Grammars bad news for poorer Protestants
This year, yet again, Northern Ireland’s A-level students performed better than their counterparts in England and Wales, both in terms of pass rates and A* and A grades.
As 42% of our post-primary children attend grammar schools, this local success is being used as an argument for the rebirth of grammars in Great Britain currently being championed by Prime Minister Theresa May.
Here, it is said, is clear evidence not only that those who attend them do better than children in comprehensives, but also that grammars are a potent agent of social mobility that give bright, working-class kids the chance of academic success and better start in life.
Peter Weir, the Education Minister, has even insisted that scrapping grammar schools would increase social inequality.
This is a myth. The main engines of social mobility in the past 50 years were the expansion of free higher education and professional and white-collar jobs.
In short, grammars provide education for the middle classes and social mobility for the few at the expense of social decline for the many. This is why the achievement gap for NI is the widest in Europe.
Moreover, underachievement is worse among Protestant children, despite the fact that unionist politicians favour selection and grammars. Protestant free-school meal boys are close to the bottom of the UK GCSE table, just above Irish Travellers and Roma children.
Catholic grammars, on the other hand, regularly outperform their Protestant counterparts. In 2015, the top 11 schools at A-level were all Catholic. Almost half of all Catholic girls from lower socio-economic backgrounds go on to higher education, in contrast to fewer than a third of Protestant boys from similar backgrounds.
Where are the Protestant working-class leaders who are prepared to represent the real interests of their children and campaign vigorously for the end of such an outdated, unjust and divisive educational system?
Director, Humanist Association of Northern Ireland