The Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) has reiterated its call for an end to academic selection and claimed “the woeful educational outcomes for children from our most disadvantaged communities are a damning indictment of our ‘world class educational system.’”
In a new policy document the party claims the anger manifest in the Union Flag protests showed a deep disaffection in many working class loyalist areas due to a myriad of factors not least educational underachievement, particualrly among Protestant boys.
‘Firm Foundations: Education: Getting it Right for Every Child’ refers to a report last year by Dr Paul Nolan, that showed poorer Protestant boys were close to the very bottom of the combined English and Northern Irish GCSEs attainment table just above groups like Irish Traveller and Roma children, who often present complex cases.
In 2012 the Sentinel reported how just 25 Protestant boys in receipt of free school meals who attended non-grammar schools throughout Northern Ireland went to university in 2011.
There were even fewer Protestant boys from deprived backgrounds who progressed from grammar schools to university. Just 23.
The new PUP report says our so-called ‘world class educational system’ is mythical.
“Our educational results are only average for industrialised nations (PISA 2012) and the ‘long tail’ of underachievement is greater in Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the UK,” it says.
“We are failing our most needy children. We have been failing them for decades. To change this will require political will, determination and long term commitment.
“The solutions are known but must be implemented in a coordinated and coherent way. Renewed focus and support for families through early childhood is essential.
“This should include expanding Sure Start and developing the Health Visitor role and provision.
“Schools require dynamic visionary leadership, competent teaching and robust and effective governance; Boards of Governors can no longer simply be cheerleaders for a school.
“Meaningful partnerships between schools, parents and local communities are essential; this will require dedicated community outreach staff.
“Success in the third millennium will have many more definitions than narrow academic attainment in traditional subject areas.
“Eric Hoffer suggests that learners will inherit the earth rather than the learned. The job of politicians is to ensure that each child, irrespective of background, is given the fullest opportunity to become the best learner they can become.
“This is their right and there is no more worthy task facing the Legislative Assembly. The challenge of providing our students with the skills, mindset and resilience to succeed in a rapidly changing employment market will only be met by increased collaboration between educationalists, industry, business and local communities.
“Economic recovery will not be sustainable without it. However this is not simply an economic imperative it is a matter of social justice.
“We all have a role to play and our children deserve no less,” the report concludes.