Centre for the Study of Conflict
School of History, Philosophy and Politics,
Faculty of Humanities, University of Ulster
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Education and Religion in Northern Ireland
by A M Gallagher
Section 11: Further Research Areas
Each section of this review has pointed to some research issues that could be subjected to further work. This final section will point to other areas of education in Northern Ireland for which relatively little published data on the religious dimension are available, or for which further work may be required. It should be noted that at the time of writing a number of relevant research studies were known to be underway or under active consideration. Thus, the Centre for the Study of Conflict is undertaking a number of studies of the planned integrated schools in Northern Ireland. Among the topics of these studies are the curriculum of integrated schools and the role of teachers and parents in the management structures of the schools. A study in the University of Ulster at Jordanstown is examining the concept of 'school ethos'. The British Social Attitudes Survey is to be extended to Northern Ireland from 1989 onwards and will incorporate some items regarding educational issues. Finally, the Standing Advisory Commission for Human Rights in Northern Ireland is giving active consideration to a study of various human rights aspects of the education system in Northern Ireland. Additional information will be made available from two Fair Employment Agency investigations of staffing in the university and further education sectors in Northern Ireland.
Further and higher education: In 1984/5 there were over 50,000 students attending vocational courses in twenty-six further education colleges in Northern Ireland. Although there is some published research on this educational sector (e.g. Foote, l980a; Equal Opportunities Commission, 1981; Gallagher, 1987), there appears to be little or no research on religious differences. Indeed, further education could fairly be described as the most under-researched sector of the educational system.
This is particularly surprising for at least two reasons: firstly, there is an obvious link between vocational further education and employment opportunity. Secondly, further and higher education provide the clearest examples of potential integration: formally at least, the student populations of the two universities and twenty-six further education colleges are religiously heterogeneous yet little is known of the degree of heterogeneity. Given the interest in planned integrated education described in section 10, it is surprising that little published research exists on the interaction of Catholic and Protestant students in third level education.
Community education: An area similarly effected is that of non-vocational community education. This is available in further education colleges, or through such organisations as the Workers' Educational Association or Conradh na Gaeilge. Of course, the nature this provision makes it a difficult area of investigation.
Other schools: Allied with the growth of an integrated sector in Northern Ireland has been the development of a number of culturally homogeneous schools, in particular the Bunscoil Gaeilge (Irish-speaking primary school) and the Independent Christian schools sponsored by the Free Presbyterian Church. Perhaps the most significant feature of these schools is the fact of their existence
Curriculum: Although a great deal is known about the patterns of examination subjects taken by pupils in both school sectors, relatively little in-depth information is available on the detail of what is taught in Protestant and Catholic schools. More detailed information could be sought on the time allocated to various subjects, the books used and the topics covered. Also, particularly for pupils in secondary schools, some time is devoted to non-examination subjects. Again we know relatively little on what is covered during this time. Such in-depth studies of the comparative curricula of Protestant and Catholic schools may illuminate the much discussed concept of school ethos.
Parents and pupils: Opinion surveys in Northern Ireland indicate, with a fair degree of consistency, that about two-thirds of respondents favour integrated education. More recently it has been found that only about a third of respondents would actually send their child to an integrated school. Two studies by MCER (Sutherland and Gallagher, 1987; Teare and Sutherland, 1988) incorporated parental questionnaires in their methodology. Beyond this relatively little appears to be available on parents' opinions or attitudes to educational provision. Similarly, there appears to be little published evidence on the experience of the segregated schools system from the perspective of pupils.
The funding and resources or schools: At various points in this review attention has been drawn to the different funding arrangements for Protestant and Catholic schools. This difference is most marked in the arrangements for capital funding in primary and secondary intermediate schools. Murray's work (section 2) suggests that Catholic schools may seek less support from the Education and Library Boards compared with Protestant schools. In both respects there may be implications for the resources available to schools and hence their educational delivery to pupils.