'Loyalist thugs are Protestant boys' only role models'
Working class Protestant boys are falling behind at school because they have no role models beyond gangsters, a leading educationalist has claimed.
This comes a day after a new report found that Protestant boys from poorer families are the worst achieving group in Northern Ireland in terms of GCSE results.
Director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Mark Langhammer said that if there is a 'single bullet', it is that schools attended by Protestant boys are much more socially segregated.
"I think Paul Nolan, who wrote this report, put it quite well," he comented. "He said that if you don't have role models, if you don't have prospects, if the world of work has collapsed as it has in the unionist areas, then the best role model might be the guy with the fancy car, and how did he get that?"
Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, Mr Langhammer also blamed Protestant politics for "inward looking, defensive and defeatist" attitudes.
"Decades of so-called 'intelligence-led' policing and turning a 'blind eye' to criminality has had a corrosive effect," he said. "Pandering to paramilitarism has accelerated the flight of the talented, decent and ambitious to the suburbs and beyond."
Yesterday, the Community Relations Council report found that Catholics do consistently better than Protestants in terms of GCSE results; girls outperform boys and better-off children achieve more at school than their poorer counterparts who qualify for free school meals (FSME).
The report found that just 19% of Protestant boys entitled to free school meals achieved five or more GCSEs, compared with 43% of Catholic girls.
This leaves Protestant boys who qualify for FSME at the very bottom of the heap in terms of achievement and opportunity.
PUP councillor John Kyle queried why more hadn't been done since a report which identified the imbalance, Educational Disadvantage and the Protestant Working Class: A Call to Action, was was released in 2011.
The issue has also been causing ructions within the Unionist Forum. It is understood that the body has compiled a report which includes 28 recommendations but it has not been released because unionist political parties have not been able to agree on it.
Education Minister John O'Dowd (left) said the current system needs to be overhauled.
"The report's findings should come as no surprise to observers of our education system," he said. "I am on record as saying that our education system continues to fail too many young people. The facts belie the myth that we have a world class education system.
"The figures for young people from all disadvantaged sections of our community are simply unacceptable."
Mr O'Dowd said the issue is a societal one that education authorities and schools "cannot tackle on their own".
"This is a multi-faceted problem. I am working hard to break the link between disadvantage and educational outcomes, however we need all stakeholders to work together to achieve this," he said.
"We need the support of parents. We need the support of those in local communities who have influence over young people. We also need the support of those who currently advocate an education system that uses academic selection to exclude disadvantaged children from schools."
Jackie Redpath has been running summer schools, transition programmes and revision schools on the Shankill Road for 30 years. He said it is for the Department of Education to act to make a difference.
"We have a proposal with the department at the moment, we are at an advanced stage of negotiation about it," he said.
"We believe it will address this issue because it is a generational issue and it goes beyond simple initiatives."
One school that takes a high proportion of working class Protestant boys is bucking the trend.
GCSE results at the Belfast Boys Model in north Belfast have soared over the past five years, according to latest figures.
In the summer of 2009, just 28% of the boys achieved five GCSEs at A*-C grades, but by last summer, some 74% of pupils at the school had achieved five GCSE passes or more.
What pupils say... views from the Boys Model in Ballysillan
Seventeen-year-old Brodie is currently preparing to sit A-levels in politics, public services and ICT.
He plans to go on to become the first person in his family to attend university, where he will study to become a Youth Worker.
"I volunteer at the Hammer Youth Club two evenings a week and that's how I found my passion for youth work," he said. "I work with a group of young people, they talk to me about school and can relate to me. I tell them to work hard at school. They see how well I am doing and that it can be done."
Brodie sees a lot of people living around him who are not able to get a job because of the fall-off in manufacturing.
"You see people who went to school and wasted it, and now wish they could go back," he said. "Some people can't be bothered with school but I love going in because I'm studying things that I am interested in. I know that I need to work hard to get a big job in the future."
Seventeen-year-old Jordan said reports about working class Protestant boys failing at school make him feel more determined than ever to succeed.
He is studying for A-levels in politics, history and ICT, with the intention of studying law at university.
Although he'll be the first from his family to go to university at 18, he was recently inspired by his mum who went to university as a mature student and is completing a degree.
Jordan said his principle motivator was getting a job.
"That's why I want to stay at school – jobs," he said. "The teachers really push us here and want us to do our very best.
"My family have so much pride in me so I know that I have their support too."
He said he believes that education is the way forward for his generation.
"Education is the best way that we can escape the stereotype," he said.
"All of us want to do well, go to university and get a job."