Belfast Telegraph

Probe into working class education

A team of head teachers and professors is to investigate educational under-achievement in working class children.

The focus will be on the Protestant disadvantaged who have a 10% chance of going to university.

Ashfield Boys' School principal Andy McMorran and Peter Shirlow from Queen's University Belfast are among those taking part in the first meeting on Friday at Stormont hosted by independent East Belfast MLA Dawn Purvis.

Ms Purvis said: "I have, for some time, been shocked at our collective failure to address educational under-performance particularly within Protestant working class districts.

"As a starting point, I have asked a number of key educationalists and interested people to distil the existing evidence and recommend ways forward.

"The group is simply a way of highlighting an issue of growing importance and seeking to suggest practical ways forward to address a complex issue. We hope to shine a light on an intractable problem in order to seek positive ways forward."

The remit of the group is to consider research on the under-performance of working class young people, particularly Protestants, while establishing what needs to be done. It will consider UK and international experience in tackling communal, ethnic or racial underperformance.

More than three quarters of lower than expected (performing) schools were in the Protestant sector, mainly clustered in Belfast. Half of pupils going to those schools were eligible for free meals and a fifth had special educational needs.

Ms Purvis added: "The work of this group will seek practical, creative ways of addressing an intractable, 'sore thumb' issue.

"The evidence is plentiful, but our focus must be on finding practical, creative ways forward within a tight public spending environment. What is clear is that this issue will create difficulties for the political settlement if left to fester."

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