DUP North Antrim MLA Mervyn Storey and former Chair of the Assembly Education Committee has welcomed the appointment of an Expert Panel to examine links between educational underachievement and social disadvantage but cautioned that young people in all parts of Northern Ireland, including working-class Protestant boys in North Antrim, should receive the attention they deserve.
Commenting on the launch of the Panel, Mr Storey said:
‘‘I am delighted that this Panel has been established. In light of fears that Covid-19 and extended closure of schools and other outreach services could have a long-term impact on the prospects of disadvantaged young people the Education Minister is right to make this a priority with further delay.
In 2017/18, only 48.6% of Free School Meal entitled school leavers achieved the benchmark of five or more GCSEs. It is critical that we identify the social factors driving these patterns so government and education providers can eventually agree interventions which improve outcomes.
We are clear that every child, regardless of their background, deserves a real chance and stake in life. For years I have expressed concerns in respect of the links between social disadvantage and poorer educational outcomes among working-class Protestant boys living in towns and villages across North Antrim.
It is vital that this Panel takes account of the evidence right across our Province, not just in Belfast or Londonderry, in order to promote a fair outcome for children and young people no matter where they live or go to school.
As the Panel’s work gets off the ground I will continue to make representations in order to ensure the needs of local young people are central to any report.’’