North Belfast’s “deprived” Protestant working class community needs “significant change” if educational disadvantage is to be overcome, according to a report this week.
The report — A Call to Action — was released by Dawn Purvis MLA, and a working group which included Boys’ Model School principal Jim Keith.
The report states that, in particular, young Protestant working class males are the most disadvantaged and marginalised group in Northern Ireland society.
The report indicates that “at minimum ... we have a problem” and its purpose is to “shine a light on a developing problem, one that could — in time — cause instability for the political arrangements” and not “enter into, or promote, any sort of zero sum competition for scarce resources”.
The findings include the discovery that differentials in educational performance lie mostly outside the classroom, that funding priorities are “back to front”.
More funding should be pumped into early years education and the lack of coordination and cooperation among government departments and agencies wastes resources and potential, said the report. It also points out that a lack of flexibility in curriculum and funding of schools weakens the ability for teachers to respond to the needs of those who are not achieving and it mentions that academic selection accentuates, though does not cause, social |division.
The report recommends that the Northern Ireland Executive should agree “a time-bound, measurable, resourced, Child Poverty Strategy” as 24 per cent of children in the province live below the poverty line.
It states that parents and local communities should be encouraged to become more involved in education and schools and schools should be allowed greater flexibility to respond to the changing needs of students and differences in learning styles.
Mr Keith said: “I’m not surprised by the findings. This has been going on since the post-|industrial period.”
He said jobs for Protestant boys were almost automatic in that era yet as industrialisation moved on to service-based capitalism the leadership — political leadership — hadn’t been there to deal with it.
“Political representatives and direct rule ministers promised lots of things, but always in the short term. What we need is a clear vision of where education is going in the controlled sector.
“Catholic maintained schools have the CCMS and integrated have the NICIE, but there are no champions for us.”
Ms Purvis said: “Educational underachievement has been about as an issue for a long, long time, especially in Protestant communities. What we would like is for the document to become debated and an issue. We want to shine a light on the issue.”