Last week the Community Relations Council in Northern Ireland published its latest Peace Monitoring Report. This is designed to measure the extent to which Northern Ireland is progressing socially in what the report describes as a 'post-conflict situation'.
The report covers many aspects of society, but one in particular is relevant to the ongoing debate on the future of education in the Republic of Ireland. This is the extent to which differences have emerged in the educational attainments of the two communities. The report itself summarises the situation as follows:
"Catholics do better than Protestants. Catholic middle-class girls enjoy remarkable education success. Protestant working-class boys experience equally remarkable failure".
It is extremely important to note that Catholic children in the North by and large go to Catholics schools, while Protestant children by and large go to State schools so what we are measuring isn’t the difference between Catholic and Protestant schools but between Catholic and State schools.
The report then gives figures that support this conclusion, among which the most striking are:
among socially-advantaged (non-FMSE) children ('defined as NOT entitled to free school meals'):
64.5% of Catholic boys achieve 5 high-grade GCSEs, but only 58.6% of Protestant boys
76.7% of Catholic girls achieve 5 high-grade GCSEs, but only 71.8% of Protestant girls
among socially-disadvantaged (FMSE) children (defined as 'entitled to free school meals'):
33.2% of Catholic boys achieve 5 high-grade GCSEs, but only 19.7% of Protestant boys
43.8% of Catholic girls achieve 5 high-grade GCSEs, but only 32.4% of Protestant girls
The report compares these figures with corresponding figures for over 30 ethnic/gender/social groupsin England. It found that non-FMSE Catholic girls in Northern Ireland were second only to non-FMSE Chinese girls in educational attainment, but Protestant FMSE boys were the worst-performing group apart from Travellers and Roma.
The report found a similar pattern in the proportions of school-leavers going on to higher education:
37.6% of Catholic boys went on to higher education, but only 32.4% of Protestant boys
52.8% of Catholic girls went on to higher education, but only 45.9% of Protestant girls
This report needs to be studied carefully by all those interested in the future of education in the Republic.
Quite simply, the Catholic school system in Northern Ireland is achieving excellent results, but the state school system (to which almost all Protestant children go) is a disaster area, leaving Protestant working-class children almost the worst-educated ethnic/social groups in the UK.
These results are in line with the recent PISA results, which found the Republic of Ireland outperforming England, Scotland and Wales in all subjects. If the education system in the Republic divides into two in coming years, one Catholic and the other state/secular, will the same differences be found in a decade's time?
Those parents considering removing their children from Catholic schools and sending them to a state/secular school, while absolutely retaining their right to do so, should at least be made aware of these findings from Northern Ireland.