The collapse of traditional manufacturing and a lack of role models have been cited as possible causes for Protestants’ persistently poor educational results.
The Equality Commission produced a report titled ‘Key Inequalities in Education’, published on Tuesday, which said that in some respects the education gap between Catholics and Protestants has worsened.
The report found (among other things) that “Protestants persistently have lower levels of attainment than Catholics” in GCSEs and A-levels – a divide which increased between 2007 and 2012.
It concludes “this is not only a persistent, but an increasing, inequality”.
It said that this is why “fewer Protestant school leavers enter higher education than do Catholics”.
The report said that some barriers to a better education for Protestant males include “intergenerational mistrust and negativity towards the benefits of education; the divided nature of the school system in Northern Ireland, lower post-16 provision in controlled schools; a lack of male working-class role models in schools; and weakened community infrastructure in urban Protestant areas in particular”.
It also cites research which shows that part of the problem may lie in “the collapse in the manufacturing industry which has led to the movement towards a consumerist, service-driven economy leaving some elements of the Protestant working class stranded with redundant skills-sets and abilities”.
DUP education spokesman Peter Weir said that while academic selection is often blamed “as the reason behind all educational problems”, its abolition would be “counter-productive”.
Instead, efforts at removing inequality should be concentrated “at pre-school level and the early years of primary”.
Education Minister John O’Dowd said: “Our primary school pupils perform exceptionally well compared with their peers around the world...
“This is a positive picture but we need to ensure that the focus remains on improvement and equity because unfortunately gaps remain.”