Thursday 25 February 2010

Schools Census 2009-2010

Regular readers of this blog will know that the Schools Census is an annual survey of all pupils in Northern Ireland's schools. One of the items of information it gathers is the religion of the pupils. (See previous blogs on the Schools Census: 2007, 2008, 2009)

Like the decennial census, the Schools Census is important in that it provides a glimpse of what the religious breakdown of the future will look like. Today's school children are, of course, tomorrow's voters. Given Northern Ireland's politico-religious divide, it is likely that today's Protestant children are tomorrow's unionist voters, and today's Catholic children are tomorrow's nationalist voters.

This year's Schools Census - published today - adds to a series going back over a decade, and thus permits the trend to be followed, as well as this year's snap-shot.

As in the decennial census, there are large numbers of children whose religion cannot be ascertained, or who genuinely do not have one. In order to estimate how these children may identify in terms of Northern Ireland's 'community' division, this blog has, this year, recalculated all of the results since 1998 using the outcome of the methodology that NISRA applied in the 2001 Census. In other words, the 'None/Not stated' children are 'allocated' to the different options (Catholic, Protestant and Other Christian, Non-Christian, and None) in the same proportions that NISRA allocated children and teenagers in its calculation of 'Table S306: Age By Community Background (Religion Or Religion Brought Up In)'. This was:
  • For children aged 5-11, those who were declared as 'None/Not Stated': 24.3% to 'Catholic', 40.0% to 'Protestant and other Christian', 0.5% to 'Non-Christian, and 35.2% to 'None'.
  • For children aged 12-18, those who were declared as 'None/Not Stated': 25.4% to 'Catholic', 46.5% to 'Protestant and other Christian', 0.5% to 'Non-Christian, and 27.6% to 'None'.
The resulting series is shown in the graph below:

It shows clearly that the proportion of children who are from a Catholic community background is over 50%, and has been over 50% for over a decade. The proportion from a Protestant community background had hovered at around 45% for around a decade.

Since 2005, though, the Protestant proportion of schoolchildren has visibly declined, and now stands at 43.8% (of the adjusted figures. They form only 40.4% of the raw figures!). At primary level the Protestant proportion is lower than at secondary (43.3% against 44.3% of the adjusted figures), showing that the decline is set to continue. The difference between one year's schools census and the next is almost entirely due to the difference between the exit cohort (those who were counted in year N, but no longer in year N+1), and the entry cohort (those too young for school in year N, but in P1 in year N+1). Of the 14 age cohorts counted each year, only two contribute to change, and 12 are counted in the previous and following years. So a visibly declining Protestant share, year on year, implies that the entry cohort is significantly less Protestant than the exit cohort – the difference between two age-cohorts is sufficient to produce a visible effect on the whole 14 age-cohort population.

The conclusion is, of course, that Catholics are more numerous than Protestants at all ages under 18 – and have been for the whole period covered. In fact, children from a Catholic community background form an absolute majority of children, and have since the series began in 1998. More even - Catholic children form a majority even before the figures are adjusted to 'allocate' the unstated.

The consequences for the wider population, and vitally the electorate, are obvious. If Catholics continue to vote overwhelmingly for nationalist parties, then the new voters coming into the electorate have been majority nationalist for quite some time. As they age, they will contribute to the 'greening' of the electorate, unless significant numbers vote for unionist or centre parties. However, despite claims to the contrary by some unionists, there is no evidence of any 'Catholic unionist' vote – or if it exists it is equally matched by a Protestant nationalist vote.

As is so often said, our children are our future. Our children are increasingly Catholic, so what does that say about our future?


Anonymous said...

Catholic Unionists do not exist to any great extent in the sense that they vote for Unionist political parties - most of them don't vote at all. What people mean by Catholic Unionists are those who would not vote for a United Ireland if offered the choice. Opinion polls show there are plenty of these. I suspect they would vote in any border poll. Protestant Nationalists (hard or soft) are almost non-existent.

As Ulster's population continues to become more secular and integrated - the difference between Protestant and Catholic will decline. Given the fact that the status quo tends to rule (all other things being equal), this is bad news for those seeking the elusive 'Irish Unity'.

Paddy Canuck said...

I recognize that the goal of a united Ireland seems to rest most assuredly on the shoulders of avowed Catholics who identify with the south, but in general terms, I'd be more encouraged by a steady growth in the "none stated" category. Regardless of the constitutional arrangements, I think that a manageable peace and stability in Northern Ireland really rests with people who aren't vehemently one thing or the other, but just folks, going to the same schools, same pubs, same jobs. That might make a united Ireland a less likely eventuality, BUT, in the event, it would come about with far less acrimony. And in the meantime, NI would probably be a better place to live in.

hoboroad said...

I see Cecil Calvert of the TUV has called the PSNI the Gastapo at a Lisburn Council meeting.

hoboroad said...

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous said...

As Ulster's population continues to become more secular and integrated - the difference between Protestant and Catholic will decline."

As you correctly point out, Ulster's population is becoming less religious and less segregated. And yet the UUP and SDLP share of the vote has collapsed; SF is probably the most popular party at the minute. The largest Unionist party are struggling to cope with the TUV. I can't see any evidence of the shift to the centre that many people here keep predicting.

Re: the RC Unionists and the border poll, you probably know my thoughts on that- we'll agree to differ.

Anonymous said...

The system itself creates votes for SF and The DUP. They're also much better organised than The SDLP and The UUP. SF have cash coming out of their ears. They can do what no other UK party can do and receive cash from abroad.

There was more democracy in Ulster in the fifties than there is now and a hell of a lot less corruption.

Government must have a real opposition, that's why I'd like to see only the biggest Nationalist and the biggest Unionist parties in the executive, with all others in opposition.

Anonymous said...

"There was more democracy in Ulster in the fifties than there is now and a hell of a lot less corruption.

Government must have a real opposition"

What "real opposition" did the Northern Ireland government have in the fifties?

Anonymous said...

"Our children are increasingly Catholic, so what does that say about our future?"

It says that in the next few years the Unionist parties will lose their majority in Stormont, for ever, they won't be able to resurrect the good old orange days even if they want to.
It also says there will be a Nationalist majority in Stormont and in the six counties. This will bring a massive shift of atmosphere in the north, whether that will lead to a majority for UI nobody knows, kinda pointless arguing at this stage what way people will vote in a future vote on partition.

Anonymous said...

Kieron says:

Horseman, perhaps I am adding up the wrong thing, but I calculate the unadjusted 'catholic' % as 50.76 for 2010. This is based on "Religion of pupils by school type and management type, 2009/10".

Is this correct?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous wote :
"There was more democracy in Ulster in the fifties..."

Is that Jamaican or Moroccan ganja you have there....?

- Munsterman

Horseman said...


I did not include the nursery and reception class kids, as they are younger than the age for compulsory schooling, and therefore not a complete cohort. As such they could skew the figures.

I also exclude the special schools, for the simple reason that they were not included by DENI in the initial years and thus in order to have comparable figures I have to continue in the same way. But I don't think that the proportions in these special schools are in any significant way different to the rest.

Anonymous said...

"Catholic Unionists do not exist to any great extent in the sense that they vote for Unionist political parties - most of them don't vote at all."

The opposite must also be true!

Anonymous said...

If you mean Protestant nationalists - some do exist, but not in the same numbers. Protestant non-voters tend to be unionist. They are not waiting for a border poll to show their support for Irish Unity.

Yes, I read those opinion polls where Catholics claim to support the status quo for fear of the lady with the clip board passing their details to non-existent Loyalist death squads or SAS soldiers. LOL

Funnily enough, the most commonly quoted opinion poll on this matter was carried out by Queens University which is packed with militant Irish Nationalists. Perhaps they too are in collusion with those non-existent Loyalist death squads. LOL

Keep your heads down lads!

Anonymous said...

"...Queens University which is packed with militant Irish Nationalists."

Belfast South's last general election:

SDLP 32.3%
DUP 28.4%
UUP 22.7%
SF 9.0%

Talking out your arse then? Again?

Anonymous said...


Dream on! I doubt that you even believe that rubbish yourself!

Paddy Canuck said...

It's difficult to say. Standing back and not seeing it on a daily basis, but just looking at polls from time to time as I do, I can be persuaded either way. Personally, I'm inclined to believe Ulster Catholics are growing accustomed to being in the UK (if not actually ecstatic about it) as long as they have a fair shake within it. Again, that's just my perception of it at a distance.

One thing I can't help noticing, which really can't be argued away with suppositions about terror gangs and lies to pollsters, are the election results, secured in all honesty thanks to the secret ballot. And it seems plain to me that nationalist parties have been making steady gains on unionist ones in the years that elections have been fair and above board. And it seems likely to me that nationalists, if they don't ACTUALLY make a move to transfer Northern Ireland to the Republic, are nevertheless soon going to be in a position to do so if they choose to. Having that kind of confidence will probably make a lot of difference in how Northern Ireland lives and works even as a constitutional part of the United Kingdom.

Anonymous said...

These figures can be allocated to "community background" in another way than volunteered religion. Namely school sector. This will give some indication of who most of the "nones" are in terms of community background, but is also interesting in itself.

For primary schools using

Protestant sector = "Controlled" + Seagoe Primary School + Drelincourt Infants School

Catholic Sector = "RC Maintained" + "Other Maintained" + Our Lady's and St Mochua's Primary School + St Bronagh's Primary School + St Josephs and St James Primary School + Bunscoil an Iuir + Gaelscoil Uí Neill

Integrated Sector = Controlled Integrated + GMI + the six voluntary integrated schools (all have "integrated" in their name)

The entire primary school population is
Protestant sector 74,867 45.71%
Catholic sector 82,382 50.30%
Integrated sector 6,522 3.98%

Analysis by sector for for the individual years

Year 7
Protestant 10,747 46.07%
Catholic 11,655 49.96%
Integrated 926 3.97%

Year 6
Protestant 10,266 46.20%
Catholic 11,049 49.72%
Integrated 908 4.09%

Year 5
Protestant 9,928 45.87%
Catholic 10,825 50.01%
Integrated 892 4.12%

Year 4
Protestant 9,892 45.67%
Catholic 10,936 50.48%
Integrated 834 3.85%

Year 3
Protestant 9,950 46.14%
Catholic 10,722 49.72%
Integrated 894 4.15%

Year 2
Protestant 9,959 45.06%
Catholic 11,265 50.97%
Integrated 876 3.96%

Year 1
Protestant 10,064 45.00%
Catholic 11,401 50.98%
Integrated 898 4.02%

Reception pupils
Protestant 146 24.75%
Catholic 410 69.49%
Integrated 34 5.76%

Nursery pupils
Protestant 3915 47.20%
Catholic 4119 49.66%
Integrated 260 3.13%

Anonymous said...

Very interesting that there is little to no trend in the figures just above. I think the neutral interpretation is that lower age groups will continue to be about 47.5% P and 52.5% C community background. This is almost an exact mirror image of the 16+ population figures in the last few labour force surveys, which is nearly identical to the current voting age population. So if only the present primary school population were voting we'd likely have a situation where nationalist parties are at the cusp of gaining 50% of the vote and Alliance at the cusp of holding the balance of power. It is doubtful that this would secure a united Ireland (though others may disagree), and of course the voting age population will never be represented by today's primary school population, they'll always be lumped in with older, and then younger, voters.

To sum up what I see as happening, by now CCB will have a slight majority of women of child bearing age, but this majority will continue to increase for about another decade up to the 52.5/47.5 split seen in the younger cohorts.

Contra that trend the gap between CCB and PCB TPFRs still gets smaller year on year, but no crossover has been reached, CCB still has a higher TPFR than PCB, but the gap is not as big as it was. The ultimate destiny will be driven by the TPFR trend. If they converge to exactly the same number then on current voting / background mapping slowly the electorate will converge to be about 50% nationalist parties / 5% Alliance / 45% unionist parties, i.e. nationalist parties just slightly getting the majority, right at the cusp. But this will be a process taking some decades.

If the _trajectories_ continue and the CCB TPFR falls below the PPB TPFR then nationalist political parties will probably never get >50% of the total vote. Alliance will hold the balance of power. Currently this trend of converging TPFRs is hidden by the CCB increase in child bearing age women year on year.

Note however that TPFRs have to be trended out, they can jump up and down year on year in relation to factors such as postponing childbirth rather than the "real" fertility rate, i.e. how many children each woman will really have.

Basically the whole thing boils down to whether you believe that.

A) CCB and PCB TPFR will converge to the same number.
B) CCB and PPB will continue in their present trend of rate of change and CCB TPFR will fall below PCB TPFR
C) A higher CCB TPFR will lock in above the PCB level

I can see every single one of these being plausible. With A, nationalist parties will perhaps just about get 50% of the vote but barely. With B nationalist parties probably won't get a majority ever. With C nationalist parties will keep getting a higher % of the vote every year in the future, however unless the TPFR gap tends to widen rather than shrinking as it is doing now this will be a glacial pace process taking decades.

We can say this though, in any demographic scenario barring the ridiculous, on present background to party voting mapping, we're heading into a situation where Alliance will hold the balance of power for the next 20 years.

For nationalist parties to gain a plurality over unionist parties will probably take about ten years. By which I mean a real plurality not just a turnout related blip.

Whether the long term trend of nationalists increasing against unionists will continue after those 20 years of "Alliance rule" (i.e. involving people who are not yet born and so we know little about) is about a 50:50 toss up. I can see a plausible case where the TPFRs converge or the CCB TPFR even falls below the PCB TPFR, I can see a plausible case where the trend stops and the CCB TPFR gets fixed above the PCB TPFR, but I don't see either as greatly compelling. We could easily be sitting here looking at a 2031 census result showing the same 52.5/47.5 split in primary school children, or a 47.5/52.5 the other way or 55 / 45 split. None of those three seems more compelling than the other two frankly.

Anonymous said...

year 3 marks a low point for the catholic sector in real numbers with 10722 children attending 'catholic schools'. It increses to 11265 for year 2 and 11401 in year 1.

Interestingly, year 3 corresponds with those children who were born in 2002 when the birth rate fell to its lowest point. Since 2002 there has been a relatively steady increase in the birth rate. This is mirrored in the figures for those attending catholic schools in years 1 and 2 which shows an increase (an increase of 679 from year 3 to 1).

On the protestant school side the increase is more modest. in year 4 there were 9892 kids (protestant low point) and in year 1 there are 10064 children. An increase of 172 children.

This is anecdotal but it would suggest that both communities are benefiting from the increasing birth rate but that the catholic community is seeing the more significant increases and that perhaps the catholic birth rate is pulling away from the protestant one again.

Figures over the next few years will likely show if there is a significant trend here.

p.s Maybe these numbers can be attributed to the increase of catholic polish kids who attend catholic schools?