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A headline to behold April 3, 2014

Posted by Tomboktu in Bits and Pieces, Complete nonsense, Equality.

The Belfast Telegraph’s lead story on its website at the moment is stunning.

Protestant schoolboys left at the bottom of the class – with results only slightly better than Travellers or Roma children

Belfast Telegraph

Of course, what they really meant is: “Traveller and Roma children left at the bottom of the class“.


1. Joe - April 3, 2014

Stunning? I’d call it depressing.

I’m with Haass – they should just keep on getting on.

But I wouldn’t hold my breath.


Bob Smiles - April 3, 2014

Eamonn McCann on same subject in Irish times today


2. seanmunger - April 3, 2014

Wow, that’s mighty racist for a headline trying to be informative!


3. 6to5against - April 3, 2014

Just how many layers of prejudice could they fit into one headline?

Note the focus on boys, the pejorative assumption that travellers and roma should be at the bottom, the implication that its awful that protestants are at the bottom (when you ignore the travellers and roma…) – as opposed to say some other well known religious grouping?

And is there something even more complex in their attitude to travellers and roma in relation to the tradtional NI sectarian divide. Wouldn’t both groups be likely to be catholic?


justin - April 3, 2014

It’s shocking stuff in all kinds of ways . But I think you’re having to work pretty hard to identify anti-catholic bias in that headline. It ‘s bad enough as it is. I don’t think the assumption is that it would be ok if catholics were down there and i dont detect anti catholic bias in the reference to Roma and Travellers. I haven’t seen any studies but I’d bet that anti Roma and anti Traveller bias is a bigotry shared by all ‘sorts’ in NI and also opposed by all ‘sorts’.


6to5against - April 3, 2014

I see how it reads that way but I didn’t mean to imply any specific anti catholic bias. I was more trying to point out the complex web of prejudices implied in the headlines and/ or the farce that often ensues when you try you separate society into neat groupings.

I’m inclined the believe that inequality is the over-riding and yet unspoken theme in much media comment. But too often they focus on arguing about which groups should or should not be isolated rather than addressing the inequality itself.

Surely the headline should have been ‘huge inequalities in NI education’

To put it another way, is there any group they would be happy to see at – or close to – the bottom


EWI - April 4, 2014

Well, if “Protestants” being at the “bottom” of the class is the message the headline writers mean to grab the attention of the average Belfast Telegraph reader, just what religious grouping do you think they imply are therefore at the “top” (and thereby generating concern by their position). Especially given this is Norn Iron.

Buddhists? Hindus? Rastafarians?


Justin.O'Hagan@glasgow.ac.uk - April 4, 2014


Yes media stories which are all about class are often framed as stories about ‘others’, or lifestyle choices etc. Just as economic “analysis” which discusses the ‘need’ for cutbacks, longer working lives etc and which fails to foreground the massive pot of dosh owned by the top 1% is basically propaganda.

And yes the real story is class inequality.

Yes SF deserves credit for it’s opposition to academic selection. But do you know the history of Catriona Ruane’s cack-handed attempts to push through the end of selection? And will we see an end to selection under the current SF minister for education?

Moreover, SF is very comfortable with the continuation of sectarian education, albeit with a ‘shared’ dimension.


Gewerkschaftler - April 4, 2014

No I didn’t Justin – and thanks for the info. SF is, as ever, a mixed bag.


workers republic - April 4, 2014

I think what they’re really saying is that Catholics are at higher up the education ladder than Protestants, Travellers and Roma are minorities.
There are historical reasons for this.
In the Orange state,
Catholics were discriminated against in employment especially
in the engineering and shipbuilding trades (crafts) and education was seen as an aid to getting employment. Many Catholic secondary schools like St. Columba’s were really “grind schools” as well as preparing some pupils for the seminary. Eamonn Mc Cann ‘s War in an Irish Town recounts his experience in this school in an insightful and witty manner, John Hume also studied ( and worked as a teacher ?) there.
Possibly the headline was sounding a note of alarm : are the “croppies” not lying down


4. Joe - April 3, 2014

In fairness to Liam Clarke and the Telegraph, they are quoting from something called the Peace Monitoring Report from the Community Relations Council.
It seems that “Protestant FSME boys are close to the very bottom, just above Irish Travellers and Roma children.” is a direct quote from the report itself.

It appears to be some kind of madness though, doesn’t it. There’s a reference to Chinese girls in Britain who apparently do a tad better in school than Catholic girls in Northern Ireland. Just, wtf?


5. roddy - April 3, 2014

The reason for this is the massive social divide that exists in the protestant school system.The DUP and OUP support the elite Grammer schools and don’t give a f—- about those who do not gain entrance to these schools.They have blocked SF attempts to ban academic selection at every turn.The catholic schools are more socially diverse and even the grammer schools in that sector are gradually moving to a comprehensive system through mergers (etc)


6. benmadigan - April 3, 2014

eurofree3.wordpress.com has commented on this issue in the past, analysing contributing factors and proposing a solution.A new comment appeared this evening.
This is not news – though the community relations report is. The protestant working class educational performance has slipped even further since the original westminster report years ago.
Even Dawn Purvis – back in the day when she was in the PUP, worked to try and improve things for protestant working class schooling. Got nowhere, of course!
This type of educational performance is just one example of the outcome of Paisley, DUP, UVF, UDA etc dominance in working-class protestant areas.
I feel sorry for them. Naomi Long’s victory in East Belfast really was a sign of progress for working class protestants and let’s hope it (and others like it) are repeated in the future


7. Gewerkschaftler - April 4, 2014

So essentially once again sect or ‘ethnicity’ is allowed to drown out the essential class message – working class children do worse in the school system. Well, well, well – who would have thunk it?

The end of academic selection and elite schools, which roddy above mentions, is part of the answer. Fair play to SF for pushing this policy.


8. roddy - April 4, 2014

Justin,SF are being blocked at every turn by all the unionists in the assembly as they try to end selection.The SDLP pretend to be against selection but are only lukewarm in their opposition.It will be used for admission in only a tiny minority of catholic schools ,the way things are panning out.With regards to integrated schools ,I as a SF supporter am all for children being educated together but in a totally NEUTRAL environment (ie)- no union jackery,no access to British military recruiters,no poppy selling ,no nonsense about the first world war “uniting us all” and no portrayal of Republicanism as being somewhat not legitimate.


Michael Carley - April 4, 2014

Do you really believe that there is such a thing as a `totally neutral environment’? Better a school where poppies are sold, and lilies likewise, than one where you never come across a point of view you don’t agree with.


9. Justin - April 4, 2014

Yes,Roddy, you’re correct – SF have been blocked on the issue but Ruane , in full hectoring mode, showed that she was totally unable to develop any allies on this issue. And I don’t follow O’Dowd much but is he trying to develop an alliance and moving anything forward on this issue? .

You say ‘a SF supporter am all for children being educated together’ .Me too, Roddy. Although, as a SF supporter, the party that you support is in favour of ‘shared education’, which is quite different and aims for ‘diversity’ while keeping the churches firmly in control. After you wrote about poppies in integrated schools in a recent post, I was horrified to find that some integrated schools do indeed sell poppies. I wrote to the Integrated Education Fund to express my disagreement and anger.

But, and it’s a big but, I’d rather my child goes to an integrated school where poppies are sold than he goes to a school controlled by religious sects of various stripes. You imply that integrated schools are defacto cultural unionist: if that’s what you imply, you are quite simply wrong on this.

More important for me than poppery is the fact that Integrated schools have an explicit (but undefined) ‘Christian ethos’. For me religious insight is primarily personal (or delusional) and that in the eyes of the state religious communities should be elective. Given this, the state should not fund any religious body, especially something as fundamental to a society as a school. But, same big but, even that won’t stop me from sending my wee fellah to a school where the religious affiliation/ sectarian delusions of adults plays no part in who he sits beside and plays with every day.


10. roddy - April 4, 2014

Justin,I attended a catholic school which I detested because of its authoritian regime.Some people I knew attended a nearby “protestant” grammar which had a substantial catholic intake.The people who attended this school would have prided themselves as to how “liberal” they all were protestants and catholics together and all that.However there was definitely a unionist ethos -flags ,royality ,no Irish history and unfettered access by the British army and RUC.There was also an air of unadulterated snobbery about the place.In contrast my school was all ability ranging from pupils with severe literacy problems to those who went on to attend Cambridge university.The Brits and RUC were never allowed to darken the door and while republicanism was never encouraged ,British imperialism and royality were never lauded.As I said I will never remember my school days fondly but my school was the lesser of 2 evils.Unfortunately the integrated schools while perhaps more socially diverse do display a defacto unionist ethos.Royality,British army recruitment ,poppys ,the first world war and the RUC are all deemed legitimate.A false equivalence is made between the orange order and the GAA for example and the poppy is equated with a non contentious emblem like the shamrock.Try promoting the easter lily as a counter to the poppy and you’d be shown the door.Peter Robinson has even begun to hint at integrated education because he can see that in its present form it would be advantageous to him in creating a “British ” ethos.


11. A sheugh would solve it … | Irish waterways history - April 4, 2014

[…] summary, here is Liam Clarke’s account in the Belfast Telegraph, and here is his commentary; Tomboktu and others pointed to some problems with the headline on the first piece, but I’m more concerned that […]


12. Justin - April 4, 2014

Roddy, your story about the protestant grammar school with lots of catholics in it makes no point at all about integrated education (which often adheres to a comprehensive system, by the way).

Supply me with substantial, preferably peer reviewed, empirical evidence that integrated schools are de facto unionist, and I will not believe that you prefer catholic education to integrated education because, in cultural terms at least, you’re a …catholic.


WorldbyStorm - April 4, 2014

In fairness to SF Justin the key points are that they have been adamantly opposed to selection, and yes Ruane didn’t cover herself in glory – though let’s not forget the unyielding opposition in particular of the DUP to that, but that remains the case. By the by, there’s a broader issue of what in relation to selection would be something allies could be found on. I think it’s placing too much weight on Ruane and too little on others with equal or greater agency in this.

Secondly they’ve been fully supportive of a radical shift from religious education to shared education shading into integration and that stance has been welcomed and supported by by NICIE and the IEF. Sure, if I had my way and you too no doubt it would be a single state system with no religious input, but I think the societal dynamics are too great to permit that as an attainable goal in the short term. And given that religious education is rife in the UK and in the RoI, i.e. states where there is considerably more societal stability, where the sort of overt conflict inflected in part by religion is not in evidence, and so on, it seems somewhat unfair to blame SF in NI for not being able to do more in that respect.

Thirdly O’Dowd has made it clear that sharing and integration requires not just religious but socio-economic integration. That’s a crucial element of this, indeed from a left perspective to hear a Minister being so unequivocal about the necessity for same is refreshing. And he has linked that aspect right back to academic selection saying that if one is wrong then so is the other.

Fourthly public support for shared and integrated education is now very high indeed. Is that due to SF? Probably not but it’s not a bad achievement after well over a decade of SF holding the Education portfolio (a portfolio that neither of the unionist parties would take when the opportunity was presented).

And look by contrast at the controversy in the RoI over [de facto] funding for private schools and one can see the enormous inertia (and antagonism) against change and that in a vastly less charged context.

Of course the 10 shared campuses is nowhere near enough, and my sense is that the real standard we must set for SF is how fast the process goes from here and how much flesh is put on the bones of sharing/integration.

Re the poppies. Good on you for writing to IEF, but I’m not quite following you as to why the badges of a political identity, a very overt and specific political identity, in school environment is somehow less noxious than a religious one. In some ways I think it’s arguably worse because while there is a cultural aspect, and legacy, of religion in schools like it or loathe it, the idea of such a politicised emblem being sold is entirely at odds with the supposed integrated ethos – and it raises further issues. Would the IEF think it appropriate that Easter Lily’s whether stick or pin were sold in an integrated school? Does that even happen?

I’d happily wear both outside that context, but sold in school? Not convinced that’s a good idea.

Roddy isn’t wrong there, integration doesn’t mean much if it’s simply about removing religious control but replacing it with the nostrums of the British state. A shared context is about genuine sharing, with an appreciation of both histories, etc, cultures and so on. But it requires an absolute neutrality in respect of political issues – in precisely the same way as in a class room in the RoI there’d be no question of a partisan political statement being made. That’s why the poppy issue is so disheartening to hear about.

And surely the problem with sectarian education has never really been – at least not in the main – an issue of belief or not in God, it’s about political and socio-economic differentiation which uses religion in a particularly pernicious way. Of course we want religion removed but it’s the political manipulation of religion (and to a lesser extent vice versa) which surely is the main problem. I personally as a de facto agnostic and with an atheist partner and a somewhat confused five year old who goes to the local national school in part because it is the most diverse local one in class religious and racial terms despite being nominally RC (and despite being tild entirely seriously by a neighbour they were surprised cos that’s where the gougers and gurriers went) wouldnt be overly concerned that integrated schools in the North have a vague Christian ethos, as long as it is one that embraces those of akl faiths and none and respects them all equally. It couldn’t be worse than what has come before. But I’d be concerned if they aren’t politically neutral spaces.

@Michael Carley

Hope you got my email re wkend, we must have mixed up numbers because no response to texts, next time will work!

I’d feel a bit happier if it was both being sold but only a bit. A lot depends on who does the selling, how it is sanctioned, and why and how that impacts on students. It’s not that difficult to see how that might be a source of unease and discomfort for some children, or how it could be used by others children as a means of differentiation.

Absolutely agree about views being challenged, but I think that’s an issue of being more in the abstract, i.e. it would be wrong not to discuss in civics, or history or whatever unionism and Republicanism or nationalism (or indeed religion and religious belief) and analyse them. But specific parties? Not so keen on that. Wouldn’t be so keen on that in the RoI either.


Michael Carley - April 4, 2014

I got your email. I think I know where the confusion occurred. Interesting story from CPOI event: someone mentioned a Gaelscoil which has just opened in Dublin and is already full, because parents want their children to go to a school where they won’t meet immigrants (and they say this openly).


Joe - April 4, 2014

Yep. An interesting story. But an old one. An urban myth if you will. Not saying there isn’t such or similar motivations among some (a small minority I hope) who send their kids to Gaelscoileanna. But it’s an urban myth to say that is the reason the school is full.
Or as Justin put it:
“Supply me with substantial, preferably peer reviewed, empirical evidence”!


CMK - April 4, 2014

A myth, to an extent. Some parents are motivated by the desire not to have ‘immigrant’ children educated beside their own. But you have to ask what ‘immigrant children’ means in many areas of Ireland today. Where I live my kids go to Gaelscoil and there are African and Polish kids there; but not as many as the English speaking school. But my understanding is that many Gaelscoileanna are not under the patronage of the local Bishop and, certainly, where my kids go all religion is optional. My nieces and nephews have catholicism drummed in to them. Motivations for going to Gaelscoileanna would be a worthwhile research study; presuming somebody is not already working on it. But it’s an interesting prospect to have fluent Irish speakers who are of Polish and Nigerian origin where there are many ‘Irish’ people who can’t speak the language (myself included).


WorldbyStorm - April 4, 2014

Just to be clear there’s no Gaeilscoileanna within a reasonable radius of where I live, that simply wasn’t an option.


WorldbyStorm - April 4, 2014

And just to add not sure re race but class or social differentiation seems to me to weigh more heavily on the minds of some I’ve met -albeit rarely articulated as such. That could simply be a function of where i live. This functions in many ways from which school, whether N.S. of otherwise, people send their kids to etc…


Joe - April 4, 2014

Very well spoken, WBS. Or as you might say yourself, would you mind if WBS posted it up as a thread of its own?


13. Justin - April 4, 2014

Haven’t much time here to deal with all points but yes Roddy would be right if integration was simply about removing religious control but replacing it with the nostrums of the British state. But I venture that Roddy would have a job of work providing me with any evidence (other than anecdotes) to prove his point.And surely that’s what would be needed here, rather than going round the houses with our various prejudices?

Yes, god isn’t the big point in Northern Ireland but it is for me.

As for Sinn Fein, has O’Dowd has made it clear that sharing and integration requires not just religious but socio-economic integration? Because 16 years after the GFA, Sinn Fein hasn’t done much to alleviate socioeconomic stratification. They have, and this is a fact not a rhetorical point., signed up to Cameron’s socio-economic programme. To their credit they are fighting against welfare cuts but who wants to bet that they will accept some crumbs and welfare ‘reform’ will go through in some form after the elections, to ‘save the peace process’.

Indeed in cultural terms, SF and DUP mean something particular when they refer to sharing and integration. In the Cohesion Sharing and Integration document both SF and DUP have signed up to a vision of sharing which involves a mutual respect for monolithic and unquestioned cultures. In sharp contrast, Shared Future, the previous consultation document on the issue which DUP/SF ditched argued for strict state neutrality on issues of culture:

According to the ‘Fundamental Principles’ of Shared Future, ‘Separate but equal is not an option’:

“Parallel living and the provision of parallel services are unsustainable both morally and economically…the costs of a divided society – whilst recognising the very real fears of people around safety and security considerations – are abundantly clear: segregated housing and education, security costs, less than efficient public service provision. Policy that simply adapts to, but does not alter these challenges, results in inefficient resource allocations. These are not sustainable in the medium to long-term. (Section 1.4, Fundamental Principles, Shared Future).”

There is no mention of ‘reconciliation’ in Cohesion, Sharing and Integration, which instead argues for ‘mutual accommodation’ (7.1) between differing groups. And ‘shared education’ could conceivably shade into integration. But it will be presented by sectarian ‘stakeholders’ as the realistic alternative and the more radical integration agenda, despite massive support, will die a quiet death



WorldbyStorm - April 4, 2014

I’d hope I’ve made it clear that personally I think integrated schooling that sees poppies sold is making a real step away from what I would believe is integration, and you too presumably hold this view having complained to the IEF. And the poppy is to my mind a symbol with a profound identification with the British state. I’m not agin it in other contexts, but I think that does raise signficant questions marks.

Actually O’Dowd has and if you google statements he’s issued in the last year that’s been made clear.

I’ve discussed the issue of SF’s participation in Stormont and budgetary issues before. My view and I’ve said it before is that the prize of a relatively civilised political engagement between Republicanism/Nationalism and Unionism slightly outweighs the economic issues at this point. Not forever, but I’m not going to argue that SF should walk out of the Executive over that. I don’t believe, and I’ve been in and out of the North for decades that the dispensation is sufficiently settled for a rupture like that to be a risk worth taking. I could well be wrong, but looking at how deeply rooted aspects of the conflict are my belief is it’s better for SF to ride it out for the moment.

Again, I’d be 100% with you in regards of an entirely neutral context, but… what I read from O’Dowd still appears to be pushing in that direction even if – and to an extent understandably so – getting there isn’t going to happen imminently. Hence I would completely hold SF to the fire if they aren’t putting heart and soul into making it more than rhetoric.


14. roddy - April 4, 2014

Justin,you ask me for evidence of British ethos in integrated schools.When I lift my local paper and see schoolchildren sporting poppys at a school event which commemorates the first world war and how it “unites both communities” ,I despair.When I see the same children being interviewed about the latest Royal birth -ditto.Are you also saying that the Brits are kept out on careers day or that the totally discredited RUC were denied access throughout the troubles.Michael and WBS ,the easter lily would NEVER be allowed in an integrated school.It is seen as a symbol of subversion even by the unionist lite Alliance party types who dominate the integrated lobby.And finally why does Robinson see any merit in the integrated system as it is presently devised.


Justin - April 4, 2014

My final points:

WBS: I disagree with you about what is possible in NI and I disagree with you about what people like O’dowd are trying to do in NI. Haven’t they really had long enough to prove their mettle?

Roddy: even if you could prove to me that Alliance party and unionist ‘types’ dominate the structures of the integrated movement – opinion polls have consistently shown massive support for integrated education among all confessional ‘sorts’

As for sectarian emblems, no integrated school should display any of them but would any leftist in the south or gb prefer to send their kid to a flawed integrated system or to a religious school? (Personally speaking I’m a red flag communist).


WorldbyStorm - April 4, 2014

I think that the facts on the ground suggest otherwise Justin. Assume for the sake of argument SF left the Executive. Would that generate instability? It surely would. Would that potentially give succour to those who are keen to deny legitimacy to the institutions and to the dispensation (flawed though it is). Almost certainly. Would it ameliorate the economic situation? Hard to believe that and Executive with the DUP/UUP and SDLP would be more leftwing or pay more attention to working class concerns. Just to be clear in pretty much every other context I’d never give a coalition of those sort of interests any time, in the South I’m adamantly opposed to a coalition of any sort with right wing parties – or indeed the LP in its current form – but I think the North is genuinely different. Again I’d point to the visceral antagonism on the part of unionism right into the 2000s to the very concept of power-sharing and not just with SF, but right through until the 80s with the SDLP. It took, in other words the best part of thirty years for unionism to get the message that it had to share power. Did the Provo’s make that more difficult? Undoubtedly, but that unwillingness was there from the end of the original Stormont, manifested in 1972, 1974 etc, etc. SF is moving slowly, but everyone appears to be doing likewise or worse. Much worse depending on issues.

I doubt O’Dowd is particularly leftwing. I suspect he and most SF members and reps would fairly comfortably fit into the mainstream of the contemporary British Labour Party (and some a fair bit further to the right), though I know a lot SFers who are well to the left of that and more power to them, but if that’s what there and that’s what is to be worked with well them’s the breaks. There’s no real opening for left social democracy as far as I can see, or the further left at all in the context of NI.

Again re the poppy. In the South it is simply impossible to conceive of non-denominational schools having either Easter Lilies or poppy’s or their equivalent as party political emblems sold in them (I can’t speak for British schools, though I suspect poppies might well be sold in them – but then as many British republicans will attest there’s a real problem wtih the poppy in Britain anyhow). But to do so in the North undercuts the very meaning of integrated because political and religious identities are so closely enmeshed (albeit the former is more important than the latter).

I’d certainly be deeply concerned about an integrated system that wasn’t able to distinguish between political and religious identity or how the two operate in tandem in the North – it seem so fundamentally flawed as to be hardly any better than that which it replaces.

Just one final point, you’re absolutely right that there’s significant support for integrated education, but that doesn’t contradict the possibiltiy that in its implementation it may tilt towards a unionist ethos of sorts (indeed it would be very interesting to see the class make up of integrated schools).

All that said this is a sound discussion and well worth having and more credit to everyone for being serious about engaging on it whatever the clearly different views I’d have from roddy or from you and vice versa.


15. roddy - April 4, 2014

My final point ,I am not opposed to integrated education but it must be divorced from the support of British imperialism and acceptance of its armed forces and royality and all that goes with it.


benmadigan - April 4, 2014

In reply to Roddy’s earlier question
“And finally why does Robinson see any merit in the integrated system as it is presently devised”.

You might like to have a look at this post and try guessing the classic while you are at it!!



16. roddy - April 4, 2014

benmadigan,how dare you suggest Peter would have an ulterior motive for embracing integrated education!


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