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Paramilitary 'role models' negatively impacting educational achievement in Northern Ireland, report finds

Published 08/12/2015

Paramilitaries are showing children they can succeed outside of education.
Paramilitaries are showing children they can succeed outside of education.

A major study into educational under-achievement in Northern Ireland has found that poor protestant children don't do as well as their Catholic counterparts and that paramilitaries and criminals are having a "corrosive impact" on academic development as it shows individuals can "succeed" outside of the normal channels.

The 'Investigating Links in Achievement and Deprivation (Iliad)' report has called for academic selection to be scrapped claiming it reinforces "privilege and disadvantage".

The report, leaked to the BBC, found there was a lack of equality in the Northern Ireland education system and that better off children had access to better teaching.

And that children from deprived Protestant areas were worse off than those from deprived Catholic areas.

It warned of the "corrosive impact" of continuing paramilitary and criminal influence in disadvantaged communities, saying this creates "negative role models and many young people routinely witness individuals 'succeeding' outside the regular channels of education".

Political leadership in Protestant areas was also criticised.

The Iliad study is one of the most detailed investigations of its kind carried out over three years by 10 experts from Queen's University and Stranmillis University College in Belfast.

"The current system significantly favours those with positive family norms around education, for example, academically successful parents, and the financial capacity to afford, for example, private tutors," the report said.

The report has made a number of wide-ranging reforms.

Key, it said, to reversing educational disadvantage is ending the current system of academic selection.

The report studied education in three predominately Catholic areas, three Protestant areas and one mixed area.

It found differences between the communities in terms of how education was viewed.

In those Catholic areas it studied it found that the community had better links to schools, there was better collaboration and teachers lived in the areas allowing them to understand the needs of their pupils. Absenteeism was also lower.

The report said: "In several predominantly Catholic neighbourhoods, there are well-established, collaborative learning communities, with Catholic maintained schools at the hub."

By contrast in the Catholic Whiterock area of west Belfast -the most deprived area in Northern Ireland - 60% of pupils there achieved five GCSE passes at grades A*-C in 2012/13.

Whereas in the Protestant area of Tullycarnet in east Belfast only 43% of pupils achieved five GCSEs at grades A*-C in the same year.

The Iliad also highlighted the "Derry factor" which saw children from catholic areas in Londonderry encouraged to value education leading to better results.

Researchers found there had been little change in educational achievement in the past two decades in the areas studied.

It has made a number of recommendations, however, the report said there was likely to be resistance to change.

"Given the in-built and distinct advantage of a grammar school education and the significant political and lobbying influence of the grammar sector, opposition to radical change is expected," the report said.

The report was commissioned by the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister and delivered earlier this year.

Concerns have been raised that it may never be published.

Dawn Purvis, who was involved in a previous report on under-achievement among disadvantaged Protestant boys feared it may never be published.

Speaking on the BBC's Nolan show, she said: "There has been a failure to put any of the recommendations from all of previous reports into action.

"We have had report after report from OFMDFM, the Public Accounts Committee, from the Equality Commission, from a UN committee and a series of reports following my call to action in 2011.

"Now we have this report, which may not see the light of day given the DUP stance on academic selection."

She added: "There is something structurally wrong with our education system that a section of our children are not benefiting from it.

"We should have an education system were all children benefit."

East Belfast PUP councillor Dr John Kyle said the role of paramilitaries in educational under-achievement was "peripheral".

He added:  "I do somewhat fear that by pulling paramilitaries into the issue distracts from the real problem.

"While paramilitaries are responsible for many negative and bad things their role in educational under-achievement is rather peripheral."

He added: "Selection disadvantages those who are most vulnerable and reduces their opportunities.

"And unless we can deal with that, we won't solve it.

"Every parent wants their child to get the best education.

"What we need to do is to show that actually all-ability schools can be extremely good schools.

"We need to tell parents that removing academic selection, doesn't consign your child to a mediocre education.

"It is possible for all children to do well in non-selective schools when we get away from academic selection.

"It doesn't just favour the brightest, all children will benefit from working in a system that is properly resources and properly organised."

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