Education Minister John O’Dowd says social rather than religious background is the strongest factor in persistent educational under achievement among young Protestant and Catholic boys.
He made the comments in response to DUP East Londonderry MLA Gregory Campbell who asked what measures he intends introducing to help raise educational attainment rates for young Protestant boys.
Whilst 457 working-class Protestant boys left school without proper qualifications in 2014/15, 909 Catholic working-class boys also left education without proper qualifications.
The Minister says he wants to ensure that poorer children regardless of faith have a better chance of getting better results.
“I am determined to address the inequality in our education system and I have in place policies to raise standards and tackle educational underachievement wherever it exists. Tackling inequalities in education is an issue that cannot be solved quickly and while we have made some progress in recent years, this is a multi-faceted, societal issue and one that education authorities and schools cannot tackle on their own,” said the Minister.
“The evidence suggests that social background is the strongest factor impacting on attainment here, and whilst the performance of our most deprived pupils has continued to improve over the last few years, and at a faster rate than their more affluent peers, the gap between them is still too wide. It is clear that schools need additional resources to help these pupils achieve their potential and I have redistributed school funding to target those schools with high numbers of pupils from socially disadvantaged backgrounds.
“I also continue to target substantial resources at disadvantaged communities, including Sure Start, extended schools, full service programmes, Achieving Belfast and Achieving Derry Bright Futures programmes, and projects to address educational underachievement in the Greater West Belfast area.
“I am working hard to break the link between disadvantage and educational outcomes; however, there is an important role to be played by parents, community leaders and those with influence in the community in raising educational awareness and aspiration in socially deprived communities.
“While some schools persist in the use of academic selection, we will be unable to eradicate social division and those political proponents of social and academic selection must start accepting responsibility for all its outcomes, especially the outcomes for working class children.
“I am however encouraged when I see communities where formal education has not traditionally been prized now recognising that education is the path to success in the future,” said the Minister.