Until 1989 NI had only two basic categories of school: controlled schools (managed by the ELB for the area) and voluntary schools (owned and managed by trustees, normally the local churches).
There are two types of voluntary school: voluntary maintained (including voluntary primary and secondary schools) and voluntary grammar (which are
permitted to select pupils on the basis of ability).
The majority of voluntary maintained schools are controlled by the Catholic Church.
In order to facilitate the management of these schools the Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 transferred responsibility for all Catholic maintained schools to a statutory body, the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS).
The CCMS exercises certain responsibilities in relation to Catholic maintained schools, including providing advice in matters relating to this sector and the employment of teaching staff.
The 1989 Order also introduced a new category of schools, the integrated school, whose primary focus is to provide a religiously mixed environment capable of attracting reasonable numbers of both Catholic and Protestant pupils. Managed by a Board of Governors, there has been a steady increase in the numbers of these schools.
Significant features of the Northern Ireland Education system
NI’s school system is distinctive from the rest of the UK in a number of ways:
1.) Religious division
Currently more than half the children in NI attend Catholic schools. Some Catholic children attend non-Catholic schools and a very small minority of non-Catholic children attend Catholic schools. Many people in NI hope that more religiously integrated schools will develop as NI moves towards a less socially divided society.
2.) The Transfer Test (11+)
A grammar-secondary divide is still prevalent in NI. At the age of eleven, pupils can undertake an aptitude test (the 11+) is used to determine which children will attend grammar schools. This system is to be abolished in 2008 and schools will no longer be able to select pupils on the basis of academic ability at the age of 11 years.
3.) School starting age
In NI the school starting age is four (compared to five in England and Wales), with nursery provision offered to three-year-olds.
4.) Irish-medium schools
Irish-medium schools are peculiar to NI. In these schools, children are taught through
Irish in more than half the compulsory subjects (excluding English).