Attitudes to Academic Selection, Integrated Education and Diversity Within the Curriculum

Author(s): Tony Gallagher and Alan Smith
Document Type: Chapter
Year: 2002
Title of Publication: Social Attitudes in Northern Ireland: The Eighth Report
Editor(s): Ann Marie Gray, Katrina Lloyd, Paula Devine, Gillian Robinson and Deirdre Heenan
Publisher: Pluto Press
Place of Publication: London
ISBN: 0 7453 1911 4
Pages: 120-137
Subject Area(s): Education

Abbreviations: NI - Northern Ireland, NILT - Northern Ireland Life and Times

Background to the Research

  • The education system has always played a key role in debates on public policy in NI. Education has also featured in issues related to the conflict.
  • In particular, three key themes have taken prominence within these debates:
    • The selective system of secondary and grammar schools.
    • De facto religious schools.
    • Curriculum initiatives to promote tolerance and reconciliation.
  • Reflecting the high level of public interest, as well as ongoing research and policy discussions, the Education module of the 1999 NILT survey incorporated these three key themes.
  • The chapter outlines the policy context for each theme, and then discusses the attitudes of the public towards them.

Research Approach

  • The data used by the authors come from the 1999 NILT survey which began in 1998 and is carried out annually.
  • Each year, interviews are carried out with a random selection of adults (aged 18 years and over) who live in private households in NI.
  • In most years, the NILT sample size is 1,800 respondents; however, in 1999 the sample size was 2,200.

Main Findings

  • Most respondents agree that the 11+ tests put too much pressure on young people (78%), that children are too young at that age for selection tests (70%) and that the 11+ means that most children feel they are failures (61%).
  • However, most respondents also feel that selection has to happen at some time (82%) and that children who do not get to grammar school still get a first class education (75%).
  • Most respondents tend to favour a change in the selection system; only 37% say that the system works well enough, while 55% say it should be changed.
  • 42% of respondents who feel that some aspects of the current system should be changed say that the 11+ tests only should be changed, 49% that both the 11+ and the system of secondary and grammar schools should be changed and 9% that the system of secondary and grammar schools only should be changed.
  • Almost three quarters (74%) of respondents say that the government should encourage more integrated schools. This level of support is somewhat higher among Catholics (80%) than Protestants (67%).
  • The vast majority (86%) of respondents who are parents of school-age children say that none of their own children has attended an integrated school.
  • Protestants are more likely than Catholics to say their children have attended an integrated school (16% and 10% respectively).
  • The main reason that parents give for not sending their children to an integrated school is that there is none nearby (66%).
  • Many more Catholics (61%) than Protestants (13%) believe that all pupils at secondary-level schools should learn about Irish language and culture.
  • Similarly, 28% of Catholics and only 12% of Protestants say that all pupils should learn about Ulster-Scots language and culture.
  • Three quarters of all respondents support the teaching in schools of general religious beliefs.
  • Only 38% of respondents agree that 'it isn't the job of schools to teach about politics and human rights' and 58% agree that 'it's about time schools started to openly tackle such difficult issues'.
  • Almost half (48%) of NILT respondents believe that schools should be a place where children are able to get away from the political problems of NI, while 42% doubt whether people teaching this kind of thing would do it fairly.


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