Friday 23 March 2007

Schools Census

Every year the Department of Education carries out a Schools Census, which counts, inter alia, the numbers of children in all the schools in Northern Ireland, and their religion.

The results for the 2006-2007 school year were published on 14 March 2007, and they make interesting reading, throwing light onto the shape of the Northern Ireland that these kids will be creating.

For example, for all of the years 2000 to 2007 a majority of the kids are declared Catholic. The percentage is fairly stable, at a little over 50%. On the other hand, the percentage of declared Protestant kids is declining, from 42,7% in 2000-1 to 39,5% in 2006-7. The 'other Christian' kids are an increasing, though small group, and the non-Christians are a small and fairly stable group.

The third largest group is composed of a joint 'other/no religion/not recorded' category, which makes up 7,5% of the total (up from 5% in 2000). In the often-tense environment of Northern Irish society, it is likely that a proportion of these are kids who want to keep their heads down in a hostile environment. So the fact that the vast majority of this category attends Protestant-majority schools could lead to several conclusions;
  • They are overwhelmingly cultural (or 'tribal') Protestants, and the number of 'heads down' Catholics is small,
  • There are both cultural Protestants and Catholics in similar numbers,
  • They are mostly 'heads down' Catholics.

If the first possibility is correct, then the proportion of Catholics overall is very little different to that recorded; perhaps barely 51%. If the second possibility is correct, the overall proportion of Catholics is around 54%. If the third is correct, then the overall proportion of Catholics could be 57%. In general, then, we can only say that, amongst school-kids, between 51% and 57% are Catholic, and between 40% and 46% are Protestant. Hence even the highest estimate for Protestants is lower than the lowest estimate for Catholics.

Some conclusions can be drawn from this: firstly, unionism will be a minority political creed when these kids are adults. Secondly, for those who join at age 18, the 50/50 recruitment to the PSNI does not discriminate against Protestants - on the contrary, it discriminates in their favour!

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