UUP Leader calling for parents that send children to faith schools to pay twice?

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt has said that faith schools should be privately funded and that tax payers should only fund one system.

He made his statements whilst addressing a UUP conference on poverty.  State funding for Catholic Schools was introduced by  UUP prime minister of Northern Ireland, Terence O’Neill, (initially 80% funding but eventually 100%)

What I mean by a single education system is this: the taxpayer funds one system. Yes, there will be parents who choose to go to an independent school, or to set up a faith-based school, and that’s fine — that’s choice. But we’ll pay for one system; we stop funding multiple and divisive systems.

A few gaping holes in his argument.  He goes on to talk about his support for Grammar schools which immediately shoots down his `single system`.  He doesn`t  mention that parents who choose to send their children to a Faith School would then be paying twice for their children`s education.  In fact this is already the case with the 7 Free Presbyterian Independent Christian Schools which do not receive any state funding.  Surely in such a case, parents are due a tax rebate?

At the same time schools in the Republic seem to be heading for some major changes, with some Catholic schools being handed to the State.

  • GoldenFleece

    Do people who opt for private health care get a tax rebate? Just a curious question.

    IMO, education is a right, specialised edcuation (religious, military etc) is not a right, it is a priviledge.

  • Drumlins Rock

    I don’t have children, do I get a tax rebate?

  • lamhdearg2

    they will get my vote!

  • tyrone_taggart

    I agree with Mike Nesbitt that there should only fund one type of school. It should of course be on the basis of results not what type of school they are.

  • dwatch

    As the new leader of the UUP Mr Nesbitt should concentrate on trying to save the floundering UUP from ongoing negative and pathetic reports in the media, instead of becoming involved in this old education controversy which has been going on since 1923. Those interested can read here:


  • BluesJazz

    ‘Faith’ is belief without evidence. The very opposite of what education is supposed to encourage. They should be called ‘Mythology Schools’ and funded accordingly. If they want to ‘teach’ RE/Astrology/Homeopathy/Sharia Law or whatever, let the parents pay for it.

    Of more interest is whether NI follows Gove’s bringing back O levels and getting rid of ‘mickey mouse’ subjects.

  • keano10

    The DUP must be loving this. So many potential issues on which Nesbitt could hurt them, yet he drags up this archaic chestnut. The very make-up of the Assembly means that this proposal is going to go absolutely nowhere, so why waste time on it?

    I’m beginning to suspect that Nesbitt has a gameplan to pitch the UUP somewher to the right of the DUP. This will make for much amusement for us political voyeurs, but may not necessarily elongate his spell as party leader.

    He may as well bring back McNarry, if this is the sort of path he intends to follow…

  • The maintained sector was a flawed compromise between (discriminatory) private faith schooling and the then-impossible ideal of a shared state sector. Nesbitt is not unpicking O’Neill, he is trying to finish the job.

    He goes on to talk about his support for Grammar schools which immediately shoots down his `single system`.

    Grammar schools are not a separate system, they’re specialist schools within the same system.

    He doesn`t mention that parents who choose to send their children to a Faith School would then be paying twice for their children`s education.

    True, but this is not a service that the parents enjoy, it is one that the children enjoy. If parents were choosing private education for themselves, then individual choice would be paramount. But society as a whole has an interest in the education of the next generation, and parental choice is balanced by other factors.


    Do people who opt for private health care get a tax rebate?

    In the Republic they do: http://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/money_and_tax/tax/income_tax_credits_and_reliefs/taxation_and_medical_expenses.html

  • RyanAdams


    “The very make-up of the Assembly means that this proposal is going to go absolutely nowhere, so why waste time on it?”

    Its a bit like the DUP plan for integrated education – Nothings changing anytime soon with SF in charge, so of course other parties will peddle populist policies with their own electorate. Needless to say the ability of the AQE and CCMS to ride roughshot over the education minister shows how much power the minister and executive have over the issue at the minute.

  • cynic2

    I wouldn’t do that. I would simply have one single secular system for all children with an option for parents to bolt on an RE module of their choice (if they chose to do so).

    I see no reason for the state to fund that module.

  • cynic2,

    But bolt-on modules don’t solve the problem. One of the main reasons the Free Ps set up their own schools was that they objected to evolution etc. being taught as fact.

    Also, would allowing religious instruction on school property amount to a subsidy? 😉

  • Dec

    ‘Faith’ is belief without evidence. The very opposite of what education is supposed to encourage. They should be called ‘Mythology Schools’ and funded accordingly.’

    Regardless, eight of these ”Myth’ schools made the top 10 (holding the top 7 spots) in the most recent league tables published by the Irish News. Mr Nesbitt’s alma mater, Campbell College, came in at 74th. In essence Mike’s telling us that ideally schools should be more like Campbell (59.2% of pupils attaining 3 A-levels) and less like St Mary’s Grammar School, Magherafelt (95.5% of pupils attaining 3 A-levels).

  • dwatch

    “Grammar schools are not a separate system, they’re specialist schools within the same system.”

    If NI Grammar schools have ended the fee paying system for some first year pupils who have attended a Grammar prep school but failed the transfer test then I agree.

  • Dec,

    Just getting up in the morning requires faith. Why do anything at all if we’re all dead in the long run? The question is not whether we should have faith, but what we should have faith in and how people of differing faiths can share a society.


    Grammar schools, no matter what their admissions policy, are part of the controlled or maintained sectors (for the most part). Those are the “systems” referred to here.

  • BluesJazz

    Not all A levels are the same.

    Are these reults in proper subjects like Chemistry, Maths etc? Or what Michael Gove would call joke A levels like RS, Media studies etc.

    Also, predictably, all girls schools outperform all boys and co-ed.

    Why not follow the ‘system’ adopted by the FE Colleges and just, you know, educate people.

  • dwatch

    “Grammar schools, no matter what their admissions policy, are part of the controlled or maintained sectors (for the most part). Those are the “systems” referred to here.”

    But if some Grammar schools admissions policy still accept fee paying pupils who fail an entrance exam then this is still being selective in favour towards middle class children whose parents can pay for them over working class children whose parent are poor. This is still class discrimination.

  • dwatch

    If what Mr Nesbitt says is true then Grammar schools should produce an article for the newspaper laying out the changes that have happened to Grammar schools over the past 10 or 20 years otherwise most people (including myself) will not be aware of what changes have taken place.

    “Mr Nesbitt also proposed big changes to how schools are funded: “My party supports grammar schools…but if you really want to support grammar schools, you have to understand that a grammar school today is not what a grammar school was 10 or 20 years ago.”


  • Dec


    I’m not sure what point you’re making (in relation to my post at least). I’m an atheist who went to a faith school. Whatever my views on religion, there’s convincing evidence that quite a few of them are doing a good job in providing kids with a pretty good education.


    You appear to be struggling with speculation here but the figures clearly demonstrate that both grammar and non-grammar schools with a Catholic ethos outperform controlled schools. And the UUP wants to effectively prohibit them from all but the wealthy?

  • Carsons Cat

    Hate to shoot this post down given that its having a pop at Nesbitt.

    However the idea that grammar schools are inconsistent with a single education system is just patent nonsense. Catholic grammar schools and Catholic High Schools are not in different education systems, they’re still part of CCMS. Similarly there are both Controlled Grammar & High Schools.

    Mike might be trying to play catch-up on an issue the UUP were actually very non-committal about when Robinson first raised the debate in the public domain, but there aren’t any particular “gaping holes”.

    On the paying twice argument – people make that choice to pay twice. Same way as anyone who’s a member of BUPA in Northern Ireland doesn’t get a tax rebate for their non-use of Health Service facilities.

  • andnowwhat

    What does Ndesbit and his type think goes on in RC schools. Even in the 70’a, all we did for O’ level RE was study St Matthew’s gospel and a bit on the cultures of the time. Same goes for for friends, most of whom are atheists.

    Does Mike, Robbo et al want us to join a system that is failing inner city kids á la Dawn Purvis’ report? Furthermore, we do not have to look too far to see what schools without an ethos perfrorm, just look to England where parents are moving houses and lying/exaggerating about their faith to get their kids in to COE, RC etc. schools.

    We’re fine, thanks Mike. Go find another tin to kick

  • cynic2

    “they objected to evolution etc. being taught as fact”

    Exactly why we shouldn’t let them near any rational system. They can tell their children whatever nonsense they want in their own time and at their own cost

  • cynic2

    “schools without an ethos perform”

    What nonsense. Any school can have an ethos without the religious waffle

  • Dec,

    I was pointing out the deficiencies in your broad-brush categorisation of faith. For example, I have faith in the efficacy of the scientific method. I can use the scientific method to conduct a study into the efficacy of the scientific method, but then it gets a tad circular. Science boxes faith into a corner, but can’t eliminate it entirely. And even science can’t tell me why (for example) I shouldn’t just take a pill and end it all right now – that requires a different sort of faith altogether.


    You didn’t have confirmation/first communion class in your catholic school? Faith schooling is problematic not only because of religious instruction (which admittedly in my state schools didn’t amount to much more than daily assembly), but also because it is wasteful of resources and reinforces the divisions in our society. The last two of these should be reason enough – religious instruction is a problem mainly because it impedes a solution to them.

  • andnowwhat,

    … and shouldn’t we be asking exactly why faith schools are out-performing others, and applying the lessons elsewhere, instead of lazily saying “because faith schools are just better”?

  • Reader

    andnowwhat: Does Mike, Robbo et al want us to join a system that is failing inner city kids á la Dawn Purvis’ report?
    What makes you so sure that inner city kids are well served by either system? DP’s report looks like a bit of a resource grab. I think I recall Chris Donnelly suggesting the issue was far from clear cut, and that there was plenty of educational disadvantage across both systems.

  • BluesJazz



    Westminster School, the best in the country, is not a faith school.

  • andnowwhat

    Andrew, I hardly think an hour here and there for 2 weeks to a month on 2 occasions in my schooling are problematic. Our wee girl goes to an integrated school and she did her preparation exactly the same as I did in my Catholic school.

    Today in Catholic schools, based on talking to my nieces about their children, the kids are taught about other religions and their culture, something positive is it not.

    No ones seems to have the answer to why faith schools perform so well and until there is an alternative, equally successful system, the anti faith school evangelists are robbed of at least one tool in their case.

    As Dec said, 8 out of 10 of the top performing schools are in the Catholic sector and 7 of them occupy the top spots. I’ve friends from W Belfast who are from poor families and single parents and most of them have done very well, including doctors, barristers etc.

  • andnowwhat

    FFS Bluejazz!!!

    First you bring over issues about crap A Levels that are a GB issue then you cite Westmintser school.

    It’s hardly a run of the mill school, is it?

  • In the EBacc league tables, St Michael’s Catholic Grammar School in North Finchley, London, was the top state school……….For a second year running, Lawrence Sheriff School in Rugby held the top spot in the GCSE league table (boys’ grammar school)

  • in NI….Grammar schools, which had an average of 94% of pupils achieve five or more GCSEs including English and maths at grades A* to C, are outperforming non-grammars, which had an average of 36%….Catholic maintained non-selective schools are achieving better results than controlled non-selective schools,


  • Interesting 2012 report here: http://www.deni.gov.uk/qualifications_and_destinations_1011.pdf
    57% of Catholics achieve 2 or more A Levels compared to 49% of Protestants

  • andnowwhat,

    Andrew, I hardly think an hour here and there for 2 weeks to a month on 2 occasions in my schooling are problematic.

    As I said, religious instruction is not per se the problem. The problem is that it is (perceived as?) an obstacle to a shared school system.


    So schools which select pupils with academic ability do best at getting good academic results? Hardly a surprise. If we measure “success” by average academic achievement, then academically selective schools will always “win”. But average performance is not important – what is important is individual benefit, or value added.

    For the academically gifted, this is often (but not always) achieved in a school which specialises in academic subjects. The question is what do we do with the rest? The anti-grammar argument is largely based around the idea that less-academic pupils are being short-changed because they did not get the breaks that the grammar pupils did, and that therefore grammar pupils should be denied special treatment. But the proposed cure does not address the identified problem – holding back some does not automatically pull forward others. If that were true, caps on executive pay would cure poverty.

    The problem lies in assuming that academia is the pinnacle of education for all, regardless of inclination. How about secondary schools that specialise in the arts? Or sport? Not everyone is cut out for academic success, so why do we use it to judge every school?

  • andnowwhat

    The headline issues at hand emanate from largely working class areas (and golf clubs) where, for a myriad of obvious and practical reasons, kids go to school in their own areas. We are not going to have kids from Ballymurphy dandering over to a school in Ballygomartin or visa versa.

    Those for whom it would be more acceptable, the middle classes and others in mixed areas, already have the options of using integrated and state (been Catholics going to Methody and BRA since I was a kid) schools.

    As for the grammar issue; I think the issue is not so much selection but primary schools that are quite frankly shite and it is they who are flying under the radar

  • andnowwhat

    Further to my last post.

    The school our wee girl goes to is not just integrated but also greatly multi cultural and we enjoy that about it but quite frankly, I wouldn’t send any of the teachers (especially the head master who encourages the kids yo call him by a nick name) so, my partner and I decided a few years ago (when it was clear that they couldn’t teach maths for toffee) to send the child to a tutor who was familiar with modern practice.

    We and her teachers were stunned but happy that she is going in to a grammar stream in her new school.

  • Dec


    I was quoting bluesjazz (1.01pm), though I should have made that clearer.

  • When it comes to community division, it is the primary schools (and before) that do the damage. But you’re right – large parts of inner-city Belfast are so homogeneous that (short of bussing, and nobody is suggesting that) schools will continue much as before.

    But in smaller towns and some parts of the inner city, there is scope for incremental change. Removing obstacles is only the first, but still necessary, step.

  • Dec,

    Apologies, I wasn’t paying attention.

  • lamhdearg2

    As i said, “they will get my vote” should this become policy (they dont at the moment), when political partys come of with policys its to get votes, will they get yours/others/more because of this?.

  • aquifer

    Taxpayers are paying for faith schools to expand and cannabalise state schools.

    This circus should stop.

    The big lie is that the state has no self interest in this. The truth is that sectarian division costs us a fortune, even before we count the bodybags and trauma cases.

    The media tend to give political leaders a degree of respect. This one might even have it due.

  • Rory Carr

    State funding for Catholic Schools was introduced by UUP prime minister of Northern Ireland, Terence O’Neill, (initially 80% funding but eventually 100%).

    Oh no it was not. Prior to reforms by O’Neill, state funding for Catholic shools, if I recall correctly, was: Capital costs 65% State/35% Catholic community and revenue expenditure was met in full.

    Ah yes, here we have the relevant details:


    Towards the end of World War Two, the government prepared for a major reorganisation of education along the lines
    of the English Education Act 1944 (also referred to as the Butler Act). There was, it was felt, a need to make good the
    neglect of the inter-war years. Nevertheless, three years were to pass before the main elements of the Butler Act
    were applied to Northern Ireland. Around this time Lieutenant-Colonel Samuel Hall-Thompson, who had become
    Minister of Education in 1944, proposed an increase in capital grants to schools managed by the four-and-two
    committees, (mainly Catholic), from 50% to 65%, and to raise heating, cleaning and maintenance costs from the
    previous 50% to 100%.
    He also proposed the provision of books free of charge, and free school milk and lunches to those children whose
    parents could not afford to pay. Far from being grateful, Catholic leaders had profound misgivings insisting that these
    proposals were further evidence of pressure being brought to bear in order to force their privately managed schools
    to join the state system. They demanded 100% funding for their schools on the grounds that the state schools were
    Protestant schools, and that they were subsidising these through the payment of 100% taxes, while receiving only
    65% of the capital expenditure leaving them to raise the remaining 35%.

    And lots more here:http://bit.ly/L9ajXZ (Education History Northern Ireland – PDF)

  • lamhdearg2

    Ahh the past, interresting. And the future?.

  • PaddyReilly

    UUP Leader calling for parents that send children to faith schools to pay twice?

    Well not surprising then that he leads a party that has no MPs, 13% of the vote in the Assembly, and is rumoured to have be falling behind Alliance in the popular estimation.

  • andnowwhat

    Andrew Gallagher

    It’s parents and communities filling kids heads with crap that cause division. Intolerance must become intolerable much as racism, in whatever form, has become and that’s going to take a major shift that too many people and politicians are too heavily invested in to allow.

  • BluesJazz

    There’ll be an interesting thread shortly if NI opts out of Michael Gove’s reintroduction of O levels for the middle class and CSE/ Vocational for the great unwashed.

    As ‘andnowwhat’ mentioned, the middle classes get along fine, Methody, BRA, Dominican College Portstewart,Assumption GS are integrated in that religion has little input.
    Bluntly, there are middle class schools (grammar). Some are nominally Catholic, some are not. But Class trumps ‘religion’ any time. Lumen Christi et al do not regard ‘Oxbridge’ as from another country.

  • BluesJazz

    Further, for all classes of both/any community background, BMC seems to attract all sections and works well. Maybe integration will ‘happen’ without political interference. Seems to be the case outside the parochial bubble.

  • Just had this reply from DENI re Free P school results: “Unfortunately the Department does not collect School Performance Statistics for Independent Schools.”

  • OneNI

    Is Nesbitt calling for the rights of Protestant churches to Governors positions to be removed?
    I think we should be told!

  • Newman

    Who came up with the idea that state schools were value free zones where only objective and independent thought was permitted? If they do have values ..what are they? Are we as tax payers allowed to disagree?. I reject entirely that those with religious views must not enter the public square or that there is something morally superior about the state providing education. The evidence of church schools in England and Wales points not only to the enduring popularity of church schools and to the better educational outcomes they produce. Religion and the religious world view is not just about worship .Mike Nesbitt’s proposals are simply ill thought out and misjudged

  • Newman,

    Religion and the religious world view is not just about worship

    Please list one non-worshipful thing the religious world view is about that cannot be accommodated in a secular system.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Mike Nesbitt is simply trying to steal a policy initiative that Peter Robinson announced a couple of years back. Robinson did a much better job of it.

    A couple of things I’d add.

    The first is I have to laugh when this rubbish about a “Catholic ethos” is wheeled out. I went to St Malachy’s which is pretty close to the top of the “ethos” list in the 1990s, during the period when Donal McKeown was in charge (the last priest, I might add, to be President). The “ethos” was pretty much limited to the odd Mass here and there, and badly-taught Catholic-focussed RE classes, where nobody paid any real attention. About ten people in the six form did religion for A-Level, and few people bothered to show up for the optional sixth-form religion classes (which were structured more like informal group sessions, and which I actually attended purely out of curiosity – McKeown took a few of the classes himself at that time and he was great fun). The small number of pupils who took religion seriously were – sadly – the butt of jokes, especially the notorious Pioneers.

    Grammar schools like St Malachy’s are successful in the league tables because of the selection system because the selection system ensures that academically better-adapted pupils go there. There is, sadly, a correlation between academic ability and family income/poverty levels so the pupils at these schools are much less likely to be from backgrounds where there are problems of various kinds at home. This is why, surprise surprise, schools such as BRA up the road and others such as Methody et al score roughly equivalently in the league tables despite not having a priest anywhere in sight.

    It’s particularly strange hearing some of this from nationalist contributors, as SF’s objective of ending the selection system completely so that everyone goes to a local school would in fact pretty much terminate the advantage that the Catholic (and other) grammars have. In the case of St Malachy’s, that would naturally involve drawing from the catchment area that mostly walks the mile and a half up the Antrim Road to St Patrick’s Bearnageeha, a notoriously poorly performing secondary.

    It must be borne in mind that the current education system was effectively cooked up by the old regime at Stormont in connivance with the Catholic Church. It is a segregated system, separate but equal, designed to keep the tribes apart. We are in a modern era where people are well educated, they do not go to Mass, they do not look to the priests and bishops for leadership, and increasingly they are likely to regard those same clergy with suspicion, especially if their parents told them the stories about having the crap beaten out of them by the Christian Brothers etc. It is hard to justify the notion that parents in this day and age believe that schools are better when they are run by men wearing skirts and funny hats.

  • Roy Walsh

    A good idea, if applied equally, Methodist College Belfast for one might be affected as would other ‘Protestant’ Grammars which are perceived as being supportive of one religion over the other (even within Protestantism)
    Mike might have difficulty explaining this to the UUP council.

  • Newman

    Andrew..a secular system is by definition relativist….education is more than about learning facts but also includes growing in virtue, becoming a citizen…and learning to contribute (see for example the Idea of a University by Cardinal Newman). State schools without an agreed ethos will tend towards whatever is fashionable. Church schools are popular, not just because their educational outcomes are as good or better, but because they do a better job of instilling virtue grounded as they are on firm principle..parents know this and vote with their feet.

  • Newman,

    Andrew..a secular system is by definition relativist

    Are you confusing secularism with moral relativism? You do know that religion is not the sole font of virtue?

  • Newman

    Andrew..agree that religion is not the sole font because of our common humanity, but in terms of virtue I cannot think of too many examples in the last 2000 years of where virtue has flourished in a secular state. At best what it presents is an ersatz imitation of the real thing or the vestiges of its former religious past live on in its institutions.

  • Comrade Stalin


    but because they do a better job of instilling virtue grounded as they are on firm principle

    How, exactly ? Can you think of any examples of this that I might have seen at St Malachy’s ? Because I don’t remember them.

  • Newman,

    I cannot think of too many examples in the last 2000 years of where virtue has flourished in a secular state


    an ersatz imitation of the real thing

    Eh? The “real thing” being religion?

  • Taoiseach

    Comrade Stalin, if Groucho had taught you Latin you’d know all about virtue and principles.

    Andrew – France always goes off the rails when its secularism dominates. Look at the carnage after the French revolution – 25 years of war across Europe.

  • Taoiseach,

    What has Napoleon got to do with secularism?

  • Taoiseach

    He was the result of France’s first attempt at being a secular state.

  • salgado

    He was also the result of France’s first attempt at being a republic.

  • dwatch