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24th January, 2020

#NewDecadeNewApproach? – what we have learned in the past two decades about Educational Underachievement in Northern Ireland

Persistent educational underachievement, among segments of the population already at a comparative socio-economic disadvantage, is a significant and complex challenge in Northern Ireland (ETI, 2018; Perry 2016).

Seeking to build a robust evidence base in order to inform effective responses to the issue, this evidence summary, carried out by the Centre for Research in Educational Underachievement (CREU) at Stranmillis University College, provides an overview of current knowledge related to educational underachievement in the Province.

Using a rapid-review methodology, the summary identified forty-eight peer-reviewed studies published since 2000 that shed light on the relationship between underachievement, social disadvantage and the myriad in-school and out-of-school factors which are associated with student achievement.

The evidence summary sets out what is currently known about underachievement and its implications for children and young people in Northern Ireland, and makes recommendations for future research.

We found that research on educational underachievement in Northern Ireland since 2000 has not been comprehensive, with only one substantial academic research project (Leitch et al., 2017) fully focused on this issue, despite policymakers’ repeated calls for progress in this area.

Many of the included studies shared a concern with empowering learners, for example through inclusion interventions based on a children’s rights imperative or widening pupils’ curricular choices and post-compulsory education options. Whilst significant attention has been given to the role of schools and communities in both maintaining and mitigating social inequality, through analyses of policies such as Shared Education and Extended Schools (Borooah & Knox, 2017), the effects of ongoing policy supporting academic selection remain understudied.

Finally, whilst the international literature has a contribution to make, research is also needed in the specific context of Northern Ireland in order for local solutions to be developed and proposed which can address the range of needs that underlie the persistent phenomenon of educational underachievement.

Download and read the full summary of evidence here.

CREU is holding a series of public seminars in 2020 on the theme of ‘Achieving Education’, the first of which will discuss this Evidence Summary. Registration is now open, here.

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