Disadvantaged Catholics more likely to attend university than Protestants


DISADVANTAGED CATHOLICS are twice as likely to attend university as Protestants, according to a new report commissioned by Independent unionist Assembly member Dawn Purvis.

Protestant children from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to leave school without qualifications than their Catholic counterparts, the Working Group on Educational Disadvantage and the Protestant Working Class also found.

The report, which was released yesterday, calls for concerted political, educational and social action to improve the educational prospects of Protestants living in disadvantaged areas. The problem particularly affects Protestant males, according to the report.

Ms Purvis, who established the working group, said while some other mainstream unionists may find “this issue of underachievement difficult or inconvenient to deal with” the Northern Executive had an urgent responsibility to tackle the problem. “The statistics are damning, the facts undeniable and the trend clear for all to see. Young Protestant men are underachieving: they are not going to university, many leave school without any qualifications and in an alarming number of cases without acceptable numeracy, literacy and life skills,” she added.

“The education system fails them, and so do the politicians who control how education is administered in this country,” said Ms Purvis.

Dr Peter Shirlow, from the faculty of law at Queen’s University Belfast, who led the research, said the evidence of underperformance by Protestant working class boys was beyond contradiction.

“Disadvantaged Catholics are twice as likely to attend university as Protestants. The time for statistical analysis is gone. The question now is: what is to be done?” he said.

“Generations of working class Protestants were heavily involved in manufacturing industry and viewed getting a trade as the main form of educational requirement. The collapse in this labour market and the movement towards a consumerist, service-driven economy has, to a degree, left elements of the Protestant working class stranded with redundant skills-sets and abilities,” added Dr Shirlow.

Jim Keith, principal of Belfast Boys Model School, said awareness that boys and girls often require different curriculum approaches to meet their educational needs may be part of the solution.

“This may be particularly true for boys from communities that continue to experience socioeconomic deprivation, poverty, academic underachievement and suffer most from the legacy of the Troubles. These boys and young men will do best in a classroom environment that understands and connects to the influences in their lives beyond the school gates,” said Mr Keith.

The working group called for greater investment within existing resources to establish a child poverty strategy.