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Text: A M Gallagher ... Page Design: John Hughes

Majority Minority Review 1
Education and Religion in Northern Ireland

by A M Gallagher

Section 9: Teachers

The teaching profession has been important for Catholics in Northern Ireland, not least as an area of employment: in the 1981 census while Catholics comprised 2817o of the employed population (all these Census figures exclude those who did not state their religion), they comprised 36% of those employed in education. More specifically, die proportion of Catholics who were teachers was 43% of men and 39% of women. In addition, the arguments in favour of a Catholic school system have been carried through to teacher-training (see, for example, Loughran, 1987).

Currently teachers can be trained in a number of institutions in Northern Ireland, including both universities and two teacher-training colleges. As with the primary and post-primary education systems, the teacher-training colleges are religiously segregated, with Stranmillis College taking mainly Protestant students and St. Mary's College taking mainly Catholic students. Added to this, at least until the 1960s teacher Trade Unions were religiously segregated, with most Catholics joining the Irish National Teachers' Organisation and most Protestants joining the Ulster Teachers' Union (Darby, 1973).

Until recently two Catholic teacher-training colleges existed, St. Joseph's for men and St. Mary's for women (this may have had an effect on the sex composition of teacher-training students: see Dunn and Morgan, 1979). A decline in the number of students prompted the recommendation that all three colleges amalgamate on a single site (Chilver Report, 1980), a proposal that was successfully resisted by the Catholic Church. A survey among 1979 student entrants to the colleges indicated that this proposal had virtually no support in St. .Mary's and St. Joseph's, and only minority support in Stranmillis (Cormack et al., 1984). It was agreed to amalgamate St. Joseph's and St. Mary's on the site of the latter.

The decline in the number of students training to be teachers is evident in table 9.1. Numbers in training steadily increased until the mid-1970s from which time there has been a steady decline. Table 9.1 indicates also a changing pattern in the location of students: although the proportion trained in the Catholic college(s) has remained fairly stable, there has been a marked shift away from Stranmillis College to the universities.

Table 9.1: Number of students in teacher training and the percentages studying in Stranmillis College,
St. Mary's College and other institutions.

Students in
Stranmillis students (%)
St. Mary's students (%)
students (%)

Since 1978 NICER has produced yearly reports on the employment of newly qualified teachers (Foote, 1980c; 1981; 1982a; 1982b; 1984; D'Arcy, 1986; 1987). Although it may be safe to assume that newly qualified teachers from Stranmillis will seek posts predominantly in Protestant schools while those from St. Mary's will seek posts predominantly in Catholic schools, the increasing proportion of teachers from other Institutions makes it difficult to construct a profile of teachers entering both religious school systems. Thus, for example, throughout the 1980s over half the newly qualified science teachers have trained in the universities. Interestingly, one subject not affected by this is Religious Education: for example, in 1986 there were twenty-six newly qualified RE teachers, sixteen of whom trained in St. Mary's, eight in Stranmillis and the remaining two in Queen's University (Darcy, 1987).

The Staffing needs of schools

NICER has carried out a number of surveys of the staffing needs of schools (Wilson and Foote, 1978; Foote, 1979; 1980b; 1980d; 1983). Principals replying to the survey indicated the number of filled and unfilled teaching posts in their schools, the number of teachers due to retire within five and ten years, and indicated staffing problems. Three surveys examined post-primary schools for 1978, 1979 and 1980, although information on grammar schools was not disaggregated by religion.

For secondary schools, Protestant schools had proportionately twice as many unfilled posts as Catholic schools. In the Protestant secondary schools the main subject areas with unfilled posts were teachers of Commercial subjects, Mathematics and Music, in 1978 and 1979, and Mathematics, Woodwork and General Science, in 1980. By contrast, in Catholic secondary schools the main unfilled subject areas included General Science and Commercial subjects for each year, and Music, in 1978, Mathematics, in 1979 and Metal-work, in 1980. Protestant secondary schools had a higher number of teachers near retirement age in each year surveyed.

Current staffing problems indicated by principals covered a range of subject areas. In 1978 a quarter of the principals of Catholic schools pointed to problems with the teaching of science subjects compared with a tenth of those from Protestant schools; these proportions dropped over the following two years.

There is little evidence from these surveys that the principals of Catholic schools perceived problems due to the requirement to provide 15% of capital expenditure: in 1978 only 4 (out of 84) principals of Catholic school reported lack of accommodation as a current problem, compared with 7 (out of 88) principals from Protestant schools. This problem was not reported in the 1979 and 1980 survey data, although this may have been due to the effects of falling rolls.

Similar surveys were carried out among primary schools in 1978 and 1980. As with the secondary school surveys Protestant primary schools reported more unfilled posts than Catholic schools for both years, although the proportions of teachers near retirement age were more similar. Also, for both years, more principals of Catholic primary schools reported difficulties due to large classes or inadequate accommodation although it should be noted that the number of such reports overall were quite low.

Teaching profile of secondary schools

The NICER surveys of staffing needs permit the construction of a profile of the teaching priorities of secondary schools based on the numbers of teachers in post. Table 9.2 presents the profiles of teachers in subject areas based on the 1980 survey. Differences are evident in a number of these subject areas. For languages the difference is mainly due to the absence of Irish teachers in Protestant schools. In Humanities the difference is entirely due to the greater proportion of Religious Education teachers in Catholic schools. In the 'Other' category the difference is mainly due to the greater proportion of Physical Education teachers in Protestant schools. Finally, the difference in Science subjects is not reflected in any single subject. These differences in teacher profiles closely match those described in section 6 on curriculum.

Table 9.2: Secondary school teacher profiles in 1980 by religious affiliation of the school (by percentages)

Subject areaProtestant schools (n=90) Catholic schools (n=86)

Principals of post-primary schools

The Equal Opportunities Commission in Northern Ireland examined the sex composition of post-primary schools and principals for the 1977/78 academic year (Clarke, 1978). This report showed that Catholic schools were more likely to be single-sex: whereas only a third of the Protestant schools were for boys or girls only, this was true of three-fifths of the Catholic schools. Overall, 'girls only' schools were more likely to have a female principal while coeducational schools were more likely to have a male principal; no 'boys only' school had a female principal. Thus, while 34.5% of the Catholic schools had female principals this was true of only 15.4% of the Protestant schools.

The role of the clergy in Catholic schools was evident from the survey. Almost half (48.3%) of the Catholic schools had religious personnel, either nuns, priests or brothers, as principals. All the 32 Catholic grammar schools had religious personnel as principals. Since 1978 falling rolls in schools have led to a number of mergers so this picture may have changed a little.

Teachers' attitudes

A variety of surveys have examined attitudinal differences among teachers in Catholic and Protestant schools. Wilson and Spelman (1977) carried out a survey of teachers' attitudes to the reorganisation of secondary education. They found that teachers in Protestant schools were less critical of selection at eleven, more concerned with coeducation and religious integration and attached greater importance to academic excellence as a primary objective in secondary education compared with their colleagues in Catholic schools. A further report from this study (Wilson 1977) suggested that while teachers in Catholic schools may have had considerable reservations about the religious integration of post-primary schools, they shared with their Protestant colleagues a moderate approval of religious integration at the sixth form stage.

Darby et al. (1977) interviewed teachers and principals on Their perceptions of the two school systems, and on segregated and integrated education. They found 'considerable ignorance' among teachers on the day-to-day operations of schools outside their own category, largely due to a lack of first-hand experience in these schools. Despite this, there were discernibly different patterns in the perceptions held about the values or prejudices encouraged in the other group of schools. Thus, teachers from Protestant schools decried the clerical influence in Catholic schools, while teachers from Catholic schools described Protestant schools as 'cold, rigid and more academic'.

While both sets of teachers agreed that segregated schools were socially divisive, teachers from Catholic schools were less convinced the divisive effects were serious. Allied to this was a more lukewarm attitude among the teachers of Catholic schools towards integrated schooling, both because they felt it would require the Catholic schools to give up more and they felt their job prospects would suffer in what they perceived to be a sectarian society.

Sutherland and Gallagher (1986). in a survey of primary principals and teachers, found that respondents from Catholic schools were the most vehemently opposed to selection at age eleven, the vast majority favouring a delay of between one and three years.

McKernan (1982) reported that teachers in Catholic schools were more likely to have controversial issues arising in the classroom and were more willing to handle them when they arose compared with teachers from Protestant schools. Also, more of the teachers in Catholic schools agreed that schools had a responsibility to include controversial issues in the curriculum. On a designated list of thirty-five 'controversial issues' Catholic teachers, overall, indicated a greater willingness to deal with them. Interestingly, the only individual item in which there was no significant difference in the teachers' expressed willingness was that of integrated education. The teachers in this survey indicated the constraints on handling controversial issues and, for both Catholic and Protestant teachers, 'lack of knowledge or skills' and the 'teacher's own prejudices' formed the highest ranked constraints. Catholic teachers ranked the 'teacher's personal identity' and the 'disapproval of church' more highly that Protestant teachers, while Protestant teachers ranked the 'disapproval of fellow teachers' higher than Catholic teachers.

McEwan and Fulton (1983) reported a survey of teachers on the theory and practice of teaching and found a high level of agreement between teachers in Protestant and Catholic schools. On only three of the eighteen items asked did teachers from Catholic and Protestant schools differ, and all the differences were in the expressed strength of opinion rather than in agreement or disagreement per se.

Further research areas

Given the Government proposals to introduce a national curriculum, it is important to provide up-to-date information on the teacher resource currently available in the Catholic and Protestant school systems: given the curriculum differences that have been identified between the school systems, it is by no means clear that all schools have appropriately qualified teachers to provide the range of subjects required in the national curriculum. Related to this is the need for more detailed work on teacher training in order to assess the patterns of recruitment into the school systems.

The proposed educational reforms in Northern Ireland seem likely to include two cross-curricular elements directly related to community relations: education for mutual understanding (EMU) and cultural heritage. It would be of interest to examine teachers' attitudes to these themes and to monitor the way they are taught in the classroom. In view of Darby et al.'s finding that few teachers had any first-hand experience of day-to-day activity in opposite-religion schools, it would worth investigating whether or not this is changed by the explicit introduction of community relations issues into the school curriculum.

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