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Poll results: Majority want to see an independent review of Northern Ireland's education system

By Bill White

Published 22/04/2016

Poll: Who best represents children's interests in education, graph 1.
Poll: Who best represents children's interests in education, graph 1.
Graph 2: Would you like to see a review of the education system
Graph 3: Would a single common school system be the best way to provide education in Northern Ireland.

The latest in our series of LucidTalk opinions polls has found that a majority would like to see an independent non-political review of Northern Ireland's education system.

Public services are a key part of Northern Ireland life and our February NI-Wide BIG100 (i.e. 100 Hours) online poll included questions to determine the public view on issues like education and health.

Our BIG100 received a whopping 3,023 responses, and after data auditing we considered 2,886 in terms of the final results and analysis. The data auditing process is carried out to ensure all completed surveys were genuine 'one-person, one-vote' responses, and then the results are weighted to reflect the demographic make-up of Northern Ireland. In this three article series we look at some key poll results related to NI education, taking into account that education came out as the top NI Assembly election issue in our NI-Wide March Opinion Panel 'Tracker' poll.

A key BIG100 Education poll question was: 'Who do you believe best represents the interests of children in planning and developing education provision?'.

Graph 1, shows the poll results for this question.

The evidence shows a strong majority view (78%) that teachers and parents best represent the interests of pupils and suggests the need for more consultation with the public when planning education provision and policies. It is interesting to note how low MLAs/Councillors and Government officials scored with this question, garnering a joint score of less than 10%. And less than 1% of the 2,886 respondents thought that churches best represented the interests of children regarding education.

Aspects of this chime with criticisms of the Department of Education’s area planning for schools - from the NI Audit Office, and from the Stormont Education Committee which noted “consistent and significant dissatisfaction with the Area Planning consultation process. Many stakeholders argued that consultations were tokenistic and failed to meaningfully engage with parents, schools etc. Many stakeholders contended that consultation responses had no or very limited impact on Area Planning outcomes”.

Commenting on this poll result Sam Fitzsimmons, Head of Communications at the Integrated Education Fund (IEF), said it underpinned arguments for a new approach to planning education:

“The Integrated Education Fund has been engaging with different sections of the public over recent years, regarding their concerns and aspirations for education in local communities. We have been finding increased involvement and interest in education issues from people all over Northern Ireland. One message which is coming across to us is that whilst parents and families want a say in how education is delivered and developed locally, many feel they have been sidelined in the decision-making and are not confident that they are fully informed about the options and opportunities available”.

LucidTalk has also been asking delegates at party conferences for their views on education – including “Do you think there is a sufficient level of engagement and consultation with local communities in planning for education provision?”. In the case of four Executive parties (Sinn Fein’s conference has yet to take place) the response has been overwhelmingly “No” – in fact among SDLP delegates the “Nos” accounted for 86% of those questioned.

It is also interesting to look at this result alongside a recent MLA panel survey carried out by LucidTalk which showed that a number of outgoing Assembly Members support the concept of giving parents and teachers a greater say in education services, with comments such as “Local communities should be enabled to provide the best local education solutions”, and “Parents need more say in the process of educating their own children”.

Sam Fitzsimmons continued, "The Department for Education’s area planning for schools represents a missed opportunity to develop an education system which answers the needs and aspirations of families. We need a proper, meaningful consultation mechanism which involves residents in exploring all the possible ways to shape local education provision. The Minister said he expected the area planning process to lead to creative ideas but we were left with the same old patterns and structures which did little to address the problem of over-capacity or to progress building a united community. No wonder education is a major issue for voters as the election campaign gets under way – as candidates are finding out on the doorsteps and at hustings”.

Late last year the IEF commissioned a LucidTalk Northern Ireland-wide poll to gauge views on the education system and aspirations for reform. Two key results emerging from that survey show support for structural change in how education is managed and delivered: Graph 2 above - 'Would you like to see an independent non-political review of the current NI education system?’, and Graph 3 - 'Do you think having a single common school system would be the best way to provide education in Northern Ireland?'.

Once again the results for these two questions seem to coincide with the views of the MLAs we spoke to – as one commented: 'There needs to be one management system. There is currently too much waste in the system, and too many management levels”. As education is a key issue in the Assembly election campaign, it will be interesting to see if the new NI Assembly mandate, and its programme for government, bring the changes parents want to see in the Northern Ireland education system.

Our next article in this series will look in more detail at how education figures as a priority when compared to other NI public services such as health and infrastructure.

This article was compiled by Bill White, Managing Director, LucidTalk, in association with the Integrated Education Fund (IEF).

You can follow LucidTalk and the IEF on Twitter: @LucidTalk @IEFNI


Polling was carried out by Belfast based polling and market research company LucidTalk. The project was carried out online for a period of 60 Hours from 10am 30th March to 10pm Friday 1st April 2016 (60 Hours). The project targeted the established LucidTalk Opinion Panel (1,400 members) which is balanced by gender, age-group, area of residence, and community background, in order to be demographically representative of Northern Ireland. 1,022 full responses were received, and a data auditing process was carried out to ensure all completed poll-surveys were genuine 'one-person, one-vote' responses, resulting in 970 responses being considered in terms of the final results.

All data results have been weighted by gender and community background to reflect the demographic composition of Northern Ireland. All data results produced are accurate to a margin of error of +/-3.0%, at 95% confidence.

All surveys and polls may be subject to sources of error, including, but not limited to sampling error, coverage error, and measurement error. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting. NB In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

LucidTalk is a member of all recognised professional Polling and Market Research organisations, including the UK Market Research Society (UK-MRS), the British Polling Council (BPC), and ESOMAR (European Society of Market Research organisations).

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