Congratulations to all those schools who appeared in the Irish News Exam Performance list (February 19) which ranks the top 30 grammar and top 50 non-grammar schools based on their examination results in 2016- 2017. Well done to all those pupils, their parents and their schools.
There are now 24 secondary schools in Northern Ireland with 50 per cent or more of their pupils on the free school meals register, almost 20 per cent of all our secondary schools and according to new research from the Institute for Fiscal studies the number of children living in poverty will increase by more than a million over the next five years. Predictably Northern Ireland will be one of the regions hardest hit with an increase of at least 8 percentage points. Only one of these schools, St Mary’s High School in Brollagh appears in the top 10 non-grammar schools list. St Mary’s is very much the exception to the rule and its circumstances are quite unique. It was earmarked for closure in 2018 due to falling enrolment. There are now fewer than 90 pupils at the school. This should not however detract from a magnificent achievement.
High concentrations of poverty in too many of our secondary schools are doing untold damage. All the research indicates that these figures are growing alarmingly and will only succeed in marginalising more and more of our schools and our young people. It’s not that high poverty schools can’t be good schools. They can but these schools are the exception rather than the rule. In 2000 the Heritage Foundation published a report entitled ‘No Excuses’, to show that high poverty schools could work well. The author proudly declared that he had found not one or two high poverty, high performing schools, but 21 high poverty, high performing schools. Unfortunately these 21 schools were dwarfed by the 7,000 high poverty schools identified by the US Department of Education as low performing.
According to the OECD schools in the UK are among the most socially segregated in western Europe and nowhere more so than here in Northern Ireland where social segregation is made even worse by so called academic selection.
Over fifty years ago educational reformers in Finland realised that equality of educational opportunity was going to be vital to economic success and that if a small nation were to succeed in a global economy they couldn’t afford inequality or segregation in schooling. We have yet to learn that lesson in Northern Ireland.
Republicans continue to excuse their putrid campaign
Alex Maskey recently called pre-1970 Northern Ireland a putrid little statelet. There may have been putrid things done but none were as putrid as the IRA campaign of violence that began in 1970 exemplified by the La Mon bombing 40 years ago. That campaign was not necessary as was perfectly illustrated in Tom Kelly’s recent recording of Pat McElroy’s life who though interned chose the way of peaceful protest and constitutional politics to address injustice – a perfect rejoinder to today’s republican apologists for the necessity of violence at the time. The provisional IRA campaign of violence was not needed to correct injustices and only drove back the cause of their main aim – Irish unity – by at least a few generations. And as Brid Rogers said, in that aim they failed miserably.
Current evidence of that failure is the widespread antipathy in the unionist community to a standalone Irish language act. The language has been besmirched because of its politicisation by republicans who continue to excuse their putrid campaign. Against this background language activists have little chance of persuading unionist people that an ‘Acht Gaeilige’ is as neutral as the language acts of Wales and Scotland.
As a Presbyterian with nationalist aspirations and mhac léinn na teanga it saddens me that so many nationalist people continue to vote for Sinn Féin when there is an alternative with an honourable record of non-violent resistance to injustice which eventually shamed the British government into action to correct the injustices. Alex Maskey is plain wrong to assert that it took more than the Civil Rights Association to secure rights.
A divided society
The most recent Stormont debacle is now easing off and the political/social commentators are coming to their usual frustrated appraisal of ‘Green and Orange’ sectarian politics dominating the political scene in the north of Ireland. The Stormont circus makes the headlines but the statistics show that Belfast along with every other part of the north remains overwhelmingly divided socially and economically.
Recent child poverty statistics reveal a shocking but expected divide in our society. Statistics based on families receiving out of work benefits, tax credits or earning less than 60 per cent of the median income show a huge inequality. On average the Falls, Shankill, Ballysillan and Ardoyne all show that around 50 per cent of children are now living in child poverty. A few miles across the city in the Lisburn and Malone road statistics show only 2 per cent to 5 per cent on average.
The peace walls that divide the inner city working-class communities will no doubt take media attention over the coming weeks and months and our apparent sectarian attitudes towards one another will get the blame. The nationalist and loyalist working-class both live in a divided society, a society divided by the economic elite who wage a continuing economic war against us.
Crippling austerity and large social inequality has already led to more than half our children living in poverty – soon it will take our healthcare, education and social services.
There may be a new handshake agreement in Stormont in the coming months and while the media and political establishment will roll out the carpet and celebrate, half of our children will be going to bed hungry, half will be living in unacceptable housing conditions and half will be positioned for a future of economic and social deprivation.
Any sensible person finding themselves in a deep hole would stop digging, but not if your name is Clare Bailey. Back she comes with more outrageous nonsense, trying to justify her previous offensive contempt for the unborn. Men, according to her, shouldn’t be allowed to hold any view on her abortion comments.
Incredibly she calls for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment – it’s what any decent Christian would do, she claims. You have to shake your head in despair.
Insult to real Little Englanders
Once again the term ‘Little Englander’ appears in your letters column (February 16). It is obvious that the way it is used shows the writers are unaware of the origin. It was a term coined by the supporters of the British Empire to denigrate those who were opposed to its expansion, a noble cause in my eyes and to use it in the manner S Burns uses it, ‘19th century Little Englander Tory Party’ is not only a contradiction but an insult to the real Little Englanders.
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