Appointment of an Expert Panel to Examine Links between Persistent Educational Underachievement and Socio-economic Background

Part of Ministerial Statements – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 11:00 am on 28th July 2020.

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Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP 11:00 am, 28th July 2020

It is good to see that the Member still rides the same hobby horse throughout. I am reminded of the words of Churchill that, after all the devastation of the First World War:

"the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone" emerged once again. He meant that nothing in this part of the world had changed. To be fair, it would not be an education statement without the Member asking something about academic selection.

The Member makes a right point. He reinforces what is in the statement. In his own words, he indicates that a higher percentage of working-class Protestant boys leave without qualifications than do boys on the other side of the community, but this should not be something on which we take a tit-for-tat attitude. Educational underachievement, as indicated in the statement, affects all of us. The issue of Protestant FSME boys is directly referenced in NDNA, and we will have to fulfil that. Actions will need to be looked at for the educational underachievement panel and for the wider review of education. Issues of transfer probably more neatly fit into that wider review.

Let us be honest about this. The obsession with transfer as the critical point for underachievement massively misses the point. It creates a distraction and focuses, largely speaking, on the wrong issue. Whereas we need that effort and support for all our children at all ages, if we have not made the right interventions at primary level or even before, we have largely missed the boat. That is why the focus needs to be on ensuring that we have all the measures that can be put in place to help tackle underachievement for all pupils, irrespective of their community background.