I’ve had quite a flurry of correspondence since my post yesterday about Dawn Purvis’ report and working party looking at underachievement in working class Protestant areas of Belfast. Some people take exception to me supporting a selection based system (despite the fact that it produces the best GCSE and A Levels results in the UK and the highest level of social mobility in the UK). Others believe that Comprehensive systems are more equitable (despite the fact that they produce the worst form of inequality – good schools only available to children of parents who can afford to pay the fees).
In my view the problems in working class areas of Northern Ireland in terms of educational under-achievement is explained, largely, by three things:
- The failure of parents to instil educational ambition in their children (itself the result of lack of education) as evidenced by poor participation in post-primary selection tests
- A parochial definition of identity and culture that is counter-intellectual (and sees education as a threat to identity)
- A non-competitive attitude to education (a perception that an academic focused education is best left to the toffs)
In short, the problem of under-achievement by these working class communities is the fault of the communities themselves – not society’s fault or even the fault of politicians. Moreover, Protestant/Loyalist tribal “culture” militates against modern-mindedness and free thought – important attributes, I’d suggest, in an increasingly global and interconnected society.
My challenge to Dawn Purvis and her working party is to create some structure, some body, some thing that seeks to reverse the lack of ambition, the parochial definition of identity and the non-competitive attitude to education. If such a body is put in place (and it doesn’t require the government or the Executive to put it in place) I may be even willing to lend a helping hand (if it’s wanted).