Primary school principal in loyalist Shankill area points to social, economic and political issues

Glenwood Primary School principal not surprised Protestant working class boys are underachieving compared with their Catholic counterparts

Terry Leathem, principal of Glenwood Primary School on the Shankill Road.

Terry Leathem, principal of Glenwood Primary School on the Shankill Road.

 

Terry Leathem (58) is principal of Glenwood Primary School in the loyalist Shankill area of Belfast, a school where 70 per cent of its 530 pupils are entitled to free meals – one of the key indicators of underprivilege.

He is not at all surprised that Protestant working class boys especially are underachieving compared with their Catholic counterparts and compared generally to girls. But he says it isn’t just an educational problem; more particularly he feels it is a social, economic and political issue.

He says that over the years many other reports have come up with similar findings. “There appears to be a general acceptance of the issue but not a general and co-ordinated approach to delivering some kind of resolution to it.”

Mr Leathem, reflecting a widespread opinion, says that in Protestant working class areas the old view still somehow seemed to partly hold that Protestant boys didn’t depend on education because they would get jobs in the shipyards and big engineering companies - even though these jobs no longer exist.

Catholic households are more tuned into how education is a way out of deprivation, he believes. “The Protestant ethic has kind of switched sides,” says Mr Leathem.

He believes that the Progressive Unionist Party and its former leader Dawn Purvis and also Sinn Féin politicians such as education Minister for Education John O’Dowd have a real understanding of the problem and have tried to do something about it, but that the DUP and Ulster Unionist Party haven’t got to grips with the issue.

“They talk about the problem but they don’t feel for it. They will say it’s terrible but they’ll not actually be proactive in doing something about it. They need to have a more comprehensive overview of the situation,” Mr Leathem says.