Northern Ireland children living in poverty lagging behind in education
Children living in poverty in Northern Ireland are already lagging behind their peers when they start school, a study has found.
More than 100,000 young people here are in poverty.
Research published today warns that children are being left behind at five and highlights the impact on their cognitive and language skills at the ages of seven, 11 and 14.
It shows that 34% of five-year-olds growing up in poverty are in the lowest performing group, compared to one fifth (22%) of their peers.
The figures also reveal that children who begin their school life behind their classmates struggle to catch up.
The data was commissioned by Save the Children, a charity which promotes the rights of young people.
It called for urgent action to tackle the issue.
Peter Bryson, head of Save the Children in Northern Ireland, said: "Too many children in Northern Ireland are falling behind even before they start school.
"We have a commitment in the Programme for Government to give every child the best start in life, this is welcome but this research suggests that action is needed now, child poverty is on the rise therefore the longer we wait the bigger the gap will become and the harder it will be to solve.
"Previous research has shown that by the age of three, poorer children are estimated to be, on average, nine months behind children from wealthier backgrounds.
"Since we know that 38% of low income children live in families where the youngest child is under five, it is crucial that interventions focusing on breaking the link between poverty and educational achievement take place long before children start school, when the need is greatest and they can make the most difference.
"The impact of poverty on children's early learning means they are more likely to struggle with vital areas of their development, such as language and communication skills.
"Being behind in the early years means it's more likely they will be behind throughout their school years and beyond. But the right interventions can have a positive impact."
The research showed that around half of children in poverty who were in the lowest performing group for language ability at five years of age remain in the bottom at age seven, 11 and 14.
However, around half of low income children in the lowest performing group, later moved out of it.