The Belfast Telegraph today published a piece about the ‘Investigating Links in Achievement and Deprivation (Iliad)’ report that has been written by a number of academics from both Queen’s University, Belfast, and St Mary’s University College, Belfast. The report hasn’t been published, but it has been leaked to the BBC.
The authors studied educational experiences in three predominantly catholic districts and three predominantly protestant districts and compared their findings. They also looked at one mixed district. The findings are stark and show “that children from deprived Protestant areas were worse off than those from deprived Catholic areas.” This is in line with a Community Relations Council report, published in April 2014, which stated that poorer protestant boys only faired better than Traveller and Roma children in terms of educational performance (% achieving 5 good GCSEs). In the Iliad report one reason put forward for this was the role of paramilitaries, with the report declaring the existence of:
“negative role models and many young people routinely witness individuals ‘succeeding’ outside the regular channels of education.”
I’m not entirely sure I would agree with this however, as paramilitarism and gangsterism is also prevalent in catholic districts. It may be one factor, but there are certainly others at play.
The report also found that there was a lack of equality in the Northern Ireland education system between rich and poor, with stark divisions between children from more prosperous backgrounds, versus those from more deprived areas. In the report it states that:
“The current system significantly favours those with positive family norms around education, for example, academically successful parents, and the financial capacity to afford, for example, private tutors.”
One proposal put forward in the report to close the attainment gap is to do away with academic selection. This view was echoed in a PUP report, Firm Foundations – Education: Getting it Right for Every Child, published in June, one of many reports that has which has highlighted the problem of under-achievement of children in protestant working class areas. In their report the PUP report concluded that “political will and action are essential and have too often been lacking”.
Dawn Purvis, a former member of the PUP, was on the Nolan show this morning discussing the leaked report and she also holds the view that the political will isn’t there, particularly within the DUP, to tackle this under-achievement head on. Purvis said that:
“There has been a failure to put any of the recommendations from all of previous reports into action. We have had report after report from OFMDFM, the Public Accounts Committee, from the Equality Commission, from a UN committee and a series of reports following my call to action in 2011. Now we have this report, which may not see the light of day given the DUP stance on academic selection.”
At this stage it’s very difficult to say whether or not the Iliad report will ever be published, but its findings provide yet another very clear indication that something must be done to close the attainment gap in our education system.
EDIT: Slugger contributor, Chris Donnelly, was on BBC Talkback yesterday lunchtime (8th December) discussing this issue. Here’s a link to the podcast.