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Rise in mental health issues among young, academic selection and 'middle-class' schools harming grades: Major report

By Jonathan Bell

A major report on identifying trends in education in economically deprived areas in Northern Ireland has highlighted a rise in mental health problems among young people, academic selection, the legacy of the Troubles and "middle-class" schools as having a detrimental impact on children's achievements in the classroom.

The Investigating Links in Achievement and Deprivation (ILiAD) study was commissioned in 2012 and conducted by researchers from Queen's and Stranmillis universities. It examined seven different "high deprivation" areas to produce a picture of education in Northern Ireland and what impacted achievement.

Its summary report highlighted a number of findings on how children's educational outcomes were defined by experiences in their homes, schools and communities.

The report found that legacy issues around the Troubles were having a negative impact, stating "these communities require patient, proactive and ongoing support to help them mediate their post-conflict transitions".

It also said an increased level of mental ill-health among young people was affecting educational achievement and putting additional pressures on schools.

At schools it found that many parents believed their teachers were middle-class and "detached" from their own backgrounds and there was a high rate of absenteeism - which impacted grades.

While at policy level in education, the economic climate, schools detachment from communities, the availability of pre-school provision were identified.

If we concentrate at what happens at 11 we have missed the boat. DUP

So too were the "negative elements" of academic selection which impacted on children's confidence and self-esteem. It also said that as high achievers attended grammars, those in non-grammars had no positive role models in their peer group.

The report said access to grammar schools provided "distinct opportunities" for success, but for pupils to pass the entrance exams was dependent on their parents having the means to pay for private tuition.

"Which remains an equity issue," the report said.

Although it did point out that academic selection was supported by principals, teachers, parents and young people who attended Grammar schools.

The report also highlighted how those that attended a grammar had a high attainment performance.

Former Education Minister John O'Dowd said it was time to do away with tests at 11 to determine which school a child went to.

"All the evidence says academic selection is bad for the education system and bad for society," he told the BBC.

The DUP, however, said a focus on just the academic selection element of the report was wrong.

"The report highlights the many issues that we need to continue to address if we to make  a real difference in tackling educational underachievement such as raising aspirations, embedding a culture of education, community involvement and choice within the curriculum," said former education minister Peter Weir.

"Correctly it identifies the 'most important determinant' as being parental involvement, and there is a key challenge in ensuring we strengthen links between parents and education. It is these key targeted early interventions that are critical to educational success. If we simply concentrate on what happens at 11 we have missed the boat."

Read the full report here.

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