The Controlled Schools’ Support Council (CSSC) has launched the first ‘baseline assessment’ of the controlled schools sector in Northern Ireland.
Controlled schools are non–denominational and firmly set within an ethos embedded in Christian values. The majority historically were given by the Churches to the Government for their control. They are open to pupils of all faiths or none, and account for 558 schools in Northern Ireland: 48% of the total number of schools.
As this 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.
Dr Peter Hamill, Secretary to the Church of Ireland’s Board of Education (Northern Ireland), is a member of the board of the CSSC, as a representative of the Transferor Representatives’ Council. He 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 dispel many misconceptions about the sector.”
Some of the key findings from the research include:
• the controlled sector has over 140,000 pupils;
• over 8,500 teachers are employed in controlled schools;
• the majority of nursery schools and primary 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; and
• over 28,000 primary and post–primary pupils in the sector have special educational needs.
In terms of religion:
• 66% of pupils are Protestant;
• 10% of pupils are Catholic;
• 5% of pupils are from other Christian traditions;
• 1% of pupils are from non–Christian religions; and
• 18% of pupils indicate no religion.
“The religious breakdown of individual controlled schools often reflects their community,” Dr Hamill commented. “For example, I know of some controlled schools that have an almost 50:50 religious balance and a small number that are over 90% Catholic. It is therefore misleading to describe controlled schools as the ‘Protestant sector’.
“Indeed, controlled schools have great religious diversity and provide education for more pupils of no religion than any other sector.”
The CSSC has been in operation for just one year, and has plans to use this research to tackle some of the challenges facing schools.
Dr Hamill concluded: “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. 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.
“The 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.”
This article was first published in The Church of Ireland Gazette.