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ESRC Data Archive Bulletin:
Education Statistics

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Text: Robert Osborne ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna
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Education Statistics

Robert D. Osborne
University of Ulster

The Department of Education for Northern Ireland (DENI) is the main source of educational statistics for Northern Ireland. The statistical data are primarily a product of the administrative responsibilities of the DENI. Two major statistical series are produced by the DENI: the School Census and the School Leavers Survey (SLS).

The School Census is conducted annually in January (soon to be altered to September) and records the total number of pupils in grant-aided schools by age, sex and form and the total number of teachers expressed in full-time equivalent terms. From these data two derived statistics are calculated: the pupil/teacher ratio (PTR) and the staying on rate (SOR). From the school census, for example, a recent Statistical Bulletin from the DENI (1/92) reveals that primary enrolments had increased from the mid 1980s and that the long decline in secondary enrolments was bottoming out. It also showed an increase in SORs for ages over 16 during the latter part of the 1980s. The Bulletin also disaggregates enrolment data by management type and sex. The School Census provides data compatible with the rest of the UK.

The SLS is conducted by the DENI and seeks information about all school leavers. The information is provided by all grant-aided post-primary school principals and includes details of age, sex, qualifications and destinations. The SLS was revised in 1979/80 to enable individual pupil information to be obtained. Since 1985/86 the survey has been conducted annually. The survey whilst covering all secondary and grammar schools notably omits further education leavers. This is significant since a substantial minority of pupils leave school and continue with GCSE and GCE qualifications in further education colleges. It is anticipated that a Further Education Leavers survey will come on stream during the Autumn of 1992.

The SLS data are published through the Bulletin mechanism. Pupil qualifications are shown by the highest qualification held by a school leaver. Typically the data are disaggregated by sex and by school type (secondary intermediate/grammar). The SLS has been used by a variety of commentators to suggest the excellence of the local school system, as a higher proportion of school leavers in Northern Ireland have 'A' levels than those from schools in England and Wales. Other commentators have drawn attention to the much higher proportion of school leavers from Northern Ireland who leave school with no qualifications compared with their peers in England and Wales. Both findings have been attributed to the retention of selection in Northern Ireland (Osborne et al., 1987). A recent welcome alteration in the qualifications recorded in the SLS in Northern Ireland has been to include RSA, BTEC, Pitmans etc. Currently just over 6% of school leavers have these other qualifications. These qualifications are not included in the comparable survey in England and Wales. The SLS also collects the destination of leavers (recorded in October) as returned by school principals. However, the reliability of these data are in doubt. This is implicit in the way the data are published by the DENI where almost half the 24,500 leavers are allocated to a single category which includes those in employment, seeking work and whose destination is unknown. This problem has at least in part underpinned the decision by the DEN to assess the feasibility of conducting a regular postal survey to assess the post-school experiences of leavers similar to the highly successful Scottish Young People's Survey (Archive study number 33227). The development of such a survey will permit the development of analysis which can assess educational attainment and initial labour market experiences in the context of social and educational background for individuals.

The DENI also periodically publishes statistical information on the first destinations of graduates. This information is derived from USR returns and includes the graduates from the two Northern Ireland universities and Northern Ireland domiciled graduates from other UK universities. The polytechnic sector has not been covered.

Alongside the statistics published from the School Census and the SLS the DENI periodically publishes projections of the school population and, as a part of the wider UK exercise, the projection of participation in higher education.

The DENI is also a sponsor of research and in recent an years this has included studies of the demand for higher education, absenteeism and a young people's survey.

Apart from the DENI, educational data in Northern Ireland derives from the administrative activities of the Northern Ireland Schools Examination and Assessment Council which currently relate to the GCSE and GCE examination results set by the Council. There are difficulties in assessing the broad pattern of examination performance because of the practice of some schools of entering pupils for examinations set by examining boards in England and Wales and also double entering pupils for the same subject with different boards. There is no mechanism for reconciling these data. The five Education and Library Boards also produce statistical information relating to their activities. Some difficulties have been encountered in obtained individual school budgets from the Boards although these are "in the public domain".

One of the major issues which has emerged in recent years relates to the failure of the DENI to analyse a wide range of data, much of which is not routinely published, in terms of the basic religious divide in Northern Ireland. The overwhelming majority of schools are segregated into Catholic schools and de facto Protestant schools (de facto as they are predominantly attended and staffed by Protestants and where the Protestant churches have representation on Boards of Governors). During a major review of educational issues in Northern Ireland the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, acting on advice from a team of academic consultations recommended that routine monitoring of educational issues, including financial allocations, by religion of schools be undertaken and published by the DENI (Standing Advisory Committee on Human Rights, 1991). The introduction of monitoring is designed to allow assessments of whether equitable treatment exists between school Systems. This recommendation has been accepted the DENI and discussions concerning content are underway with the relevant bodies. Research on educational issues in Northern Ireland has been a major area of social science activity particularly since the outbreak of disturbances over twenty years ago, (Gallagher, 1989). However, hardly any of the data collected in these numerous studies are available or accessible to the general research community and secondary analysis and other longitudinal research is therefore limited. In addition, as researchers elsewhere in the United kingdom have noted, comprehensive educational data from Northern Ireland are hard to locate and this often results in the neglect of Northern Ireland even in work which is ostensibly UK wide in coverage, (Statham et al, 1991). The Data Archive holds very few educational datasets relating to Northern Ireland and there is no other depository in existence. (One exception to this are data derived from a major study of undergraduate and graduates funded by the ESRC (2386).

Access to educational data collected or produced by the the DENI and other official bodies is on an ad hoc basis and while individual civil servants are often helpful, a request for anything other than the routine is likely to cause problems in terms of access, time and finance. There is an urgent need to provide a means for the routine depositing of defined official and academic datasets for the research community. At present none of these data are deposited with the Archive.


Gallagher, A. M. (1989) Education and Religion: Majority Minority Report, Centre for the Study of Conflict, University of Ulster.
Osborne, R. D., Cormack, R. J. and Miller, F. L. (eds) (1987) Education and Policy in Northern Ireland Belfast
, Policy Research Institute.
Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights (1991) Sixteenth Report, 1990/91, London: HMSO.
Statham, J. et al., (1991) The Educational Fact File: a Handbook of Educational Information in the United Kingdom 2nd ed. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

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