We must tackle Educational Underachievement
Saturday 1st October 2016
Did you realise that reading to your child for just ten minutes a night from two years old can put them a full academic year ahead by the time they actually reach Primary School? That a child’s experiences [positive or negative] from birth to three years old will have a lifelong effect on them?
I’ve worked on this issue of Educational Underachievement for quite some time now and feel passionately about solving it. In fact it was the key theme of my Mayoral year in 2014–15. As many of us know this problem is particularly prevalent in the demographic of Protestant [Free School Meals] Boys, but not exclusively so. This year I decided to write a report which I called ‘No Child Left Behind’ based on my research into this issue. The roots of this problem are many and varied. Part of the process of dealing with them involves recognising the facts that there is neither a magic money tree to produce endless intervention funds nor a single silver bullet with which to eradicate the issue.
From the moment of conception, it is clear that some children face significantly greater obstacles which need to be met and overcome before they are in a position to realise their full potential. Some manage to overcome these barriers and others do not. The report suggests that clearly teachers and parents are the two key factors that directly affect whether a child will succeed or fail. Leadership in schools, especially in deprived socio–economic areas, is also crucial to challenging both teaching and parental aspirations for the child. It is very important that parents are fully aware that the years 0–3 are incredibly important in a young child’s development and that stimulation, lots of positive affirmation and parental attachment are the building blocks for success in the future. For boys in particular a stable and supportive male role model is vitally important. We also need to instill self–confidence and a sense of motivation into our children. When these are not present in the home environment the emotional development of boys in particular will be negatively effected. Therefore any strategy to tackle educational underachievement must be both comprehensive in its scope and demonstrate an understanding of all the conditions which perpetuate underachievement
My report makes nine recommendations to the Government in Northern Ireland – their adoption could have a real impact on the issue. My report ‘No Child Left Behind’ is available here.