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Education inequality worsening, Equality Commission warns

The Equality Commission says identifying inequality in education is the first step in addressing the problem

INEQUALITY in education has become worse in the north since 2007, with persistent underachievement by Protestant students compared to their Catholic counterpart, according to a report by the Equality Commission (EC).

The report showed Protestant, and particularly male, students persistently have lower levels of attainment than Catholics at GCSE and A Level, a gap that has widened in recent years.

The EC’s Draft Statement on Key Inequalities in Education also showed there is a higher proportion of Catholics entering higher education than Protestants, although more Protestants complete their chosen course.

In general, males have lower levels of attainment than females throughout their education and, as a result, there are fewer males entering higher education than females.

Despite this, females continue to have a lower share of enrolment in Stem (science, technology, engineering, maths) subjects in higher education.

Pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds who do not have satisfactory language skills are more likely to leave school with no GCSEs than the rest of the population. 

They are also less likely to gain employment upon leaving higher education

Traveller and Roma children have some of the lowest attainment levels of all students from a minority ethnic background and report the most negative experiences of education.

The report also says that "prejudice-based bullying is a persistent problem", with students with a disability, of same-sex attraction, from a minority background and Transgender students the most vulnerable to bullying.  

Students with a disability or with special educational needs have lower attainment levels at A Level and GCSE and are less likely to go on to higher education than pupils without a disability or special educational needs.

Leavers from further and higher education who self-report a disability are less likely to move into employment, particularly full-time employment.

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Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission Dr Michael Wardlow said identifying inequality was only the first step and action must be taken to address the issues.

“There is a responsibility on those who shape and manage our education systems - those in government departments and the assembly; on education and school boards; on the Churches; political leaders and those across the community - to focus on and overcome these enduring barriers which continue to disadvantage the most vulnerable sections of our community,” he said.

“The Equality Commission is eager to work with these groups to help ensure that our education system, which serves all our people, is robust and built on a stable and secure base.”

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