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Poorer Protestant boys faring worst in Northern Ireland schools, says report


Concern: Peter Shirlow

Concern: Peter Shirlow

Concern: Peter Shirlow

An academic report examining Northern Ireland's peacetime progress has said working class Protestant boys still struggle the most with education.

The comments were made in the fifth Peace Monitoring Report, published by the Community Relations Council.

It was noted that the "greatest inequality" in educational achievement was between children who attended a grammar school and those who did not.

The report stated: "While there is under-achievement among working-class pupils generally - and this is worse among boys - working class Protestant boys continue to have lower educational attainment than Catholic boys."

Traveller children were also said to have "exceptionally poor educational outcomes".

The report noted that the patterns of educational under-achievement were not new, either unchanged or getting worse.

Their persistence showed "the failure of the Northern Ireland government to tackle fundamental problems regarding the structure of education".

This included the "inability" to agree on a system for post-primary transfer and to tackle the underlying issue of poverty.

Professor Pete Shirlow, director at the University of Liverpool's Institute of Irish Studies, said he believed the real picture was more complex.

"We get these headline figures every year on Protestant boys underachieving, but I don't think we should take them at face value. It's more complex. I read a report recently that claimed fewer Catholic pupils were being entered for exams, so that does impact on how we read the data on the two religious groups," he said.

"I find this is more of an urban working class issue and there is a disadvantage in both communities."

He noted there had been many schools which had achieved positive developments in the secondary sector.

"Many would argue, though, the problems come down to the grammar school system.

"When you have pupils of mixed ability, those who are less able in terms of passing exams improve when they're in a class with those of higher ability.

"This is a societal issue and a wider question about the power and resources rooted in the grammar sector. They've been very effective in maintaining themselves."

He added: "The big problem for our society is productivity. We need to create a wider range of skills.

"If you're producing a significant amount of pupils without proper skills, then the ability to grow your economy is greatly reduced."

The Peace Monitoring Report uses already published information to help summarise key issues related to peace and reconciliation here.

Other concerns raised included the "legislative and political paralysis" caused by the Stormont impasse.

While the impact of Brexit remains uncertain, the report said the consequences could be far-reaching as it had "soured" relations between both the DUP and Sinn Fein, and the British and Irish Governments.

The report adds that Northern Ireland is "increasingly out of step" with other regions on equality issues like abortion law and same-sex marriage.

An ongoing "culture war" is also said to be exploited for political purposes, including issues around bonfires, the Irish language and flags.

In policing, Catholic recruitment has "levelled out" after the end of a 50:50 recruitment process. At present Catholic police officers represent 32% of the total.

While this is a "slight improvement", the report predicted it could be decades before the PSNI truly reflected the society it polices.

A concluding point was that Northern Ireland appears no closer to finding an acceptable way of dealing with the legacy of the Troubles.

Belfast Telegraph