CSSC research shows complexity and diversity of controlled education

The Controlled Schools’ Support Council (CSSC) launched its baseline assessment of the controlled schools sector in Northern Ireland on Monday 18 September.

Controlled schools are non-denominational and firmly set within an ethos embedded in Christian values. They are open to pupils of all faiths or none, and account for 558 or 48% of all schools in Northern Ireland.

As CSSC’s research demonstrates, the controlled education sector is complex and diverse. It is also the only education sector to comprise a full range of schools, with nursery, primary, special and non-selective post-primary schools sitting alongside grammar, integrated, Irish medium and Dickson Plan schools.

Chief executive Barry Mulholland explained the importance of this piece of research, saying

“We believe that this is the first time that such a detailed piece of work has been carried out that clearly demonstrates the size and complexity of the controlled education sector.

“The findings also seek to any dispel many misconceptions about the controlled sector.”

Some of the key findings from the research include:

• the controlled sector has over 140,600 pupils
• over 8,500 teachers are employed in controlled schools
• the majority of nursery schools, primary schools and special schools in Northern Ireland are controlled
• 95% of all special schools belong to the controlled sector
• over a third of newcomer pupils attend controlled schools
• 31% of all controlled pupils are entitled to free school meals
• over 28,700 primary and post-primary pupils have special educational needs

In terms of religion:
• 66.% of pupils are Protestant
• 9.6% of pupils are Catholic
• 5.3% of pupils are other Christian
• 0.9% of pupils are non-Christian
• 17.9% of pupils indicate no religion

“The religious breakdown of individual schools reflects their community,” Barry Mulholland commented.

“For example, I know of some controlled schools that have an almost 50/50 religious balance and others that are over 90% Catholic. It is therefore misleading to describe the controlled schools as the ‘Protestant sector’.

“Indeed, controlled schools have greater religious diversity in comparison to other education sectors and, interestingly, provide education for more pupils of no religion than any other sector.”

CSSC, the advocacy body for the controlled sector, has been in operation for just one year, and has plans to use this research to tackle some of the challenges facing schools.

“It is essential that we have evidence to underpin our programme of work going forward and this baseline assessment is the first part of that,” Barry Mulholland added.

“It is already leading to a better understanding of what controlled schools are, the diversity within the sector and the challenges that face teachers and pupils alike, particularly given the lack of funding for education right across the board.

“CSSC is proud to be the first advocacy body for controlled schools. Our dedicated and experienced team of staff will provide member schools with the support they need to enable their schools, teachers and pupils to thrive.”

Sara McCracken is Head of Marketing, Research and Communication for CSSC. For more information, visit www.csscni.org.uk.

Inclusivity of controlled education sector in Northern Ireland
Diversity of controlled education sector in Northern Ireland

Sara McCracken works in communications for an educational body. She previously worked for the Green Party for #AE16 and in the health sector.