Report reveals disadvantage in working class east Belfast
East Belfast’s “deprived” working class Protestant community needs “significant change” if educational disadvantage is to be overcome, according to a report this week claimed.
The study — A Call to Action — was released by Dawn Purvis MLA and a working group which included East Belfast Partnership’s Maggie Andrews.
The report It states that, in particular, young Protestant working class males are the most disadvantaged and marginalised group in Northern Ireland society.
The report indicates says 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 differences in educational performance lie mostly outside the classroom, and 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 review.
It also points out that a lack of flexibility in curriculum and funding of schools weakens the ability of 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 study recommends that the Northern Ireland Executive should agree “a time-bound, measurable, resourced, child poverty strategy, as 24% 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.
Ms Andrews said: “East Belfast Partnership has been concerned about the gap in educational achievement in East Belfast for a long time — while we have some of the best performing schools in Northern Ireland we also have some of the most challenged.
“We welcome the focus of the report and particularly the recognition that we need to involve communities and parents to raise aspirations — it can’t just be left to the schools.
“We have concerns about primary schools closing in the communities who could most benefit from good schools and the slow pace of investment in early years and the primary school sector.”
And Ms Purvis added: “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.”