Page last updated at 13:35 GMT, Thursday, 16 April 2009 14:35 UK
The schools system in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland's education system has a complex structure.
Northern Ireland's education system has a complex structure.

There are several official bodies involved in the management and administration of the system as well as a number of voluntary bodies which play a significant role. However there are plans to streamline the management into one overall body called the Education and Skills Authority.

Political parties and some school groups are arguing over how much power the ESA should have.

Secondary education is largely selective with pupils going to grammar schools or secondary schools according to academic ability. At the moment more than 40% of pupils attend grammar schools, a much higher proportion than in the past. There is also a large voluntary school sector and Catholic maintained schools. Another sector, fundamentalist Christian schools, operates without formal government funding.

There has been significant growth in the development and provision of integrated education throughout Northern Ireland. Integrated education is the initiative to bring together in one school pupils, teachers and governors from Catholic and Protestant traditions.

Following two reports into post-primary education, the Burns Report in 2001 and the Costello Report in 2003, the government took the decision to end academic selection in Northern Ireland, however political bargaining led to a deal which did not ban academic selection.

Politicians were expected to come to an agreed arrangement but in fact the result has been polarisation and the prospect of grammar schools setting their own entrance exams.

The final 11-plus transfer test took place in 2008, and grammar schools now plan to set their own tests, although the Catholic bishops have said that schools in their sector should only continue that for a maximum of three years.

Educational Reform

Professor George Bain's review contained recommendations for change
Professor George Bain's review contained recommendations for change

In December 2006 the Bain Review was published, with recommendations for changes to the schools system. The independent report was commissioned by the government to look into the funding and planning of education.

The government has accepted the findings of the report which recommends an increase in sharing and collaboration between schools. Currently each area is provided with a range of smaller schools including Catholic, State, Integrated and Irish Language

Under the new guidelines these schools will be expected to share lessons with others in the locality, and some have become specialist schools offering expert tuition in a particular part of the curriculum.

At the same time, small schools are being reviewed and could even be closed if the pupil numbers are too low. In theory, any new schools will be planned to cover the needs of a geographical area rather than cater for an individual section of the local community. However the various interest groups, such as Catholic, Integrated and Irish Medium are likely to fight for local provision even if other schools are available and have spare places.

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