Information for Parents and Communities

Information about the education of our children, and how the education system works, can be hard to find.  We have noted some of the questions most frequently asked and offer some answers and links to other sources to provide parents and communities with access to the information they are seeking.
This resource will be constantly developed, drawing on topics and concerns brought up during the Community Engagement Events.

Have you ever wondered……..

Who is responsible for education?

The Department of Education (DE) is responsible for the central administration of education and related services in Northern Ireland, with the exception of the Further and Higher Education sectors, which are within the remit of the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL).

Responsibility for the delivery of day-to-day education services within the policy, strategy and procedures set by the Department currently lies with:

  • The five Education and Library Boards (ELBs), including the Staff Commission for Education and Library Boards;
  • The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS);
  • The Northern Ireland Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA);
  • The Youth Council for Northern Ireland (YCNI);
  • Other grant-aided bodies, including the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) and Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta (CnaG); and Schools.

How many different kinds of sectors are there?

The system of schools in Northern Ireland is sub-divided into five main sectors:

  • —  Controlled Schools
    • Controlled Integrated Schools
  • — Catholic Maintained Schools,
  • —  Voluntary Grammar Schools,
  • —  Grant-maintained Integrated Schools
  • —  Irish-medium Schools.

There are also a small number of ‘other’ maintained schools. Controlled schools are fully funded by the ELBs. Catholic maintained schools and approved Irish-medium schools are funded by the ELBs for their running costs and by DE for capital building works. Voluntary Grammar schools and Grant-maintained Integrated schools are funded by DE for both running costs and capital building works. There is also a small number of  independent schools that do not receive government funding.

What role does the Assembly Education Committee play?

The Committee was established to advise and assist the Minister of Education, John O’Dowd MLA, on matters within his responsibility as a Minister. The Committee undertakes a scrutiny, policy development and consultation role with respect to the Department of Education and plays a key role in the consideration and development of legislation. The Committee Chairperson is Mervyn Storey.

Click for the Department of Education website.

What role do the churches play in education?

The majority of schools in Northern Ireland have a management board on which the local churches are represented.

The present structure of the schools system has evolved over a lengthy period of time and reflects long-established traditions and policy approaches. Ownership of the schools’ estate has developed in a range of ways at different stages in history. At one stage, ownership of most of the schools was in the hands of the Protestant churches and the Catholic Church. Over a period of time (from the 1930s to the 1950s), the Protestant churches transferred almost all their schools to state control on the understanding, enshrined in an Act of Parliament, that the Christian ethos of these schools would be maintained.

Who are the Transferors?

The Protestant church bodies which transferred their schools to the state (Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of Ireland) are known as ‘transferors’ and their successors continue to have the right to nominate members to the Boards of schools which transferred.

Who are the Trustees?

Catholic maintained schools are owned by Trustees and managed through Boards of Governors. The Trustees are normally the Bishops of Dioceses and/or their nominees, or senior members of the religious orders or congregations that have provided the school.

How do I find out who is on my local school’s Board of Governors?

Some schools have listed their Board of Governors on their websites; others have just named the Chair.  If you would like more information then the simplest way is often to ask the principal of your school.

How many schools are there in Northern Ireland?

There are about 1200 schools in Northern Ireland

Do we have too many schools?

The latest enrolment figures show that our schools have almost 85,000 spare places, that is the equivalent of more than 150 schools. A third of our 863 primary schools have fewer than 100 children enrolled. A fifth of our 217 post primary schools have fewer than 400 pupils. Fifty of our 172 sixth forms have fewer than 100 pupils enrolled.

What is the religious breakdown of our schools?

Primary Schools

Catholic/Other Maintained  Primary Schools

—              1.1% protestant

—              97.1% catholic

—              1.9% Other

Controlled Primary Schools

—              73.1% protestant

—              5.9% catholic

—              21.6% Other

Integrated (controlled and maintained)

—              39.0% protestant

—              36.9% catholic

—              24.1% Other


Second Level Schools (Non Grammar)

Catholic/Other Maintained Second Level Schools

—              0.7% protestant

—              98.3% catholic

—              1.0% Other

Controlled Second Level Schools

—              82.6% protestant

—              2.0% catholic

—              15.4% Other

Integrated (controlled and maintained)

—              47.5% protestant

—              36.8% catholic

—              15.7% Other

Secondary Grammar Schools

Schools under Catholic Management

—              0.9% protestant

—              98.1% catholic

—              1.0% Other

Schools under Other Management

—              65.7% protestant

—              10.7% catholic

—              23.6% Other

Controlled Grammar

—              77.1% protestant

—              7.0% catholic

—              15.9% Other

Figures from: DENI (2010/2011)

How are schools funded?

The Common Funding Formula introduced in April 2005 seeks to ensure that schools of similar size and characteristics are funded equally regardless of sector or geographic location. The Department of Education calculates how much money goes to schools using a range of different factors:

  • Pupils’ ages and year groups;
  • Premises-related costs;
  • Levels of educational under-achievement;
  • Pupils from socially deprived backgrounds;
  • Above average teaching salary costs.

The Minister has announced that the Common Funding Formula will be undergoing a review in the next couple of years with potential significant impact on the funding of schools.

How does the Department of Education decide what is a sustainable school?

The Department of Education has six criteria by which a school is judged as sustainable:

  1. Educational experience of the children
  2. Enrolments – trends over a number of years to see how viable in terms of pupil numbers a school will be in the future (birth rates; housing developments)
  3. Finances
  4. Leadership/Management
  5. Accessibility
  6. Links with the community

The first three criteria were used by Education and Library Boards working in close conjunction with CCMS to produce the viability audit reports required by Education Minister, John O’Dowd and which were completed on 17 January 2012.

What is parental choice?

The legislative basis for parental choice is provided in Article 44 of the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986, which states that the Department of Education and the Education and Library Boards shall have regard to the general principle that, so far as is compatible with the provision of efficient instruction and training and the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure, pupils shall be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents

Where can I find out what the political parties say about education?

All the political parties have websites on which you can find the party’s policy and thinking with regards education. Many individual MLAs also have their own websites. Each of the parties has an education spokesperson.  These are currently:

—  Mervyn Storey MLA – DUP mervyn.storey@mla.niassembly.gov.uk

—  Daithi McKay MLA – Sinn Fein daithi.mckay@mla.niassembly.gov.uk

—  Sean Rogers MLA – SDLP sean.rogers@mla.niassembly.gov.uk

—  Danny Kinahan MLA – UUP danny.kinahan@mla.niassembly.gov.uk

—  Trevor Lunn MLA – Alliance trevor.lunn@mla.niassembly.gov.uk

Where can I find information about my school?
(e.g. enrolment numbers; inspection reports; school budget)

—The Education and Library Board websites are a mine of information about schools.

Where can I find information about what my child is learning at school?

This can be found at http://www.nicurriculum.org.uk

What does a Parent Teacher Association / Parents Council do?

Find out more at the Parent Teacher Association UK website – http://www.pta.org.uk


Contact Jayne Thompson, Adviser Northern Ireland
Email:  jayne.thompson@ncpta.org.uk
Tel:      028 68632434

What is a Development Proposal?

A Development Proposal (DP) is required under Article 14 of the Education and Libraries (NI) Order 1986 before any significant change can be made to a school.

An Education and Library Board or anyone representing a school can make a DP and one is needed for:

  • —  new schools wishing to be recognised for grant-aid;
  • —  school closures;
  • —  amalgamations of schools;
  • —  significant changes to the character or size of a school;
  • —  changes which would have a significant impact on another grant-aided school.

As a general rule, the proposer must first consult with the parents of pupils, the teachers, and the Board of Governors about the DP. The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) carry out this function on behalf of maintained schools and there are different requirements for integrated schools. The DP should then be sent to the local Educationand Library Board (ELB) for publication.

The ELB will:

  • — consult with any schools which might be affected by the DP;
  • —  send the DP to the Department of Education;
  • —  publish the DP.

After publication the Department will:

  • —  allow two months for the public to object or comment;
  • —  assemble all the relevant facts;
  • —  consider any objections/comments and all the relevant facts;
  • —  if appropriate, modify the DP after consultation with the proposer;
  • —  decide whether or not the DP should be approved – this decision is taken by the Minister.

The Minister’s decision on a DP is final and can only be challenged through the judicial review process (www.deni.gov.uk).

What is the approved enrolment number of a school?

The Department of Education, in consultation with Education and Library Boards (ELBs) or the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) as appropriate, and Boards of Governors of schools determines an approved enrolment number for a school based on its physical capacity.

The present policy is that enrolment and admission numbers will not be increased simply to cater for the number of pupils applying, i.e. popular schools are not allowed to expand if there are surplus places elsewhere.  To do so would lead to a further significant increase in the size of the grammar school sector and some popular second level schools.  It would also involve additional capital expenditure at a time when there is ample accommodation available in the post primary sector generally.  It would, therefore, be very difficult to regard this as a priority for limited capital resources. The only exception to this rule is where there is a clear shortage of school places within a sector in any given area. (http://www.deni.gov.uk/index/85-schools/6-admission-and-choice/6-schools_admission_and_choice_open_enrolment_pg.htm)

Where can I find out information about my child’s right with regards special educational needs?


Additional Contacts

Department of Education:

John O’Dowd, Education Minister

Rathgael House
Balloo Road
Co Down, BT19 7PR
Tel: 028 9127 9279


Local MLAs:

Find out who your local MLA is at www.nicva.org/policy/assembly-monitor

Assembly Education Committee:

Find out who the members are at http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/education/2011mandate/education-home.htm

Southern Education and Library Board

Tony Murphy, Chief Executive

3 Charlemont Place
The Mall
Co Armagh, BT61 9AX
Tel: 028 3751 2200

North Eastern Education and Library Board:

Shane McCurdy, Chief Executive
County Hall
182 Galgorm Road
BT42 1HN

Tel: 028 2565 3333

Western Education and Library Board

Barry Mulholland,  Chief Executive

1 Hospital Road,
Omagh, Co Tyrone,
BT79 0AW

Tel: 028 8241 1411


South Eastern Education and Library Board:

Gregory Butler, Chief Executive

Grahamsbridge Road


Belfast BT16 2HS

Tel: 028 9056 6200


Belfast Education and Library Board

Dr Clare Mangan, Chief Executive

40 Academy Street

Belfast BT1 2NQ.

Tel: 028 9056 4000


Council for Catholic Maintained Schools

Jim Clarke, Chief Executive

160 High Street


Co Down, BT18 9HT

Tel: 028 9042 6972


Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta (CnaG):

Dr Micheál Ó Duibh, Chief Executive

Westgate House, 4 Queen Street

Belfast, BT1 6ED

Tel: 028 9032 1475


Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education  (NICIE)

Noreen Campbell, Chief Executive

25 College Gardens

Belfast , BT9 6BS

Tel: 028 9097 2910


Rural Community Network

Michael Hughes, Chief Executive

38A Oldtown Street

Co Tyrone, BT80 8EF

Tel: 028 8676 6670


Integrated Education Fund

Tina Merron, Chief Executive

41-43 University Street


Tel: 028 9033 0031


Political Party Websites

click to access

What you can do…

  1. Find out about the schools in your area using the schools, Department of Education, Education and Library Boards, NICIE and CCMS websites.
  2. Set up a meeting with your local MLAs and councillors to hear their views on education, the challenges they see for local schools, and the possibilities for the future. You can find out who your local MLAs are at www.nicva.org/policy/assembly-monitor.
  3. Organise a small discussion with interested parents, and wider community including young people to explore the kind of education people want.

If you are considering organising a community discussion, or would like more information regarding funding opportunities through our Community Engagement in Education grant programme, then contact the IEF for advice and support.

IEF Points of Contact

IEF Offices

Integrated Education Fund

41-43 University Street



Tel: 028 9033 0031




Click to access

Department of Education

Educational & Library Boards and CCMS websites