Tackling Educational Disadvantage

The Tackling Educational Disadvantage Team within the Department of Education has been examining the issues associated with educational underachievement and socio-economic disadvantage since its inception in May 2017. The issues are wide ranging and the solutions complex and multi-faceted. Northern Ireland is not on its own in facing these challenges.

The Department has a wide and varied range of policies and programmes in place designed to support children from deprived backgrounds reach their full potential.

Those falling under the responsibility of the TED team include:

  • Extended Schools and Full Service programmes;
  • West Belfast Sharing the Learning Programme and West Belfast Community Project;
  • North Belfast Primary Principals Support Programme;
  • Targeting Social Need funding; and
  • Parental Engagement and Attendance Advertising Campaigns.

Others across the Department include (but are not limited to) the Children and Young People’s Strategy and Delivery Plan; the policy for school improvement Every school and Good School; literacy and numeracy strategy Count Read Succeed; the SEN and Inclusion Framework; the Pre-school Education Programme; Sure Start Programme; Getting Ready to Learn Programme; Pathway Fund; Toybox Project; Extended Services; Bright Start Grant Scheme; Shared Education; the Promotion of Integrated and Irish Medium Education; Free School Meals; School Uniform Grants and Education Maintenance Allowance. 

Summer Scheme 2021 – Policy and FAQs

Minister Weir has published details of budget allocations for the Summer Scheme 2021.

The main purpose of the Summer Scheme is to help pupils make a successful return to learning in September 2021. There will be a focus on emotional health and wellbeing, as well as activities, which are interactive and fun, with plenty of scope for outside play, and for learning activities as and where appropriate. It is not about catch-up. Settings have the flexibility to develop a programme of activities emphasising these various aspects as they deem appropriate.

Funding will be allocated to the school or EOTAS budget after the Summer Scheme is complete. A further data capture template will issue to schools / EOTAS settings in September / October 2021 to ask them to confirm how much they have spent and how well the programme was received by children and families. Settings are encouraged to liaise with local councils, childcare providers and the voluntary and community sector to help in the delivery of the programme if that is considered appropriate / helpful. Settings can cluster together to deliver a Summer Scheme, e.g. in a particular Area Learning Community or geographical area if they wish to do so. Settings should select year groups / pupils to attend that will benefit most from this type of provision.  Parents / carers should not be asked to contribute to the cost of the programme.

A range of resources have been developed for schools to draw upon this year. The Summer Scheme can be delivered by school leaders, school teachers, classroom assistants and/or substitute teachers. Job Descriptions and set pay rates for the 3 key roles of Co-ordinator, Leader and Assistant are outlined in the attached.

Expert Panel Persistent Educational Underachievement  

On 28 July 2020, Education Minister, Peter Weir, MLA, announced the appointment of an Expert Panel, chaired by Dr Noel Purdy, to examine the links between educational underachievement and social disadvantage. The panel has been established under the ‘New Decade, New Approach’ agreement which set out the requirement for an expert group to examine and address links between persistent educational underachievement and socio-economic background, including the long-standing issues facing working-class, Protestant boys. 

The Terms of Reference for the review can be viewed here:

The chair and five panel members are:

  • Dr Noel Purdy, Stranmillis University College;
  • Mary Montgomery; Principal, Belfast Boys  Model School;
  • Kathleen O’Hare, retired Principal, Hazelwood Integrated College and former Principal of St Cecilia’s College;
  • Joyce Logue, Principal of Longtower Primary in Derry/Londonderry;
  • Jackie Redpath, Chief Executive, Greater Shankill Partnership and
  • Professor Feyisa Demie, Honorary Professor, Durham University.

A Fair Start – Final Report & Action Plan

The Expert Panel on educational underachievement submitted its Final Report and Action Plan - “A Fair Start” – to the Minister in May 2021. This was endorsed by the Executive on 27 May 2021.

As set-out in New Decade, New Approach and the subsequent Terms of Reference, this was an independent panel, tasked with bringing forward recommendations and a costed Action plan.

The Action plan contains 47 actions spanning a number of departments including Education, Health, the Executive Office, Department for the Economy and numerous Arms Length Bodies involving collaboration across the public sector and beyond.

The Expert Panel’s report is about investing in our children’s future and providing them with the confidence, knowledge and skills they need to progress in life. Alongside these important attributes are “aspiration” and “opportunity”.

The Final Report can be viewed here:

Interim Report

The Expert Panel on Educational Underachievement submitted the Interim Report to the Minister on 31 March 2021.

The report outlines the work undertaken from September 2020 to March 2021. The panel commissioned the National Children's Bureau and Barnardos to engage directly with children and young people to ensure that their voices were heard as part of the engagement process.

The Interim Report also contains high-level analysis of the financial expenditure on “educational underachievement” by government departments and District Councils. Professor Feyisa Demie (Honorary Professor, Durham University) has supported the panel in a research capacity by conducting a “Review of the Existing Data - Challenges and good practice for tackling inequalities”.

During February and March 2021, the panel considered the wide range of quantitative and qualitative oral and written evidence, which it has gathered to determine what areas of policy changes are needed and which will have the greatest impact on educational underachievement.

The Expert Panel is now progressing its work on a Final Report and Action Plan which is due with Minister Weir by 31 May 2021.

The Interim report can be viewed here:

Tackling Educational Disadvantage - 10 Features of Effective Schools “Star” Case Studies Paper

The Department of Education has published (January 2020) the following: “Tackling Educational Disadvantage - 10 Features of Effective Schools “Star” Case Studies Paper”.

This highlights 10 key features of local post-primary schools that have been successfully tackling educational disadvantage. 

The paper arose out of a series of visits to post-primary schools.  The visits were to enable DE to identify and better understand how educational disadvantage can be addressed within schools.  The schools selected were chosen because they were producing good or improving results whilst operating in challenging circumstances.  The objective of the school visits was to identify and better understand the features that contribute to those schools’ successes.

Each of the schools contributed input to the paper in case study format providing individual examples of initiatives that their schools had employed.  We hope that the document will prove useful to other post-primary schools in helping to address educational underachievement linked to socio-economic disadvantage.

Back to top