Controlled schools becoming more diverse, says support council chief

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New figures show the largest education sector in Northern Ireland is open to all, a support council chief has claimed.

Historically, Protestant and Catholic children in the region have attended different schools - with most of the former attending controlled schools and most of the latter attending Catholic maintained schools.

Barry Mulholland, who leads the Controlled Schools Support Council, was speaking as the body released a report containing new figures indicating the religious background of the children that attend those schools.

The controlled sector has 49.2% of schools in Northern Ireland including nursery, primary, secondary, grammar and special settings. These also include 27 controlled integrated schools and two Irish medium schools.

The Catholic maintained sector has 40.2% of schools and the grant maintained integrated sector has 3.4%

There are also a number of voluntary grammar schools, Irish medium schools and independent schools.

Department of Education figures relating to the 2018 academic year have been compiled in a new report by the Controlled Schools Support Council (CSSC).

They show that 63.4% of those attending controlled schools last year were Protestant, 10% were Catholic and 26.5% were either of other faiths or had no recorded religious background.

Comparatively the figures show 95% of those being educated in Catholic Maintained schools were Catholic, 0.6% were Protestant and 3.1% were of other faiths or had no recorded religious background.

At grant maintained integrated schools, 41% were Catholic, 35.1% were Protestant and 24.3% were of other faiths or had no recorded religious background.

Meanwhile, of the 15,290 newcomer pupils in Northern Ireland last year, most attended Catholic maintained schools (52.1%), 37.6% attended controlled schools and 4.7% attended grant maintained integrated schools.

In terms of children with special education needs, there was an even split with 41.3% attending controlled schools, and 41.6% attending Catholic maintained schools, as well as 6.5% at grant maintained integrated schools.

Mr Mulholland said the figures show the "diversity and inclusivity of controlled schools, which are open to all faiths and none".

"Controlled schools provide education to over 143,000 children and young people to enable them to learn, develop and grow together, within the ethos of non-denominational Christian values and principles," he said.