Belfast Telegraph

Protestant schoolboys left at the bottom of the class - with results only slightly better than Travellers or Roma children

Peace process report exposes chasm in educational achievement


Protestant boys from poorer backgrounds are being left behind in our schools, a new report has warned.

The latest Peace Monitoring Report has also backed Dr Richard Haass's controversial claim that if progress is not made on key political issues then "violence could re-emerge as a characteristic of daily life".

The Report, published by the Community Relations Council, says that the moral basis for the Good Friday Agreement has evaporated and that the absence of trust in politics has resulted in an absence of progress.

It warns that last year's flag protests were followed by a marked increase in sectarian tension, though this has not so far been expressed itself in lethal violence. Instead, it says, the PSNI have served as human shock absorbers for failure elsewhere, with more of them injured than in previous years and policing costs soaring.

"We need to listen to the warnings we are getting from the people like Richard Haass," said report author Dr Paul Nolan, adding that the assumption we can just 'keep on keeping on' is not being dispelled by Richard Haass alone; "it was Bill Clinton, it was Barack Obama, it was Joe Biden and there is a similar message from David Cameron and the Irish government."

The study, pulled together research from various sources, paints a complex and nuanced picture of our society. In terms of the sectarian headcount, which has often dominated our politics, it shows that Catholic numbers are steadily rising and that Catholics are already in the majority of the population under the age of 40.

It quotes polls, including the census and our own LucidTalk survey last year, to show that, despite the increasing number of Catholics, support for Irish unity is at the lowest ever recorded.

One of the most interesting findings involves educational achievement. It shows that Catholics do consistently better than Protestants in terms of GCSE results; girls outperform boys and better-off children achieve more at school than their poorer counterparts who qualify for free school meals (FSME).

This leaves Protestant boys who qualify for FSME at the very bottom of the heap in terms of achievement and opportunity. They are 57 percentage points behind non-FSME Catholic girls and nearly thirty points behind better-off Protestant boys.

The survey compares the data with England, where Chinese girls who don't qualify for free meals are the highest achievers and rank only marginally above the same cohort of Catholic girls here.

In contrast, the report notes: "Protestant FSME boys are close to the very bottom, just above Irish Travellers and Roma children."

Dr Nolan also pointed out: "For the first time we have a higher proportion of young Protestants unemployed, 24%, than Catholics at 17%. However, there are more Catholics in that age group, so looking at numbers rather than percentages, there are still more unemployed Catholic young people."

Turning to the overall peace process, Dr Nolan feels the situation could still be retrieved.

"In some ways huge progress has been made. Levels of violence are at their lowest levels for forty years. And the progress is not just to do with the absence of violence. During its year as City of Culture Derry-Londonderry presented a vision of what a post-conflict society might look like."

He added: "The flags protest was a bump on the road but seen in the longer perspective it wasn't huge. It wasn't Drumcree, it wasn't the Anglo Irish protests but the other hand the way the political process soaks it up and nothing gets done to resolve it is putting question marks over the devolution package."

He added: "Hope and division co-exist in Northern Ireland and run alongside each other in ways that can be difficult to understand. How do we know which one is stronger?"


WHEN it comes to exam results, better off Catholic girls who do not qualify for free school meals score best, with 76% of them getting five or more GCSEs.

That is the top end of the scale. At the bottom, only 19.7% of poorer Protestant boys, who do qualify for free schools meals, score five good GCSEs. This attainment gap is “colossal”, said Dr Nolan.

Right through the range girls do better than boys, and Catholics do better than Protestants. For instance, Protestant girls who don't qualify for free meals score 71.8%, just five points below their Catholic counterparts and more than six points above Protestant boys who get free meals. Catholics school leavers (45.2%) are also more likely to enter higher education than Protestants (39.2%). Catholic girls (52.8%) are most likely to do so, compared to 32.4% of Protestant boys.

Dr Nolan commented: “We have a society that is meritocratic, we don't have discrimination to any extent nowadays, and in such a society if you don't have the qualifications you are locked out of the labour market, and that is what is happening. We are creating a seedbed of trouble by allowing so many Protestant working class males to fail.”

The latest analysis by religion of the Labour Force Survey found that 24% of Protestants aged 16 to 24 were jobless, compared with 17% of their Catholic counterparts.


ALTHOUGH the Catholic population is growing, support for Irish unity is at an all-time low in polls, and in the census only 25% of people said they were Irish.

Despite this, some loyalists claim that they are losing a ‘culture war’ in which Northern Ireland's British identity is being diluted.

The report questions this. There were 2,687 loyalist marches in 2013, the highest number ever recorded, and only one in seven (388) was contested. Loyalist parades made up 61.8% of the total, nationalist parades were 3.2%, and the rest were civic events or church parades.

It states: “The focus of concern is no longer about Northern Ireland being taken out of Britain, but of Britishness being taken out of Northern Ireland.”

Loyalist culture was grant-aided. The EU gave the Orange Order £900,000 to help address the legacy of the Troubles in the Protestant community. Seven full-time staff have been appointed to work on the project, which is being financed until the end of this year.

The Apprentice Boys of Derry received over £2 million to create a new visitor centre and renovate its headquarters.

Attacks on Orange halls were down from a peak of 72 in 2009/10 to 27 last year. Official recognition of Orange cultural themes is at unprecedented levels. However, the report noted: “Talk of a culture war could become a self-fulfilling prophesy.”


LEVELS of murderous violence are at their lowest for 40 years. In the past year no British soldier has been killed, no police officer has been killed, no prison officer has been killed, and there was not one sectarian killing. In fact, Northern Ireland is emerging as one of the safest places to live in the developed world.

However, between July 1 and August 28 last year 682 police officers were injured in public order disturbances — one in 10. Of these, 51 needed hospital treatement.

The report states: “Violence against the police has become once more accepted as part of life in Northern Ireland.”

Since 1998/99 the number of homicides has fallen. In OECD countries the average homicide rate is 2.2 per 100,000 inhabitants, yet the Northern Ireland rate has dropped to 0.9. This is lower than Scotland (1.7) and just below England (1).

One other indicator of the fall-off in violent crime in Northern Ireland comes from the data for hospital admissions due to assault. This is particularly true of assaults involving a firearm, which have fallen by 74.7% since 2003/04.

However, domestic violence is increasing. The figures for 2012/13 are the highest since 2004/05 and show Northern Ireland continuing to run ahead of other parts of the UK. In 2011/12 there were 12 domestic abuse cases reported to the police per 1,000 of the population, rising to 15 in 2012/13 — higher than the figures for Scotland (11.3) or England and Wales (10).


THE turbulence of the flag dispute, which started when flag-flying days were reduced at Belfast City Hall shortly before Christmas 2012, was followed by an increase in sectarian actions as well as general tension.

For instance, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive recorded a sharp increase in the number of people intimidated out of their homes and accepted on to the Special Purchase of Evacuated Properties (SPED), a scheme under which the HE buys the homes of people who are forced to move out.

The number who entered the scheme went up from 303 in 2011/12 to 411 in 2012/13. The Equality Commission also reports an increase in harassment cases in the workplace, the highest level since the 1990s, when fair employment legislation was toughened up.

The report states: “The most recent evidence from the Life and Times Survey, however, suggests that the flag dispute has heightened the temperature, with a very sharp drop in Protestants and Catholics expressing a preference for mixed religion workplaces and neighbourhoods, particularly among young people.”

The census showed that the number of electoral wards where more than 80% of people were of one religion had fallen from 55% to 37%, but the report found that the two communities lived in separate parts of many of these wards.


THE report criticises politicians and others in the public eye for failing to take responsibility for their actions.

“Failure in Northern Ireland comes cost-free,” says the document. “The whole of society may pay, but not particular political actors.”

It gives the Haass talks on parades, flags and dealing with the past as one example, saying that none of the parties involved has so far suffered a political penalty for failing to find a way forward.

It argues: “When the policing costs for contested parades and events spiral into millions, the organisers never receive a bill. The disconnect between the gathering and spending of taxes means no one feels responsible for the shortfall in revenue caused by, for example, not introducing water charges or tuition fees.”

The 2013 marching season cost £18.5 million to police, more than four times the £4.1 million bill for the same period in 2012 and this has led to cuts in other services.

The report adds: “The disconnect between the gathering and spending of taxes means no one feels responsible for the shortfall in revenue.

“Devolution, which was supposed to bring responsibility closer to local level, has failed to do so in Northern Ireland,” it concludes.


THE report focuses on Londonderry's successful year as UK City of Culture as a model of what a post-conflict society looks like. It also tries to identify reasons for its success in using culture to overcome division.

“One highlight was when the Apprentice Boys played their tunes at the Fleadh Cheoil; another was when the PSNI band was applauded as it made its way into the Guildhall Square.

“Ultimately, the success of the year came down to the long-term vision of those in Derry City Council and civil society |organisations who saw concord as an achievable goal, showing how a generous majority can engender a generosity of spirit in return.”

The report believes that a strong emphasis on outdoor participatory events may have helped encourage the success of the year.

It also believed that “the clarity of the Saville Report in 2010 on Bloody Sunday in 1972 and the unstinting nature of the apology on behalf of the British State by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, changed the political weather in the city”.

It also praises local examples of sharing culture, like the opening of an Irish language centre in the Skainos centre on Belfast's mainly loyalist Newtownards Road and other cross-community events.

The report states: “These small events often occur below the line of public visibility... reconciliation continues to be stronger at the grass roots than at the top of society.”


Further reading:

Charting the slow decline of the devolution experiment

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