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"Equality in Education is vital" - Ruane

12 November, 2008

Education Minister Caitríona Ruane has said that she is committed to tackling inequalities in education.

The minister was speaking at the annual conference of the Equality Commission. The conference theme was "Every Child an Equal Child".

The minister said: "Across the education system we have great successes and I recognise and applaud these. We need to recognise, however, that too many children and young people are not getting the opportunity to reach their full potential.

"I and my department are committed to tackling inequalities throughout education which can impact adversely on children from the traveller community, children from ethnic minorities, children with additional needs or children from disadvantaged communities.

"One of the greatest challenges in education sees many of our young people disadvantaged through the widespread systematic inequality of educational attainment. Almost half our young people leaving full-time education do not have the necessary skills to enable them to find meaningful employment. That is why I have put raising standards at the top of my Department's priorities.

"Particular groups of children and young people experience profound educational inequality:-

· 92% of children from the traveller community have no GCSEs compared with 5% of all school leavers;
· 38% of children entitled to free school meals (FSM) attained at least 5 GCSEs at A*- C, while 70% of non-FSM children had the same level of
· 12% of people with a disability hold a qualification higher than "A" level, compared to 26% of people without disability; and
· 8.2% of ethnic minority children leave school with no GCSEs compared to 4.5% of all pupils."

The minister continued: "A socially disadvantaged pupil in a maintained school is twice as likely to go to university compared to a socially disadvantaged pupil in a controlled school. To spell it out, Protestant communities, particularly boys are being failed by our education system.

"In many disadvantaged areas, poverty of attainment feeds poverty of aspiration and lack of self-esteem. That cannot be allowed to continue.

"Our system of selective education actively discriminates against disadvantaged communities and helps perpetuate the cycle of deprivation. During the current year, 95% of children from primary schools in the Malone Road area went to grammar schools compared to 26% from Shankill primaries and 20% from New Lodge primaries. This social selection cannot be allowed to continue depriving children of the fullest educational experiences they are entitled to.

"I have developed proposals to allow children to transfer to post-primary schools without the use of a selective test. Proposals, which will see a process of informed election at 14, when most young people currently decide on their educational and career choices.

"Over the next year my department will be working with the Equality Commission to put together indicators to assess and measure equality within schools. A critical measure will be ensuring equality of outcomes for all.

"Together we have the opportunity to enhance the life chances of a generation of children and provide equality of opportunity."

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