The Future of Education

Edition 14

Accepted Abstracts

Intersecting Inequalities: Minority Ethnic Group Experiences of Education in Northern Ireland

Joanne Hughes, Queen’s University, Belfast, Northern Ireland (United Kingdom)

Rebecca Loader, Queen’s University, Belfast, Northern Ireland (United Kingdom)


Academic selection is a defining feature of the Northern Ireland education system, with second level school options for pupils largely determined by a primary to post-primary transfer test. This system has been widely criticized as iniquitous, with children from the most disadvantaged communities least likely to secure a grammar school place. Intersecting academic selection, and relating to the legacy of conflict, the school system is also divided on ‘traditional’ ethno-religious lines, such that Catholic and Protestant pupils generally attend school with others from their ‘own community’ background. Layered into these longstanding divisions in education, the period since the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, has seen an exponential rise in inward migration and the pupil profile in Northern Ireland is now more ethnically diverse than at any time in the history of the State. Drawing on an ‘equality of condition’ framework, relating to the purposes and processes of education (Baker and Lynch) this presentation explores the experiences of pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds as they navigate Northern Ireland’s deeply divided education system. Data are drawn from a large-scale qualitative study that encompassed interviews with 62 children aged 9-15 (30 female and 32 male) and 53 parents (41 female and 12 male) from diverse minority ethnic backgrounds across the region; and interviews and focus groups with 43 stakeholders, including educators, policymakers and representatives of statutory and voluntary agencies that work with minority ethnic communities. Our findings will highlight how intersecting dimensions of inequality relating to structure, recognition, power and affect are influencing the experience of these pupils, at the same time reframing questions about the nature of systemic and structural inequalities in a system that has been shaped by ethno-religious and class divisions.  


Equality, minority groups, education in Northern Ireland



[1] Lynch, Kathleen, and John Baker. “Equality in Education: An Equality of Condition Perspective.” Theory and research in education 3.2 (2005): 131–164



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