| 14.4°C Belfast

Northern Ireland's class-based divide ‘harming educational prospects of boys’

Stormont Education Minister Peter Weir has appointed an expert panel to examine links between poorer academic outcomes and social deprivation.

Close

Researchers looked at the education system in Northern Ireland (Nick Ansell/PA)

Researchers looked at the education system in Northern Ireland (Nick Ansell/PA)

Researchers looked at the education system in Northern Ireland (Nick Ansell/PA)

A yawning divide based on class is harming boys’ educational prospects, a researcher said.

The attainment gap between the proportion of the least advantaged achieving at least five GCSEs and other benchmarks and the rest is around 30 percentage points, Professor Brian Murphy added.

The impact is also seen in A-level results and the numbers progressing to higher education.

Prof Murphy added: “When the attainment statistics are compared between the selective and non-selective schooling sectors, the gap for the least privileged widens to around 40 percentage points.

“Furthermore, there is a yawning socio-economic divide in the participating populations, with the latter schooling the vast majority of those entitled to free school meals.”

Close

Stormont Education Minister Peter Weir has appointed an expert panel to look at the issue (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

Stormont Education Minister Peter Weir has appointed an expert panel to look at the issue (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

PA

Stormont Education Minister Peter Weir has appointed an expert panel to look at the issue (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

Stormont Education Minister Peter Weir has appointed an expert panel to examine links between poorer academic outcomes and social deprivation, as agreed in the New Decade, New Approach deal that restored powersharing.

Prof Murphy is interim dean of academic business development at Ulster University with responsibility for widening access to the university.

He has been conducting research entitled Taking Boys Seriously and his research group has worked with a number of schools and youth organisations.

Taking Boys Seriously is the latest iteration of seminal research by Harland and McCready of Ulster University (2007-2012).

He said researchers have found boys thrive in an educational ecosystem that promotes educational dignity and boys as relational learners, involving building strong relationships between students and educators, role model use, and engaging relevant curriculum content.

Prof Murphy did not criticise the excellent outcomes produced by selective grammar schools but questioned the socio-economic stratification or classification produced.

He asked: “On these statistics, with both systems being publicly funded we have to ask ourselves as a sector if access to good educational outcomes really is equitable?

“Could it be that our system is actually entrenching social immobility?

“It is also a matter of concern that the casting here of the social mobility die is actually for those of the very young and vulnerable age of 11 – even for those not electing to partake in selection.”

He acknowledged the decades-long debate over selection in Northern Ireland.

“It really is time for a systemic response, for greater fluidity: a levelling up rather than a levelling down based on social class.

“And a time for taking boys seriously too.”

PA