Inquiries to focus on poor performance

Written by: Simon Doyle | Published:

Politicians in Northern Ireland are to tackle poor performance in schools – by establishing two separate inquiries.

The political institutions are up and running again after a three-year hiatus. Part of the deal to bring the parties back into government is a promise to establish a group to examine and propose an action plan to address links between persistent educational underachievement and socio-economic background.

This will look specifically at the long-standing issues facing working class, Protestant boys. Details of this group and inquiry are yet to be made public.

At the same time, the newly restored Education Committee at the Stormont Assembly says it wants to re-instate a shelved probe into the issue. The Inquiry into Educational Underachievement was scrapped when the executive collapsed in January 2017. The cross-party committee had already started receiving evidence and submissions.

There remain concerns about the number of young people leaving school without qualifications, working class Protestant children, and wider male underachievement.

The committee plans to review the scale of the problems faced by both primary and post-primary pupils. They will look at issues including early years interventions, literacy and numeracy programmes, and the impact of academic selection and post-primary transfer.

Members will also “identify and analyse alternative approaches and models of good practice in other jurisdictions in terms of policy interventions and programmes”.

Meanwhile, academics from the Centre for Research in Educational Underachievement at Stranmillis University College have just published their own report into the issue.

They say that there is a “significant relationship between underachievement, social disadvantage” and a “myriad of in-school and out-of-school factors which are associated with student achievement”.

The report adds: “Research on educational underachievement in Northern Ireland since 2000 has not been comprehensive, with only one substantial academic research project fully focused on this issue, despite policy-makers’ repeated calls for progress in this area.

“Internationally, a long tail of underachievement belies Northern Ireland’s reputation for producing academically high-achieving pupils, indicating a country-level problem requiring a Northern Ireland-specific focus.”


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