Bob Osborne for the University of Ulster with an interesting analysis of the real state of Northern Ireland’s diverse school base. Even if the number of integrated schools remains low, local demand continues to integrate Catholic pupils into state schools. He reckons there needs to be specific teacher training for such mixed educational environments.
About 6% of the NI school population is in integrated schools, but some complex patterns are emerging. Hence, while the overwhelming majority of those attending and teaching in Catholic schools (owned by the Catholic authorities but fully funded by the state) are Catholic, a large proportion of non-Catholic schools are in fact state-owned and funded, with only a residual involvement of the Protestant churches.
True these are de facto Protestant schools, with the majority of teachers and pupils being Protestant – however, many of the large Protestant grammar schools, especially in the greater Belfast area, record rising proportions of Catholic students. Approximately 15% of Catholics are now educated outside Catholic schools. Moreover, state nursery schools record 31% of their pupils being Catholic, whereas Catholic nursery schools are 97% Catholic.
But Northern Ireland doesn’t just divide by religion. Over 30% of pupils are educated in single-sex schools, including primary schools. These divisions – together with the creation of Irish-language schools, the retention of academic selection, and the growing integrated sector – mean that Northern Ireland probably has at least 40% more post-primary schools compared with comparable areas, in terms of pupil numbers, in England, Scotland or Wales.