Help us secure inclusive education for all children in Northern Ireland

On this page we’ve set out our views on each of the questions in the consultation. Please read what we think, and if you agree, try to echo those responses in your own words.

All children deserve access to inclusive education, free from religious segregation and discrimination. Help us make that a reality. Respond to this consultation.

The Northern Ireland Executive recently appointed an Independent Panel to carry out a wide-ranging review of the education system. Among other things, this panel has been tasked with defining what a ‘single education system’ means and ‘assessing the costs/benefits of such an approach’. We strongly support the review, and hope it marks the first step towards a complete overhaul of Northern Ireland’s religiously segregated education system. The Independent Panel is now conducting a public consultation to identify priorities and shape its work.

Will you respond to the consultation and tell the Panel why all schools in Northern Ireland should be open and inclusive of all children regardless of religion or belief background?

The consultation deadline is 4 February so we need you to respond before that date.

Questions and responses

5-7. What does good education look like?

Questions 5-7 focus on what is meant by ‘good education’. Respondents are provided with a list of possible descriptions and the questions relate to those descriptions.

We believe the criteria suggested are largely appropriate and, if fully considered, should enable the Panel to cover a range of relevant issues. We think it will be particularly important for the Review to focus on the goals of preparing children to become ethical, informed citizens of Northern Ireland and the world, as well as on ensuring they aspire to a better future for their community and wider society. We encourage you to point out that neither of these aims are adequately achieved by a system that is religiously segregated or biased in favour of a particular faith (namely, Christianity), as is currently the case in Northern Ireland.

8-10. Delivery of education, training, and support

Questions 8-10 focus on good systems for the delivery of education, training, and support. Respondents are again provided with a list of statements and questions that relate to them.

Again, we think the suggested criteria are largely fair and appropriate. It is particularly good to see the Panel making reference to respect for diversity and community cohesion. It is very important that the identity and values of children and their families are taken into account – something that is clearly not currently the case for non-Christian families and their children, given the exclusively Christian nature of the present system. However, we are concerned that this may be used as an excuse to retain denominational schools. For this reason, it is important to note that human rights law does not require that the state provides precisely the type of (religious) school parents would prefer, just that it refrains from imposing a particular religious perspective. This means that the diverse needs of all children would be better served by inclusive, integrated schools that are suitable for all irrespective of background.

11-12. Strengths and weaknesses of the NI education system

Questions 11 and 12 ask about the strengths and weaknesses of the NI education system.

With respect to the three weakest aspects of the system we would encourage you to point out the following:

  1.  Lack of integrated schools. Over 70% of the public think that children should be educated together and yet only 7% of schools are integrated. What’s more, in common with all schools in Northern Ireland, all integrated schools have a Christian ethos, meaning that those from non-Christian backgrounds (including the 27% of the population who identify as non-religious) are not adequately accounted for;
  2. An inadequate syllabus for religious education (RE) which was written by the four main churches, only includes one unit on non-Christian religions (at secondary level), and no information on non-religious perspectives.
  3. Compulsory religious worship which, in practice, is entirely Christian in character and (again) fails to adequately include children from non-Christian backgrounds, particularly the non-religious. Here it is worth noting that although parents can withdraw their children from RE and worship, no educationally meaningful alternative is provided and, unlike in England and Wales, older pupils are unable to withdraw themselves.

13-15. Key issues and the system as a whole 

Questions 13-15 are multiple-choice and ask respondents to pick 3 statements the review panel should prioritise.

On 13, we would suggest that you select:

  1. Educating children and young people from different communities separately;
  2. Structure and delivery of curriculum;
  3. Meaningful participation of children and young people.

In the comment box, point out that there is no option for ‘educating children and young people from different communities together’ and that, given the segregated nature of the system and public support for integrated education this must be a key focus of the review.

On 14, we would suggest that you select:

  1. Help for teachers/lecturers/education leaders with curriculum/teaching methods/assessment;
  2. The delivery of initial teacher education and ongoing professional development;
  3. Helping teachers and lecturers learn from each other.

In the text box, you may wish to highlight the importance of educating and training our education professionals together. Recent research has shown that the divided nature of teacher training – whereby those from Protestant backgrounds attend separate institutions from those from Catholic backgrounds – exacerbates school segregation and means that Catholic background teachers tend to work in Catholic schools and Protestant background teachers tend to work in controlled schools. These problems are worsened by the exemption to equality law that enables schools to employ, remunerate, and promote teachers according to faith which the panel ought to consider.

On 15, we would suggest that you select:

  1. The future of integrated education;
  2. The appropriateness of multiple sectors and managing authorities;
  3. Creating a “single education system”.

What do you mean by a ‘single education system’?

A system of education made up of integrated, fully inclusive schools that are open to and suitable for all children regardless of their or their parents’ religion or belief. These schools would provide a broad and balanced curriculum in all subjects (including Religious Education and Relationships and Sexuality Education) that is objective, critical, and pluralistic and designed to cultivate open mindedness and an appreciation of shared values.

16. Is there anything else you would like to say?

Use this section to highlight any issues you feel have not been addressed in the rest of the document. If you have personal experiences of how the Christian bias or segregated nature of the current system disadvantages you as a non-religious/non-Christian person please share them here.

How to adapt your consultation response

To assist you in writing your response, we have provided some suggestions. However, you are strongly encouraged to also include your own experiences as the Panel is far more likely to take notice of personalised responses. We have provided some examples of ways you can do this below.

If you are a parent or carer… talk about why you think it is important for your children that the school system is inclusive. You may have experiences that illustrate why segregated schools are a problem, or your children may have been adversely affected by the way Christianity is privileged in the curriculum and school organisation. If so, please share these experiences and explain why you think it is vital these concerns are addressed. If you have had difficulties accessing shared or integrated education for your child please also mention this.

If you are a teacher… talk about the ways in which religious discrimination and segregation has affected your career, especially if it has meant that you were unable to apply for or gain employment in particular schools as a result of background or belief. Explain why you believe that the panel must consider these issues and how it would improve the education system overall.

If you are a pupil… talk about why you think schools should teach children from all backgrounds together and why you think it is important for what is taught not to favour one religion or belief over any other. If you have experienced prejudice or discrimination because of your beliefs while at school, please say so and explain why you think it is important that the Panel takes issues like this into account.