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Education research: Northern Ireland

Education in Northern Ireland (NI) is characterised by segregation along religious/sectarian lines underpinned by a long history of religious tensions and fractured politics.

Ninety-three per cent of pupils in mainstream education attend schools with either a Catholic/Irish identity (maintained schools) or a British/Protestant identity (controlled schools), while only seven per cent attend integrated schools (NISRA, 2020). NI’s post-primary school system is also divided by a selection process which determines whether 11-year-olds attend a non-selective post-primary school or a selective grammar school. These unique characteristics lead to inefficiencies and inequities in NI’s education system – for example, controlled and maintained schools located close to each other, with empty desks due to a shortage of local pupils from one side of the community.

It is against this backdrop that this BERA Blog special issue captures some of the innovative education research being carried out by academics working in NI’s five higher education institutes – Ulster University, Queen’s University Belfast, St Mary’s University College Belfast, Stranmillis University College and the Open University. Research presented in this series makes for compelling reading about the future of education in Northern Ireland.

The series features contributions about:

  • how a progressive NI education research agenda, aimed at improving the life chances of children in the ‘post-troubles’ era, can be implemented
  • play in NI primary schools as a way of helping all children get a fair start in education
  • why young people continue (or not) with the learning of languages in schools in NI
  • Ulster University’s ‘Future Schools Toolkit’ which is designed to help schools critically examine their sustainability and consider different types of provision
  • educating during the pandemic and resetting home–school partnerships
  • the lived experiences of history and citizenship teachers in Northern Ireland
  • a virtual reality project which explores pre-service teachers’ perceptions of contested spaces in NI.


Profile picture of Barbara Skinner
Barbara Skinner, Professor

Professor in TESOL and Education at Ulster University

Barbara Skinner is a Professor in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages)and Education in the School of Education at Ulster University. Barbara lectures on a range of teacher education courses. She is involved with doctoral...

Content in this series