Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland state schools only two thirds protestants

Research dispels myth sector is ‘Protestant’ as diversity of pupils is revealed

By Alison Fleming

Only two-thirds of the pupils in the State school sector are Protestant, with the total number reducing by 10% over the last decade, according to new figures.

Barry Mulholland, chief executive of the Controlled Schools Support Council (CSSC), said the findings will dispel misconceptions about the system, which is also responsible for Irish-medium schools, as being the "Protestant sector".

"The religious breakdown of individual controlled schools often reflects their community," said Mr Barry.

"For example, I know of some controlled schools that have an almost 50/50 religious balance and others that are over 90% Catholic.

"It is therefore misleading to describe the controlled schools as the 'Protestant sector'.

"Indeed, controlled schools have greater religious diversity in comparison to other education sectors and, interestingly, provide education for more pupils of no religion than any other sector."

The research reveals that in terms of religion:

● 66% of pupils are Protestant.

● 10% of pupils are Catholic.

● 5% of pupils are other Christian.

● 1% of pupils are non-Christian.

● 18% of pupils indicate no religion.

Controlled schools, which are non-denominational but hold Christian values, account for just under half of all schools in Northern Ireland.

It is the only part of the educational system to comprise a full range of education, with nursery, primary, special and non-selective post-primary schools sitting alongside grammar, integrated, Irish-medium and Dickson Plan schools.

This is the first time that research has been carried out on behalf of the sector, and CSSC plans to use the findings to tackle what it sees as some of the problems faced by schools. "It is already leading to a better understanding of what controlled schools are, the diversity within the sector and the challenges that face teachers and pupils alike, particularly given the lack of funding for education right across the board," said Mr Barry.

The CSSC is the first advocacy body for the sector in Northern Ireland.

Key findings from the research reveal that the controlled sector has more than 140,600 pupils.

It also employs more than 8,500 teachers.

The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) employs around 6,000 teachers.

The majority of nursery schools, primary schools and 95% of all special schools in Northern Ireland are controlled.

More than 28,700 primary and post-primary pupils have special educational needs.

Just under a third - 31% - of all controlled sector pupils are entitled to free school meals.

Controlled schools provide education through 560 schools for over 140,600 pupils.

Tony Gallagher, a Professor of Education at Queen's University in Belfast, said it was a diverse sector.

"Controlled schools have always had a close relationship with the main Protestant Churches," he said.

"And, if you look at primary and post-primary education here, the majority of children in these schools come from a Protestant background.

"The Department of Education carries out an annual census on pupils, and there are always a percentage of parents who don't want to disclose religious background.

"There is a likelihood that most of the 18% who indicated 'no religion' are from a Protestant background.

"But this survey reminds us that integrated, Irish-medium and special schools all fall under the controlled system, and they are likely to have many more Catholic pupils.

"The overall figure is a reminder that it isn't a homogeneous group, and that the controlled sector comprises a wide variety of school types.

"There are a number of controlled schools which do attract Catholic pupils, including controlled grammar schools.

"Despite this, the level of cross-over between controlled and maintained schools hasn't changed that much, and most young people continue to be educated in schools where most of the peers are from the same community."

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