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

There are two aspects to this. There is an ambitious time frame, and the panel will report in May 2021. It will look at the medium- and long-term actions that can be taken. However, the Member is right in certain regards: we cannot wait until May 2021 before we make interventions. That is why we will come back when all the meat has been put on the bones of the Engage programme. The principal intervention, in terms of catch-up in the 2020-21 period, will be the Engage programme. That will enable some intervention throughout all schools, but there will be particular support and emphasis on schools that serve areas where, the indicators suggest, there are higher than average levels of social deprivation. That will be the greatest level of intervention.

It is undoubtedly the case, it seems to me, that there will have been some disruption and impact. We will not know the absolute scale of that until we see children back in classrooms and in front of desks. That will allow an assessment to take place. It also seems logical that it is more likely to make a disproportionate impact on those who come from socially deprived backgrounds. That is why there will be greater emphasis in the Engage programme on those coming from socially deprived areas. There will be the greatest support for schools that look after pupils from those backgrounds.