Report: religious control of NI’s schools reinforces social division

Posted: Thu, 24 Sep 2020

Report: religious control of NI’s schools reinforces social division

Granting churches power over school governance in Northern Ireland exacerbates the challenges facing the education system, reinforces social division and squanders public resources, according to a new academic report.

The governance of schools, a paper published by Ulster University this month, said a planned review of education in NI should consider the role of church nominees in schools' governance.

A significant majority of Northern Ireland's schools are divided along religious lines.

The main sectors are maintained schools, which guarantee seats for Catholic trustees, and controlled schools, which appoint representatives from Protestant denominations.

The paper says:

  • Requirements to appoint religious representatives embed "community separation" in the system of school governance.
  • Embedding overtly Christian denominational influence on governing bodies may impact on schools' ability to "adapt to meet the changing profile of their pupils" and "accommodate those with non-Christian beliefs or those of no faith".
  • Recruiting governors is "challenging" and retaining them is "difficult", owing to the complex nature of the work. But meanwhile religious influence may affect the range of candidates deemed eligible to serve as governors.

It also notes that in 2012, Catholic bishops reportedly planned to select governors who would "toe their political line" in Catholic voluntary grammar schools.

And it notes evidence suggesting the divided education system is financially inefficient.


The paper recommends that a planned review of education in NI should consider the status afforded to church nominees on governing bodies.

It says any new model arising from the review should "build on established sharing, cooperation and integration" and "contribute to the most efficient use of limited finance".

Earlier this year the New Decade, New Approach agreement, which restored the devolved government at Stormont, said there would be an independent review of education with "the prospects of moving towards a single education system".

NMFS campaign comment

No More Faith Schools campaign coordinator Alastair Lichten said the report provided "further evidence of the need to accelerate the integration of schooling in Northern Ireland".

"Religious control of education may serve religious groups, but it doesn't serve children or wider society.

"This report should be another prompt for ministers to take the steps needed to bring children together in Northern Ireland's schools, in an integrated and secular education system."

Previous papers in series

The governance of schools is the fifth paper in the university's Transforming Education series, on education in Northern Ireland. The previous papers have:

Tags: Northern Ireland