Students perform substantially worse in high poverty schools

Grammar schools in Northern Ireland now take 44 per cent of the student population at age 11. They then go on to cream off the best of the secondary school pupils between years eight to 10. According to a report ‘Dozens of students swapping to grammar school in later years’ (January 14) Department of Education statistics show that 131 children who were first years at a non-grammar school in 2016/17 started the next year in a grammar setting. A further  55 young people left their secondary schools for a grammar education between years nine and 10, of these 186 pupils brought in from non-grammars just 23.6 per cent were entitled to free school meals. Then to add insult to injury the grammar sector dumped 126 of their pupils who were struggling into the secondary sector. Of these 126 pupils 43.2 per cent were entitled to free school meals.

Is it any wonder that we have the most socially segregated education system in Western Europe? As the levels of poverty here rise, more and more disadvantaged children will be concentrated in high poverty secondary schools. More advantaged children will go to one type of school and poor children will go to another. All the research from the 1966 Coleman Report (Equality of Educational Opportunity) to the present day show that while being poor imposes a disadvantage, attending a school with large numbers of low income classmates presents a second independent challenge. All students perform substantially worse in high poverty schools. A child from a low income household in a socially disadvantaged area does much better in a school with a socially mixed intake. The peer effect is vital. The same child attending a high poverty school does worse always. Research reliably finds that schools with higher percentages of poverty have lower levels of achievement for all students including those from more affluent backgrounds. Our education system delivers a higher percentage of working age adults who have no formal qualifications than anywhere else in the UK by a wide margin.

Sir Robert Salisbury, in an address to the Policy Forum for Northern Ireland in December 2015 cited examples where the achievement gap for Northern Ireland is the widest in Europe. He reported that no schools in England had such poor achievement as the lowest achieving schools in Northern Ireland.


Downpatrick, Co Down

Taoiseach still has pivotal role to play in backstop

Hold on Dublin. Playing a patsy for Brussels is the wrong choice which ultimately the Republic will regret. Pursuing punishment as a payback against the British includes unionists in Northern Ireland. Risking the Belfast Agreement by disrespecting the people’s vote across the UK surely cannot be the intention but it is fast causing annoyance. Spoiling a deal that was workable without the Irish border backstop has left a sour taste.

Prior to the decisive defeat of the prime minister’s Brexit deal the DUP had indicated that with the removal of the backstop and other minor adjustments they were minded to support the May deal. So, please hold on Dublin, the emphasis in Westminster has shifted. The May deal is dead. The focus in London is on the next deal. Now Brussels finally realise that they have created a backstop monster resulting in panic across the EU manufacturing and marketing base they will renegotiate. 

Mr Varadkar could signal a willingness to move the backstop out of the legally binding withdrawal agreement. He could indicate an intention to argue the backstop case in the next phase of negotiations specifically about trade arrangements. He could agree to the backstop being incorporated into a trade settlement with the UK. He could help ease tensions and admit that the backstop cannot be a selfish Irish only deal. He could be less aggressive and more accommodating toward unionists in Northern Ireland.

The legal countdown to UK independence day has commenced and is inescapable. Picking a fight with the fourth largest world economy was never a good idea.

The British establishment will ensure that on March 29 the EU exit is orderly and managed in the best interests of all British citizens.

The taoiseach can still play a pivotal role in a rescue act preventing bad blood between the British and Ireland. The question is will he renegotiate the positional place of the backstop in all our interests?


Strangford, Co Down

Lack of original thinkers

If I had a pound for every time I heard a politician utter the phrase ‘the reality is’ then I still wouldn’t have enough to afford one of Ian Paisley’s foreign holidays, but might get a week in Bundoran. That particular cliché is used to thump us ad nauseum, but serves only to symbolise the lack of creativity extant in modern politics across The Celtic isles. There seems to be no original thinking of note on these islands. Even Brexit is a return to the past, with those who oppose it expressing an inexplicable desire to continue with a broken status quo.

Perhaps true republicans, who must be socialist (not merely those who pretend to be), can lead the way by ignoring the British administration that is Stormont. They could then focus entirely upon local councils. 

Strengthening and expanding council powers, with a view to solid inter-council cooperation, will circumvent the failure that is Stormont and ensure some form of relevant regional governance. In 1918, republicans began to think outside of the box and progressed accordingly. Today, those who would yet claim to be republican seem content to reside in their colonial-made pigeon-holes. 

There appears to be an obvious dearth of vision, inspiration and determination among the well-fed politicos of the six counties. That’s the sad reality.


Ballynahinch, Co Down

Councillors should be ashamed of themselves

We are less than two weeks into the new year and some of our councillors have again demonstrated any lack of knowledge of feelings on the ground. Firstly, we had councillors demanding an ‘urgent review’ of their pay and benefits (despite more than 50 per cent of these councillors having another paid job).

We learnt about the tragic deaths of at least 10 people in north and west Belfast over the holiday period due to drug and alcohol misuse. What was the response of Belfast city councillors?

The Sinn Féin and DUP block on the council decided to allocate £500k of ratepayers’ money to ‘bonfire diversionary activities’. Surely this money would have been better spent on drug and alcohol addiction and preventative services.


Glengormley, Belfast 

Overlooking the facts

In requesting that ‘purveyors of the revisionists’ republic (26 county state) stay away from the centenary commemoration of the Soloheadbeg Ambush, isn’t Patrick Donohoe (January 17) overlooking the fact that two of the leading members of the eight-man ambush party who became politicians, Seamus Robinson and Dan Breen, were later respectively elected in the first case a Free State Senator as a member of Fianna Fáil (1927 to 35) and in the second case serving for 33 years as a Fianna Fáil TD up till 1965, and indeed that Dan Breen as a Republican TD entered the Dáil a few months ahead of Fianna Fáil in 1927, regardless of the oath (for which he temporarily lost his seat)?


Tipperary, Co Tipperary