Over 5 years ago Kathryn Torney published an >analysis of the religious divide in Northern Ireland’s schools in the guardian. She obtained data via FOI and found that the majority of school children were being educated in schools highly segregated along religious lines. In 2018, with the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement fast approaching things are obviously much improved…is what I would like to be able to say. Unfortunately this is not the case.

I’ve combined the data used in Kathryn’s original article and more recent data for 2017 made available on OpenDataNI to illustrate the depth of the divide that still exists in education here in Northern Ireland. The main bar chart at the top groups pupil numbers by how integrated their school is: 100% protestant schools at the far left, 100% Catholic schools at the far right, and all the other mixed ratios in between. The chart is also fully interactive: data can be viewed for one of three points in time, and filtered by management type, school type, age, and school make-up (try clicking anywhere, or dragging across the main chart)

I don’t think it’s a exaggeration to say this is the most serious manifestation of the divide in Northern Irish society. In Kathryn’s original guardian article she quoted Peter Robinson describing the education system in Northern Ireland as a “benign form of apartheid which is fundamentally damaging to our society.” Obviously the reasons for this have a long and complex history, however I think it’s important to acknowledge just how dramatic the divide is. I won’t dwell on any particular aspect of the data, as hopefully it speaks for itself.

So have things got better at all? If we look at the percentage of school children being educated in a school were the religious divide is at least ten to one, you can see the following trend over time.

a timeseries

So at least the direction of travel is towards a more integrated education sector, however the pace of change is painfully slow. To quote Barack Obama “Sometimes the task…is to make incremental improvements or try to steer the Ocean liner two degrees North or South so that 10 years from now, we’re in a very different place than we were.” Hopefully in 10 or 20 years we’ll be in a very different place.