Department of Education – Grade F

The Public Accounts Committee has strongly criticised the lack of impact of the Department of Education’s £40m literacy and numeracy programme (Full report here pdf file). The problem is also particularly acute in Protestant working class communities. Labour MP Ian Davidson said there is:

“an enormous discrepancy between Catholic and Protestant children…This is particularly in Belfast, in working class areas, which we find very difficult to explain…What was absolutely clear was that in Northern Ireland, (Catholic) youngsters from deprived working class areas did much better – in terms of results – than did their Protestant equivalents. Their Protestant equivalents were those who were out from the norm.”

  • eranu

    looks like catholic parents care more about their children and are better at encouraging them to study and better themselves? or perhaps working class prods are just plain lazy?
    im all for people who knuckle down and work hard to get themselves somewhere in life.

  • Dec

    What was absolutely clear was that in Northern Ireland, (Catholic) youngsters from deprived working class areas did much better – in terms of results – than did their Protestant equivalents

    Err, Catholic schools better than state schools?

  • lib2016

    I couldn’t spot any reference to the theory that the state (Protestant) schools are skewed towards producing prospective foremen, technicans and lower grade security personnel.

    It was a fact a few years ago that there were more Catholics leaving school with no academic qualifications at all. There does seem to be a huge problem with hoods in the nationalist areas.

    The state system by contrast had fewer people at both ends of the spectrum i.e. fewer dropouts AND fewer graduates.

    In my day the Church was notorious for wanting to groom ‘the leaders of the future’ while neglecting the great majority. They do seem to have moved on in theory but how’s it working in practice?

  • nmc

    It could have something to do with the lack of engineering jobs and the such for catholics in the past, which made it crystal clear to catholic parents back then that the best way for your child to secure a future was by getting qualified. This respect for education has been passed on.

    On the other side of the fence a lot of Loyalists/Unionists back then could have been confident of a job in Harland and Wolff or in other engineering or apprenticeship based work, and therefore didn’t rate education as highly as it wasn’t strictly necessary to earn decent money.

  • willis

    Thanks FD I was just trying to google this report.

    Let us just remind ourselves what the latest submission from the Education spokesman of the largest Protestant party said.

    “The truth is that Professor Gallagher and those of his ilk, as illustrated in his recent piece, know that they have been outmanoeuvred, and that their attempts to destroy Northern Ireland’s world class education system have been thwarted.”

    As Nick Robinson might have asked

    “Do you think you are in denial Mr Wilson?”

    I ask you – World Class!

    Surely the difference between the schools is not the teachers or the students but the way they are run.

    Unionist politicians should not be allowed anywhere near running schools. Look at the debacle over Mount Gilbert and Balmoral High. They are more concerned about tribal headcount than children’s future.

  • willis

    If you want to get really depressed read page 26.

    This is utterly appaling!

    However look on the bright side.

    It is only the Prods who are losing.

    And they will keep voting DUP.

    So that’s all right then.

  • I was wondering who was going to be first to scapegoat the grammar schools.


    I think there are different communal work ethics here, particularly in regard to education, which go to the heart of how each community ticks.

  • Hmm…

    – ‘I was wondering who was going to be first to scapegoat the grammar schools.’

    Well, there is a bit of a difference between having world class grammar schools and having a world class education system…

    It’s clear that the existence of grammar schools and the particular form of selection that currently goes with them is not the sole, or even the major cause of the gross underacheivment of Northern Ireland’s education system. However the link isn’t hard to find: one key condition for the grammar schools’ success is that they screen out the pupils who are more difficult to teach. Is this tradeoff between success at the top end and disasterous failure at the bottom end one that (a) a society can afford to make (b) one that it fair to all those involved?

  • mnob

    I just wish that some of the respondants on here would read reports before sounding off with their preprepared statements.

    The report is damning about certain schools and areas of Belfast but if you actually had read what it said it shows clear daylight between Belfast and other UK cities in achievements of Key Stage 3 English and Maths, and GCSE A-Cs. Key Stage 2 taken across the whole of the city ranked 2nd out of the 4 cities compared with.

    That doesnt make it acceptable that certain schools and areas are underperfoeming but it doesnt mean that the whole system is failing.

  • mnob

    …. and in a warped way I’m also glad that the discrepancy is that Prods are underperforming as if it was the other way round we would have to wade through a tide of MOPERy before we got to the issue.

    Mind you one of the comments above did claim that the relative success of Catholics in some schools and areas was down to opression so you cant please everybody.

  • willis


    Does it make it world class?

  • JR

    “What you talking about Willis?”

  • willis


    Have a look at post 5

  • mnob

    “Does it make it world class ?”

    …. erm … coming overall top of the heap in comparison with 3 similar UK cities , then yes I would say it makes it world class.

    Especially if you include the 1st 2nd and 3rd worlds.

  • Hmm…

    ‘…. erm … coming overall top of the heap in comparison with 3 similar UK cities , then yes I would say it makes it world class.’

    Funnily enough I did read the report and I note that Belfast’s performance at key stage 2 was indeed comparable to that of Newcastle and Leicester. However, Leicester has a much higher number of pupils whose first language isn’t English, and Liverpool was doing best of all even though it also had a significantly higher proportion of pupils receiving free school meals. The other point to note is that these figures are for all schools, i.e. including our grammar schools.(although excluding independent schools) (Table 1, p.34)

    Given the relative advantages enjoyed by Belfast, these figures are hardly evidence of a world class education system.

  • Maybe if parents in Protestant areas were not so busy stopping Catholic children from getting an education they may have time to ensure their own children aren’t disadvantaged.

  • willis

    What about this exchange.

    Q29 Kitty Ussher: I understand that work has been
    done. Perhaps I could ask you more specifically
    about the previous sentence in that paragraph,
    which says that in 2002 your Department “accepted
    it was indefensible that around 20% of children who
    leave school in Northern Ireland after 12 years of
    compulsory education should be unable to read and
    write to a standard that would equip them to deal
    with . . .” normal life. What is the corresponding
    figure now if it was 20% in 2002?
    Mr Haire: Since we are saying that Level 5 is the
    level, we still have that problem at this level even
    though we have seen an improvement.
    Q30 Kitty Ussher: It is 20% still?
    Mr Haire: We still argue that is indefensible. We
    have to get that better. Wehave improved the figures
    over this period, but it is indefensible.
    Q31 Kitty Ussher: It was indefensible in 2002, it is
    indefensible in 2006. How do we know it will not
    remain indefensible in 2010?
    Mr Haire: Clearly, we have to get better work in the
    schools, better focus on data and better school
    achievement particularly in those secondary schools
    and with Boards. That is the focus and that is my
    determination to do that.

  • aquifer

    “Unionist politicians should not be allowed anywhere near running schools.”

    Too late, the education and library boards have been stuffed with unionist councillors for years. Maybe that was the problem.

  • Willis,

    No one should be surprised at educational failure by New Labour.

  • abucs

    I guess it’s difficult to know how good or bad the results are, depending on how high the measurement expectations are set.

    Higher teachers pay and more of them, especially targeted to the current under performing localities might be a consideration.

    Also, if politicians are successful in attracting investment into certain areas it might help to give children and families the extra incentive to persevere with education and put it to good use with good paying jobs ?

  • willis

    The Watchman

    The hard part seems to be accepting that there is any failure in this “World Class” education system.

    I’m afraid the blame lies with more than New Labour. None of them actually sit on any of the Education Boards or ever have.

    Normally by this stage in a story you would have a rent-a-qoute from Bob or Sammy the education experts. This time a blissfull silence.

  • BeardyBoy

    Has anyone considered the possibilty that Catholics are just more intelligent than Protestants?

    I would not want to appear racist or anything but?

  • willis


    I don’t think the report supports that. However if you asked the question “Are Working Class Protestants who vote Labour more intelligent than Working Class Protestants who vote Unionist?” then there is some support for that view.

    Hope that helps.

  • Patrique

    Please, just for once try and forget all about religion. They are closing schools, due to dropping numbers. How about SMALLER CLASSES, to address the fact that large numbers are illiterate?

    The Education Partnership consists not of teachers, pupils or parents, but two construction firms. They want to knock down schools to build shops or houses and make loads of money, and to hell with education.

    And while we still see everything in terms of religion, it will be easy for them to do so.

    Get a grip, and oppose education cuts.

  • BeardyBoy

    Good answer willis – but perhaps the really intelligent working class Prod would vote for the Irish education system and stop being used by people who really only look on him as financial cannon fodder

    As for better educational attainment – why did the stupid Prods allow the State to take control of their schools? – they are now at the mercy of the State – how short sighted can you be – imagine if the Protestant churches ran the schools – far better moral teaching, more sensitivity and feeling for the children, their needs and their culture et cetera. But sure that would be too like the taigs and we wouldn’t want that. Sure who would be left to paint the kerbs and gables and put up the flags on the telegraph poles as they would be too smart to destroy their own environment.

  • idunnomeself


    What education cuts?

    Is less money being spent on education?

    or are you just terribly, terribly badly informed?

  • willis

    There may not be cuts, but the money could be a lot better spent.

    However, Betty Orr, headmistress of Edenbrook Primary on the Shankill Road in west Belfast, said she was not surprised at the MPs’ findings.

    “(Illiteracy) can be second or third generation and we are well aware of it,” she said.

    “You cannot tackle this unless you have smaller classes, you put in more special needs help.

    “In the Republic, for example, Dublin zones certain areas and they have a pupil ratio of one to 10, which would make a huge difference.”