Integrated schools an ‘illusory’ choice for many families in Northern Ireland

1 February, 2021

A new report shows that many, perhaps most, parents who wish to send their children to an integrated school in Northern Ireland are currently unable to do so. Northern Ireland Humanists has said this urgently demonstrates the need to desegregate the outdated school system.

Research from Ulster University’s Transforming Education project says that 28% of households ‘are located in areas of Northern Ireland where access to integrated primary schools is limited and a similar percentage (26%) are remote from integrated post-primaries’. What’s more, even in areas where there are integrated schools, high demand means that families can still find it difficult to secure a place. On this basis, the authors say that the choice of an integrated school is often ‘illusory’.

Integrated schools try to balance the proportion of pupils from each ‘community’ they admit, aiming for at least 40% Catholic and at least 40% non-Catholic Christian (i.e. Protestant). They are increasingly popular among parents in Northern Ireland. In a recent survey, 69% of people said that every school in Northern Ireland should be integrated, with previous research suggesting that 91% think these schools are ‘important for promoting a shared and better future’.

However, just 7% of children currently attend integrated schools and the rest of the Northern Ireland school system is highly segregated, with the majority of children from Catholic families attending Catholic schools and the majority of children from Protestant families attending Controlled schools, which are theoretically open to pupils from all backgrounds but are effectively Protestant.

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented:

‘This research further demonstrates the urgent need to desegregate Northern Ireland’s outdated school system. Large numbers of parents clearly want their children educated alongside those from a diverse range of backgrounds but, due to the shortage of integrated schools, are unable to access a place at one.

‘The Government has already acknowledged that the issue of community division in schools needs to be addressed by making the question of a single education system central to the forthcoming independent education review. However, in addition to having diverse pupils and staff, it is vital that such a system does not seek to promote Christianity over other religions or beliefs. This is currently the case even in integrated schools. Only then will we have properly inclusive schools that are suitable for everyone.’


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

Read the Ulster University report.

Read our most recent article on the independent Northern Ireland education review set to consider ‘single education system’.

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

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

Read more about our work on schools and education.

Read more about our work on faith schools.

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