Leading article

All pupils need equal chance to achieve their potential

We are well into the annual exam season with thousands of youngsters going through a process they hope will provide the qualifications they need to move onto the next step of their education or career.

It is a demanding and stressful time requiring hard work and commitment as well as support and guidance from schools and parents.

At different stages, the pupils will have to make choices in terms of subjects for GCSE and A Level and then decide if they want to pursue a degree, take up an apprenticeship or vocational training or go straight into the workplace.

The latest statistics from the Department of Education have provided a breakdown of exam results and where students headed after leaving school.

The figures for 2015/16 make interesting reading and raise issues for our education system.

Overall, 95.8 per cent of leavers were recorded as entering education, employment or training.

This is certainly a significant proportion and there may be those who choose not to go straight to college or take a job, but ideally we should be seeing virtually every school leaver having a career path in place when they move on from secondary education.

A university degree is the choice for an increasing number of young people in Northern Ireland.

The department's figures show 42.9 per cent of pupils went on to higher education, which was up from 42.3 per cent the previous year.

However, there are clear differences in terms of gender and religious make up which are quite striking.

Female students are much more likely to go to university - 50.3 per cent of girls pursue a degree compared to 35.7 per cent of boys.

In terms of religion, 38.7 per cent of Protestant school leavers took on a degree compared to 45.9 per cent of Catholics.

The education authorities need to look at why there are such disparities and ensure all our young people have an equal chance to fulfil their potential and attain the qualifications and skills they need for a future career.

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