to improve education for Protestant working class boys

Practical ways to address the serious problem of under-achievement among Protestant working class boys in Northern Ireland must be found, it was claimed today.

Independent Assembly Member Dawn Purvis has launched a public consultation which calls for suggestions on how to address the issue.

Ms Purvis has already set up a working group made up of teachers, educational administrators, academics, community workers and interested others.

The chair of the group is Mark Langhammer, director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in Northern Ireland.

He said today that if the issue is left to fester it could create difficulties for the political settlement here.

The 13 members of the working group have spent the last few months focusing on the “stark, shocking statistical fact” of growing under-performance of Protestant working class young people, and, in particular, Protestant working class males.

Ms Purvis has now issued a summary of research compiled by the working group for consultation. The consultation ends on November 30.

The group’s document includes the “headline statistics” that 41.6% of the workforce in Northern Ireland have no qualifications at all (compared to the UK average of 18.9%), and 25% of the working population are functionally illiterate.

In 2001, research commissioned by the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister concluded that “the educational non-progressor was most likely to be a Protestant working class male”.

Ms Purvis said: “We have been aware of this problem for many years and the figures are horrendous. In Protestant working class areas we are seeing an increase in the number of young people without jobs as well as rising levels of mental ill health, suicide and criminal activity.”

She added: “We hope to publish practical recommendations following the consultation at the end of February or early March.”

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