A report into the links between persistent educational underachievement and socio-economic background has identified eight key areas for change in the education system in Northern Ireland.
The estimated cost of addressing the issue over the next five years is £73.1m with the report saying the bulk of that money should be aimed at redirecting the focus of underachievement to Early Years education.
The report was commissioned by the Education Minister as part of the New Decade, New Approach deal that restored Stormont, with education experts examining the issue over the last year. The report ‘A Fair Start’ says the focus going forwards need to be on championing mental health, ensuring the relevance and appropriateness of curriculum and assessment, promoting a whole community approach to education, and should have a special focus on maximising the potential of boys in the classroom.
It also urges driving forward professional training for teachers, increased support for the professional learning and wellbeing of school leadership and that interdepartmental collaboration and delivery must be ensured.
Peter Weir said it is one of the most important reports he has overseen during his time as Education Minister.
“For a number of years, the issue of educational underachievement has been an area that I have been personally committed to addressing so this is a very significant day for me,” he said.
“If, as a society, we are serious about wanting to see fundamental change for the benefit of our most disadvantaged, everyone in Northern Ireland must prioritise education and learning as a route out of poverty. We need to give our young people confidence, instill within them self-belief that they can succeed and provide the support they need to thrive in school. The crucial work of the panel provides a roadmap for how we can achieve all these things.”
Chair of the expert panel behind the report, Dr Noel Purdy of Stranmillis University, said the action plan is capable of making a significant, long-lasting impact on children’s learning now and for the foreseeable future.
“However, this can only be achieved if we invest appropriately and significantly in education for the long term,” he said. “We are also convinced that the impact will be significant in giving all of our children and young people ‘A Fair Start’.”