The ‘Investigating Links in Achievement and Deprivation (Iliad)’ report

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.

  • Reader

    “One proposal put forward in the report to close the attainment gap is to do away with academic selection.”
    The problems start before the age of 11; they need to be fixed before the age of 11.

  • Korhomme

    Academic selection? What about gender selection? What about religious selection?

    There’s a long way to go.

  • Brian O’Neill

    Some would argue it starts at conception…

  • Zig70

    An ex pup member asking why aspirations are not what they should be? The focus on solely protestant kids rather than socially deprived can’t be healthy either. Is it going to achieve what we want if only one gets the focus. Smacks a bit of trying to engineer money for their own only.

  • notimetoshine

    You are right, indeed the first couple of years of primary school are key, i seem to recall a study saying that if a pupil falls behind in those critical first years it can be incredibly difficult to get them caught up.

  • scepticacademic

    I’ve said it before on this site. The DUP don’t seem to want to acknowledge, let alone address, this issue festering in their own back yard. Too busy blaming themuns and waving flags. And the mainstream media doesn’t want to ask them about it either.

  • barnshee

    In my (thankfully short) teaching career there were three major barriers to pupil achievement.

    1 Poor Pupil motivation
    2 Poor Pupil behaviour
    3 Low Pupil intellectual curosity/capacity –call it IQ if you dare

    Complaints about teaching have no answer when it is pointed out that, whist their wee Jimmy has had a less than stellar academic performance Brian, in the same class subject to the same regime has done rather well.

    You might also consider that females who in my opinion score very highly on pupil behaviour er do much better than boys

  • Greenflag 2

    Some would argue even before then .

  • chrisjones2

    So no battle of Agamemnon and Achilles ….no high ideals of honour …………………………just a lots of Prod wannabe drug dealers wrecking their communities while their elected numpties in the DUP smile benevolently on

    Perhaps the problem is that once you reach a critical mass of thickness in a community, if politics is representative, that is what then gets elected

    My only question is who on the research team had the idea for the title. Perhaps this time it was Homer Simpson?

  • Ulick

    Protestant children should have the right to underachieve to the same level of underachievement as Catholic children. It’s only fair.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    You’re spot on with those 3. I would add, having parents that don’t give a toss about their kids schooling, as a factor. My teaching friend has mentioned several times about the scumbag native belfast parents of some pupils, compared to the Polish kids and their parents. Guess which kids are better behaved, do better, and have parents that actually take an interest and help their kids learn?

  • Reader

    I like your brutal cynicism. On an observational level I share much of it. However:
    Where people enter the system, and have no academic potential, the education system should try to find other ways to make sure they can still be happy and fulfilled members of society.
    And, on the current topic, I am appalled by vast amount of academic potential that is wasted. I think the education system is working hard to deal with it, but the system is struggling in the face of poor parenting and blighted communities. I don’t think it’s fair to ask the education system to lead the fight.

  • Bedhead1157

    Being the product of, and still living in a pretty hardline loyalist area, I see the reasons for failure every day, a lot of the parents simply don’t a stuff about the kids and their education and it’s not unusual to see pre-teen kids out running about at 11 at night going buck mad, in the full knowledge that mummy or daddy will do absolutely sod all. I feel sorry for the teachers who have to try and instill a work ethic in these kids when they frequently see none at home, they have no positive role models and no ambition. Which is a pity because there are many kids with real potential that doesn’t stand a chance of being realised.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Agree, but it is believed that academic selection occurs a an age when people are too young to cope with failure.

  • Sir Rantsalot


  • Cosmo

    maybe there could be a role for the Ulster Orchestra, in all this
    read about the tough school in Bremen, which has been upgraded by an 8 year old year project of providing civilising role models

  • MainlandUlsterman

    You’re surely right, but as SR says, the environment, expectation and level of support at home are the key factors in (1) and (2). The poor behaviour and motivation comes from somewhere and it’s not just what they’re born with.

    Having some experience of kids from the looked after sector myself, a huge amount of damage to cognitive ability can be done in the early years by parents’ chaotic lifestyles and lack of age-appropriate boundaries in the home. Like a trampled down path in a field of wheat, the neural pathways formed by early experience become the paths of least resistance down which subsequent experience is channelled. Changing outcomes is largely about helping them trampling down some other routes through the wheat and helping them stick to those. School can only do so much though, if the original thoroughfare to nowhere is what they return to every afternoon and evening. It is very hard for them.

    Really we should be chucking resources at this and for me the focus has to be on getting kids out of the home as much as possible where it’s needed and providing other structured environments overseen by responsible adults who can provide a third space to home and school, linking up with the latter more than the former to support kids who want to break the cycle.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Cultures that value education highly do well in education, as can be seen from results around the world. The reverse is also true. I’ve criticised parents in another post on this thread but actually it’s wider than that. It’s not just a Northern Irish thing or a Protestant thing either, it’s primarily class/culture-based. Low educational expectations are endemic in many less affluent white British communities.

    You need only look at how children from non-white communities from similar social and economic backgrounds do vs their white peers to see the low levels of achievement are not inevitable. The cultural norms of the parents and wider support network are key. In some communities – take people from West African backgrounds for example – even where parents have not been high attainers themselves at school, they manage to maintain a supportive approach to their kids’ education which results in their kids having better chances in school. Of course it’s more complicated than that, but the levels of achievement from some ethnic groups in deprived areas of London, for example, often without even having English as a first language, shows what is possible.

  • Reader

    Seen that before, and I’m not buying it. Kids can deal with not all being on the football team; and not all being the star of the school play; and not all being the most popular person in the class. They can learn to accept or improve. The sooner the better.
    So if they can’t handle an exam result it’s because of pressure being put on them by the adults around them. Fix the adults.

  • Cosmo

    As one start on a basic in life – I really think there should be a huge re-think, respect, emphasis and expenditure on quality food and mealtimes in ‘difficult schools’. Fairly ill-disciplined English children, certainly when compared to French quickly adapt to sit at lunchtime in a French primary, sitting through 4 or 5 courses – sent to sit alone a separate table if they mess about – and exposed to taste real food that they would never encounter in ‘chicken nugget land’. I’ve seen the parents sigh with relief, as they simply just don’t know how to train their kids.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Well there’s all the trauma of being separated from your friends, siblings, moving schools, being told on the basis of one test you aren’t good enough for a grammar school, academic life or professional careers etc. You get elites and excluded at a young age, but who’s to say that the elites won’t develop entitlement and the excluded fortitude … surely there is a “life skills” element to academic success and failure that needs some focus.

    You can’t really engineer someone’s entire working destiny at 11, but you might give some people that their entire career and educational prospects have already have been predetermined at that age.

    It’s not just a case of accepting or improving (that is the biggest part though) there is the emotional maturity to accept that society is tough on failures, but you have to develop the character to learn from your mistakes, it is a part of growing up. I think schools who have good grades but fail to let students into that reality of life are also damaging their pupils.

  • Cosmo

    a dedicated Primary teacher, I know is working with the Continuous Learning philosophy which encourages & recognises personal endeavour and achievement, rather than just grades first, second, third in the class . She says as a teacher it takes energy and real attention to acknowledge individual progress or setbacks, but thinks this is the way to instil individual encouragement and self management for life learning.