Northern Ireland

Protestant boys' underachievement: Call for 'urgent action'

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Media captionJohn Kyle called for urgent action to tackle educational underachievement among Protestant working-class boys in Northern Ireland

The leader of a unionist working party on educational underachievement among poorer Protestant boys in Northern Ireland has called for urgent action.

Progressive Unionist Dr John Kyle's multi-party group came up with 28 recommendations for the Unionist Forum.

The report went to senior unionist politicians in mid-February but has yet to be published.

A new study has shown that Protestant boys on free school meals are among the lowest achieving groups in the UK.


The only social or ethnic groups with fewer achieving at least five good grades at GCSE are Roma and Traveller children, according to the study by the Community Relations Council.

The Unionist Forum was set up to tackle issues of concern in working-class loyalist areas after prolonged violence in the wake of a decision by Belfast City Council to only fly the union flag on designated days.

A group was set up to examine educational underachievement and to recommend action to be taken.

The group's final report was sent to the leaders of the main unionist parties in February, but the group is stilling waiting for it to be made public.

The chairman of the group, PUP councillor John Kyle, has said that the need for action is urgent and that political will and commitment are essential to success.

Among the recommendations are action zones, community champions, less tolerance of underachievement in the schools sector in which most Protestants are educated and a cap on grammar school places.


Education Minister John O'Dowd told BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme: "A radical change in the culture of the education system is needed.

"We are dividing young people at base, not on their knowledge, but on the income and background of their parents and their grandparents," he said.

"Until we take that subject on, and until those who are proponents of the grammar school sect accept that their system is harming working class communities - Protestant and Catholic working class communities - then these figures are going to be repeated time and time again."

A spokesman for the Democratic Unionist Party said: "Both the DUP and UUP leaders were present at a meeting which included John Kyle around two weeks ago where this report was discussed.

"Further meetings are planned in the next number of weeks working towards the launch of the document."

A spokesperson for the Ulster Unionist Party said: "As soon as we received the draft document we immediately identified two areas which we believed practical focus could be given to.

"These were the creation of action zones where underachievement was at its worst and the appointment of tsars, or champions, whose role would be to promote greater community engagement in education, given much of the influence on a child's education lies outside the school estate and the direct control of the teachers.

"The Ulster Unionist Party remains committed to making a more formal response and we are very close to completing our full analysis of the draft paper."

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