‘We won’t fulfil this negative prophecy’

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Lisneal Principal Michael Allen is sick to his back teeth of reports regurgitating dismaying stats that show poorer Protestant boys are suffering persistently lower levels of educational attainment.

“My feeling is that sometimes these reports, although they highlight the issue, they do more damage than help.

“We have to make our children more aspirational and to do this, I think we need more role models in working class Protestant communities,” Mr Allen told the Sentinel.

He was commenting on the publication of the Equality Commission’s ‘Draft Statement on Key Inequalities in Education in Northern Ireland.’
Amongst the statement’s findings are that “there is persistent underachievement and lack of progression of working class Protestants, particularly males. Protestant males pupils entitled to free school meals (a measure of social disadvantage) have the lowest rates of attainment in respect to GCSE and A Level results.”

The statistics are stark and have appeared in several reports previously.

Mr Allen says it’s old news and points out that locally at least - the report includes no regional breakdown - Lisneal is bucking the trend.

Whilst just over two years ago the Waterside school was still in formal intervention, now Mr Allen can boast that boys from his class of 2015 GCSE school-leavers - many working-class - actually outperformed girls in all subjects bar English.

“If you look at our Year 12 school-leavers this year, boys, five GCSEs A* to C, achieved 86.9 per cent.

“They actually out-performed girls by 3.6 per cent.

“When you include Maths they outperformed girls by 11 per cent.

“But when it comes to literacy and you include English, girls outperformed boys by 20 per cent.”

Mr Allen says further equalisation of attainment can be achieved.

“I come from a working class Protestant family myself. How did I become principal of Lisneal? Family support. We need parents to take a more active role in their children’s education.

“They need to encourage their children to value education, to see it as an opportunity, rather than a chore.”

He says Lisneal instils positive values in its pupils. Its motto is ‘Respect for Everyone, Achievement for Life.’

He warned Dr Michael Wardlow, Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission’s, description of poor Protestant boys as ‘bottom of the heap’ only served to stigmatise.

He said: “There’s a danger of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you keep telling people, they are ‘bottom of the heap,’ there’s a danger they’ll become demoralised.”

The bleak Equality Commission statement says low levels of educational attainment are “diminishing life chances and the quality of life in all the main domains of adult functioning: education, family, workplace and community.”

It finds Unionists are doing less well than nationalists, and those of neither political opinion, in terms of highest qualification.

It suggests there is a strong feeling that the two phenomena are related.

The ‘Draft Statement on Key Inequalities in Education in Northern Ireland’ highlights the Commission’s assessment of the inequalities and educational experiences faced across the equality grounds in Northern Ireland.

It says more needs to be done to equalise attainment across all backgrounds.

“Protestants persistently have lower levels of attainment than Catholics at GCSE, GCSEs including English and Maths, and A Level. Furthermore, between 2007/08 and 2011/12, the gap between Catholic and Protestant attainment has widened for all three education targets, therefore this is not only a persistent, but an increasing, inequality,” the report says.

Once again the report points out how poorer Protestant boys are being failed.

“There is persistent underachievement and lack of progression of working class Protestants, particularly males. Protestant males pupils entitled to free school meals (a measure of social disadvantage) have the lowest rates of attainment in respect to GCSE and A Level results.

“They also have the highest proportions of non-attainment, and the lowest proportions of school leavers moving on to higher education,” the report states.

Pathways to third level are being blocked for young Protestants.

“The persistently lower levels of attainment for Protestant pupils may be a reason why fewer Protestant school leavers enter higher education than do Catholics.

“Catholics are persistently more likely to enter higher education than other groups. Protestants are persistently more likely to enter job training than the other groups,” the report says.

“Within higher education, there are more Catholics in comparison to their share of the Northern Ireland population, in both undergraduate and postgraduate enrolments.

“This gap in student enrolments in higher education has widened slightly as the share of Protestant enrolments has remained stagnant while the Catholic share has slightly increased. This is a persistent inequality.”