Officials 'talking NI schools into gutter', says Paisley
A DUP MP has accused the children's commissioner and an education expert of talking Northern Ireland "right into the gutter".
Ian Paisley made the comments in response to claims by Sir Robert Salisbury.
Sir Robert previously reported on education funding in Northern Ireland for the Department of Education (DE).
He said some of NI's top schools are "exam factories" which can create stress for pupils, but do very well.
Children's Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma was also giving evidence on Wednesday.
At one point during the hearing Ian Paisley MP said Sir Robert was "talking my country down".
"I've only been in the room 20 minutes, but I must say I feel you've talked Northern Ireland right into the gutter," he said.
"Congratulations, if I was a child listening to this I'd be depressed listening to you two."
Sir Robert told BBC Radio Ulster on Wednesday that despite Mr Paisley's comments, there is "a long rump of under-achievement in Northern Ireland".
He added: "Many children are not getting the qualifications and the start in life that they deserve".
"We can bury our heads in the sand and try to convince ourselves that the problem doesn't exist, or we can try to do something about it."
The Northern Ireland Affairs committee of MPs is holding an inquiry into education funding in Northern Ireland.
At the meeting, Sir Robert said it was an "enduring myth" that Northern Ireland had one of the best education systems in Europe.
"It has a long tail of underachievement and that long tail of underachievement is still there and it's stubbornly there, and it's not really being tackled," he said.
"The school system - the success of it - should be measured on how it treats the least able youngsters in its society, not how it treats the most able.
"Some of the top schools in Northern Ireland for the top students do extremely - well, often they're exam factories which creates the stress but they do very well."
Later, in response to a query from Lady Hermon, Sir Robert conceded that the term "exam factories" was "a bit harsh".
"I was getting at schools that spoon-feed their students to pass exams at the end," explained Sir Robert.
Mr Paisley subsequently said that the term exam factories was "derisory" and "dismisses a significant number of high-achieving young adults in Northern Ireland".
Meanwhile, Ms Yiasouma replied: "When a high-achieving 10 A-star student tells me that they attend an exam factory it's not for me to say that they don't, it's for me to say why is that and how can that be different."
'Money spread too thin'
Ms Yiasouma also told the committee that academic selection was the "biggest injustice in our education system".
"If Northern Ireland is to have a shared future we need to educate Protestant and Catholic children and our increasingly diverse community together and we need to educate our boys and girls together, but for me the greatest injustice is what we do to our children from socially disadvantaged areas," she said.
"It's not a fair education system."
"Ask any child who goes to a non-selective school, who comes from a poorer community and they are like the child with their nose to the sweetie shop and they can't afford to go in."
Sir Robert said that there were too many schools - especially small ones - in Northern Ireland.
"We clearly have far too many types of schools, we have far too many tiny schools and we have been living beyond our means for a long time," he said.
"The money is spread too thinly - this funding crisis we have now was inevitable."
"Schools have cut down as much as they can at the moment but there's a point at which they can't manage."
Ms Yiasouma said that the number of different types of schools had contributed to a "crisis" in education.
"We have an unsustainable education system," she said.
"Some of that unsustainability is because of our multi-sectors that we have, but we're not going to overcome that any time soon."
DUP MP Gregory Campbell said that a "Bengoa-style overhaul" of the education system would be widely supported - referring to a review of Northern Ireland's health service.
"Some of our schools are at the top end in the United Kingdom," he said.
"But for me that's not good enough - that simply isn't good enough."
Meanwhile, Lady Hermon said there was "optimism" that there would soon be a settlement in an ongoing pay dispute with teachers.
But Ms Yiasouma called for central government to fund any pay rise, as she said schools could not cover it from their existing budgets.