Northern Ireland Executive review to consider ‘single education system’

17 December, 2020

A wide-ranging, independent review of the education system in Northern Ireland is being established by the Executive is to consider what a single education system would mean for the country and how it might be implemented. Northern Ireland Humanists – which has long campaigned for such a system – has welcomed the news.

At present, education in Northern Ireland is highly segregated, with the majority of Catholic children attending Catholic schools and the majority of Protestant children attending Controlled schools, which are theoretically open to pupils from all backgrounds but are effectively Protestant. Teaching staff and governing bodies are also divided along faith lines, with a report from Ulster University earlier this month showing that segregated teacher training colleges exacerbate the problem.

Integrated schools – which try to balance the proportion of pupils from each community they admit, aiming at 40% Catholic, 40% non-Catholic Christian (i.e. Protestant) and 20% other – have attempted to address the problem of community segregation. However, only 7% of pupils are educated at these schools. Last month, DUP MLA Maurice Bradley said that all schools in Northern Ireland should be integrated and just this week First Minister Arlene Foster suggested that it might be time to ‘revisit’ the question of creating a ‘common school system’. These views have been echoed by MLAs across the political spectrum.

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented:

‘We are hugely excited that the forthcoming education review will consider how best to move to a single system of education. For far too long, community division has been endemic in our society and this is clearly exacerbated by the fact that our children are educated apart from one another.

‘All the research shows that the best way to cultivate social cohesion is through open, inclusive schools that educate children from diverse backgrounds together. We hope this review marks the first step towards making that a reality, and we have written to the Minister of Education asking to discuss how this will take place.’


For further comment or information, please contact Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator at or phone 02890 029946.

Read our most recent article on how teacher training reinforces educational division in Northern Ireland.

Read our most article on the DUP MLA who says all schools should be integrated.

Read our article on how Northern Ireland pre-schools are ‘highly segregated’ by denomination.

Read our article on how segregation and religious bias in education poses a major threat to children’s rights in Northern Ireland.

Read more about our work on schools and education.

Read more about our work on faith schools.

Northern Ireland Humanists is part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland. Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.