A Review of Policy Areas Affecting Integration of the Education System in Northern Ireland

Alan Smith, Ulf Hansson

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This scoping exercise, carried out by the UNESCO Centre at Ulster University for the Integrated Education Fund, provides an analysis of current education policy and practice in Northern Ireland across four key areas. The review involves an analysis of legislation, policy and practices within the existing system of education where change might lead to better integration of the education system as a whole. The study focuses on the following policy areas: Ownership and financing of the school estate; Area based planning of education provision; School governance arrangements; and Policies related to teacher training, recruitment and deployment. The review provides a succinct summary of the current position with regard to the ownership, funding and capital value of schools in Northern Ireland. It outlines the current enrolment and distribution of school pupils and the range of providers – Catholic Maintained, Controlled, Controlled Integrated, Grant Maintained Integrated, Voluntary Grammar and Irish Medium. The majority of school pupils in Northern Ireland continue to be educated in schools primarily associated with one of the two largest communities and that despite a statutory duty on the Department of Education to encourage and facilitate integrated education for more than twenty-five years integrated schooling still only caters for 7% of the total school population. This suggests that the obstacles to integration may be deeply imbedded within the education system itself since we know from public surveys that parents are highly supportive of their children being educated together.The review looks closely at the history of area based planning of education provision in Northern Ireland and highlights a number of deficiencies raised by educational stakeholders, politicians and local communities in both the planning and implementation of the process. These include concerns around the approach to consultation and stakeholder engagement, the Needs Model, the attitude and approach of the various educational providers, the failure of the process to fully take into account the statutory duty to encourage and facilitate the development of integrated education, and the entire process taking place during a time of wider educational uncertainly and political disagreement relating to the ultimately failed attempt to establish an Education and Skills Authority for Northern Ireland. This has led to a deeply unsatisfactory situation in which opportunities for real change to the educational landscape have not been taken and retrenchment of resources has become a hallmark of the process.School governance is another policy area where the composition of Boards of Governors reflects historical and political interests associated with separate school sectors. In Northern Ireland the composition of Boards of Governors varies depending on school management type as does the various categories of governors. It has been noted that the approach taken in Northern Ireland can be best described as a stakeholder model, where the governing body represents a range of interests, including parents, the school founders and the employing authority. The review notes that challenges exist with regard to the role of Governors, the recruitment and active participation of parents on Boards of Governors, and the relationship between Governors and the churches. The growing cooperation between Governors from different schools and sectors, particularly with regard to shared education, is also discussed alongside a short discussion on school governance models in other contexts, for example, the establishment of School Boards in Scotland or the more decentralised Finnish delivery model.The final section of the review focuses on policies related to teacher education, recruitment and deployment in Northern Ireland, outlining and reflecting on the distinctive elements of the education system as well as on the factors which have contributed to shaping it. The section also discusses policy approaches and initiatives which have aimed to reform the system of teacher education in Northern Ireland, including issues such as overall student numbers and providers, Fair Employment Legislation, the Certificate in Catholic Education, and opportunities for deeper cross sectoral collaboration.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherIntegrated Education Fund
Number of pages61
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sep 2015

Bibliographical note

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  • integrated education
  • shared education
  • Northern Ireland
  • education policy


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