‘It is misleading to describe controlled schools as the Protestant sector’

CSSC member Gillian Dunlop, Principal of Largymore Primary School.
CSSC member Gillian Dunlop, Principal of Largymore Primary School.

A Lisburn principal has highlighted the diversity and inclusivity of the controlled schools sector in Northern Ireland.

Gillian Dunlop, Principal of Largymore Primary School, was commenting on Controlled Schools’ Support Council (CSSC) research about the make-up of the controlled education sector.

Controlled schools are non-denominational and firmly set within an ethos embedded in Christian values. They are open to pupils of all faiths or none, and account for 558 or 48 per cent of all schools in Northern Ireland.

The council’s research demonstrates the complexity and diversity of the sector.

Some of the key findings from the research include:

• the controlled sector has over 140,600 pupils

• over 8,500 teachers are employed in controlled schools

• the majority of nursery schools, primary schools and special schools in Northern Ireland are controlled

• 95% of all special schools belong to the controlled sector

• over a third of newcomer pupils attend controlled schools

• 31% of all controlled pupils are entitled to free school meals

• over 28,700 primary and post-primary pupils have special educational needs.

Stressing the importance of the research, Mrs Dunlop, a CSSC member, said: “We believe that this is the first time that such a detailed piece of work has been carried out that clearly demonstrates the size and complexity of the controlled education sector.

“The findings also seek to dispel many misconceptions about the controlled sector.”

In terms of religion, key findings include:

• 66% of pupils are Protestant

• 10% of pupils are Catholic

• 5% of pupils are other Christian

• 1% of pupils are non-Christian

• 18% of pupils indicate no religion.

“The religious breakdown of individual controlled schools often reflects their community,” Mrs Dunlop continued.

“For example, I know of some controlled schools that have an almost 50/50 religious balance and others that are over 90% Catholic. It is therefore misleading to describe the controlled schools as the ‘Protestant sector’.

“Indeed, controlled schools have greater religious diversity in comparison to other education sectors and, interestingly, provide education for more pupils of no religion than any other sector.”

CSSC, the advocacy body for the controlled sector, has been in operation for just one year, and has plans to use its research to tackle some of the challenges facing schools.

Mrs Dunlop concluded: “It is essential that we have evidence to underpin our programme of work going forward and this baseline assessment is the first part of that.

“It is already leading to a better understanding of what controlled schools are, the diversity within the sector and the challenges that face teachers and pupils alike, particularly given the lack of funding for education right across the board.

“CSSC is proud to be the first advocacy body for controlled schools. Our dedicated and experienced team of staff will provide member schools with the support they need to enable their schools, teachers and pupils to thrive.”