More Northern Ireland teachers working across religious divide than ever before, says report
More permanent and temporary teachers in Northern Ireland are working across the religious divide than ever before, according to a new study.
It also found one in five teachers working in local schools have no education experience outside their own community or during their education and teaching career.
Teachers have also remained within schools that primarily cater to the same background as their own, the report found.
The findings, based on research by Ulster University, have been published in the British Journal of Educational Studies.
Historically, Protestant and Catholic children have attended different schools - with most of the former attending controlled schools and the latter choosing Catholic maintained schools.
Department of Education figures for the 2018 academic year show that 63.4% of those attending controlled schools last year were Protestant, 10% were Catholic and 26.5% were either of other faiths or had no recorded religious background.
The authors of the paper, "Education policies and teacher deployment in Northern Ireland: ethnic separation, cultural encapsulation and community cross-over," found that just as there is separation of pupils, divided schools are staffed, on the whole, by a community consistent workforce of teachers.
Northern Ireland has an exemption from fair employment legislation for teacher recruitment, allowing schools to preferentially employ teachers from just one of the communities.
Matthew Milliken and his colleagues in Ulster University's UNESCO Centre wanted to determine whether more teachers in Northern Ireland were now teaching across the sectarian divide since the last study on this question was conducted back in 2004.
They designed an online survey and then contacted all the schools in Northern Ireland to request that teachers in both part-time and full-time roles complete it.
To achieve as high a response rate as possible, the survey didn't ask respondents which community they identified with, but what type of schools they went to during their education, whether controlled, maintained or integrated.
The type of primary school they attended was then used as a proxy for community identity.
Just over 1,000 teachers completed the survey, representing around 5% of Northern Ireland's teaching population.
Their responses revealed that teachers in Catholic primary schools (age 5-11) were most likely to have stayed within their community, with 48% of teachers having only attended and taught at Catholic schools.
For teachers in Protestant primary schools, the figures were similar with 38% having only attended and taught at Protestant schools.
In post-primary schools the figures were much lower - 19% of teachers at Catholic post-primary schools and nine per cent at Protestant post-primary.
The study revealed that one in five teachers had no education experience outside their community of origin but around 17% were currently working in schools outside of their community of origin.
Mr Milliken said further research is required to investigate whether this 'cultural encapsulation' is hampering efforts to foster reconciliation between the two communities.
"This research has shown that the 'chill factor' that was understood to have maintained the sectoral separation of teachers by religion/community background would appear to have thawed to some extent," he added.