The religious divide in Northern Ireland’s schools

Using Freedom of Information requests, The Detail’s Kathryn Torney has created a breakdown of the religion of pupils attending every school in Northern Ireland. The findings include the fact that almost half of Northern Ireland’s schoolchildren are being taught in schools where 95% or more of the pupils are of the same religion. The number of integrated schools is, however, increasing. This is from The Detail…

Our investigation into segregation in the school system has also found that 180 schools in the last academic year had no Protestant pupils on their rolls and another 111 schools taught no Catholic children.

The seriousness of the religious divide in our schools was brought to the fore by First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson in October 2010 when he described the Northern Ireland education system as a “benign form of apartheid which is fundamentally damaging to our society”.

In a bid to fully examine this issue, we used Freedom of Information legislation to request a breakdown of the religion of pupils attending every school in Northern Ireland.

Detailed data was provided by the Department of Education for 1,070 schools and we used these figures to compile an interactive map which enables readers to easily access a breakdown for their local schools for the 2011/12 academic year – see above.

We also requested similar data for the 1997/98 school year to see what has changed – if anything – in relation to pupil integration since the year the Good Friday Agreement was signed.

In the last school year, 51% of schoolchildren were Catholic, 37% Protestant and 12% ‘other’ which includes other Christian, non-Christian and no religion/religion unknown.

Some low figures were suppressed by the department to avoid identifying individual pupils of a minority religion in schools so we asked the department to carry out some overall calculations on our behalf with the raw, unsuppressed data.

This showed:

  • 493 schools in the 2011/12 year educated almost exclusively pupils of just one religion (95% or more) – compared to 827 schools in 1997/98.
  • The total number of schools has reduced from 1,183 to 1,070.
  • 20 controlled schools – the vast majority of them in the primary sector – had a Catholic pupil enrolment of more than 30% in 2011/12.
  • 91% of Protestant primary children attended controlled (mainly Protestant) schools and 88% of Catholic primary pupils were enrolled in Catholic maintained primaries in the last academic year.
  • At the same time, 88% of Catholic post-primary pupils attended Catholic maintained or Catholic managed voluntary schools and 89% of Protestant post-primary children attended controlled schools.
  • Total pupil numbers have dropped from 340,940 pupils in 1997/98 to 311,559 in 2011/12.
  • Integrated school pupil numbers have increased from 8,154 to 21,170.

More at:  The religious divide in Northern Ireland’s schools

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