“The report of the Expert Panel on educational underachievement has many strengths which we can learn from. An improved focus on early-years education, moves to tackle narrowed curriculum, the use of youth-work methodologies with boys, and highlighting teachers professional development will all help. However, the report pulls its punches. It reads as a self-censored report to achieve some traction with a particular Minister. And it misses the elephant in the room.”

The elephant in the room is that Northern Ireland’s system isn’t just the most socially segregated in the UK. It is the most socially segregated education system in the developed world (ranking 34th of 34 developed world systems: source OECD country by country report 2012).

Acute social segregation in schools matter because it is the single most important determinant of educational performance, individually or systemically, bar none. Class matters, period. And the Expert Panel have failed to call it out, in plain terms.

Detailed research from the Coleman report in the US in the 1960’s to today tell us that socially mixed intakes work better for all, but particularly for the poorest children. Put a child in impoverished circumstances in a socially mixed school and they will do well. 

Put the same child in a high-poverty school and they will struggle.  There is complete academic consensus on this.  And compensatory measures, such as TSN (Targeting Social Need) can only tinker at the edges, no matter how many millions are poured in.”

“Socially balanced intakes cost nothing in cash terms. All that is required is sustained political will, and sticking to the evidence.  On this measure, the report of the Expert Panel represents a missed opportunity”

You can read the panel’s report here:

A Fair Start – Final Report & Action Plan | Department of Education (education-ni.gov.uk)