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How is our work influencing life in Northern Ireland and delivering equality? Learn more about our policy, legal and research work.



What you need to know

Case studies

Consultation responses



Education plays a key role in determining a person’s life chances and opportunities in terms of social and economic mobility.  Those with fewer qualifications and skills are disadvantaged in civic/community life and when competing for available job opportunities.

Education also has a role in shaping an individual’s views, their conduct and relationships with others.  It has the potential to counter negative images and views that they can be exposed to outside school or college.  It can therefore contribute to the development of a better, shared society in Northern Ireland.

Draft proposals for policy priorities and recommendations
The Equality Commission is currently developing and refining its education policy priorities and recommendations to advance equality in Northern Ireland. Targeted action could serve to address key inequalities, and advance equality of opportunity and good relations. The Commission has identified six broad thematic areas requiring attention and how we believe both persistent and emerging inequalities can be tackled. These are as follows:

Improve equality data and analysis

Our research into the key inequalities in education identifies the inequalities experienced by the nine section 75 groups in areas such as access, attainments, progression and destination in Northern Ireland.

A key finding is that there are significant and specific data gaps relating to pupils and students across a range of areas regarding a number of groups, specifically gender identity, religion, political opinion and sexual orientation.  There is also a lack of data disaggregation in relation to ethnicity, disability status, marital status and dependency status.

We recommend that action is taken to:

  • address these key data gaps across a number of equality grounds
  • ensure data is sufficiently disaggregated to allow for more meaningful equality analysis

Advance Sharing in Education

We recommend that action is taken to:

  • move to a system of education which routinely teaches all pupils together via a shared curriculum in shared classes, in support of better advancing a shared society (existing)


See our key policy recommendations on sharing in education>


Tackle bullying and challenge stereotypes

We continue to call on government to tackle all forms of prejudice-based bullying across education, including in schools and institutions of further and higher education.

Our 2017 Statement on Key Inequalities in education highlighted bullying as a persistent problem for trans pupils, minority ethnic students including Irish Travellers, students with SEN or a disability and Lesbian and Gay pupils.

The Addressing Bullying in Schools Act (NI) 2016 provides a definition of bullying, places new duties on Boards of Governors to prevent bullying and requires schools to record bullying incidents.

We recommend that action is taken to:

  • tackle one off incidents and unintentional acts of bullying
  • improve monitoring of bullying incidents across the equality grounds
  • provide guidance to schools on how to comply with the recording requirements in the Addressing Bullying in Schools Act (NI) 2016
  • provide clear guidance to schools, including Governors and senior management on their specific roles
  • ensure strong and visible leadership from the school Principal, Senior Management Team and Board of Governors in promoting an anti-bullying culture within every school
  • ensure that support materials and opportunities within the curriculum address prejudice-based bullying
  • challenge gender roles to further the broader societal aim of preventing gender based violence
  • extend legislative protection from disability based harassment to schools

Address inequalities in attainment

Our 2017 Statement on Key Inequalities in Education found that while overall levels of attainment are increasing, a number of attainment gaps for equality groups persist.

Males have lower levels of attainment than females, Protestants have lower level of attainments than Catholics at GCSE, and A level.  There is persistent underachievement and lack of progression to further and higher education of school leavers on free school meals entitlement, particularly Protestants, notably Protestant males. Children from Traveller and Roma communities have some of the lowest attainments of all groups. Students with special educational needs (SEN) or a disability have lower attainment levels than students without any SEN or disability and are less likely to go on to higher education.

We recommend that action is taken to:
  • deliver a shared curriculum in shared classes to support improved attainment across equality groups
  • provide, and monitor uptake, of appropriate, accessible and affordable childcare and early years provision to meet the diverse needs of all children
  • ensure that budget allocations for identified groups are monitored to assess how they improve outcomes for pupils
  • collect data on educational performance of Traveller and Roma children, including to facilitate better transitions when moving between schools
  • publish, and take account of, key outcomes associated with the Intercultural Education Service (IES) delivery plan in relation to Travellers
  • ensure the quality of educational experiences received by children with special educational needs (SEN) in Northern Ireland
  • ensure Department of Education and Department of Health work cross-departmentally to provide tailored support and assistance for the effective participation in education of every looked after child
  • ensure Department of Education and Department of Health work in collaboration to identify young carers and provide the services needed to support their improved educational outcomes
  • promote collaborative approaches to drive attainment, involving engagement with parents / families / carers and the wider communities of key equality groups;)
  • establish a system for learning from successful interventions, and for these lessons to be disseminated and shared with other schools

View our case study videos on improving attainment

Improve equality of access to Education

Our 2017 Statement of Key Inequalities in Education highlights a number of issues for some equality groups in terms of access to education.

Irish Traveller and Roma children have worse rates of participation and attainment than any of the other equality groups.

Roma, and Newcomer children as well as refugee and asylum seeker children may all face barriers and complex challenges when accessing education.

Challenges exist for boys and girls pursuing non-traditional educational paths including STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects. Those who are lesbian, gay and bisexual, those with disabilities and trans young people also face barriers to the full enjoyment of their education. 

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (NI) 2016, together with the forthcoming regulations and revised code of practice has the potential to improve the quality of education for children and young people with disabilities.

We recommend that action is taken to:

  • embed equality of opportunity and good relations within the content and delivery of the curriculum;
  • improve the educational experience of Traveller and Roma children
  • improve the educational experience of refugee and asylum seeking pupils
  • assist schools in making effective use of dual language resources to help Newcomer learners access the curriculum
  • ensure that the proposed code of practice to support the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (NI) 2016 clarifies outstanding issues - including around student involvement; staff training; review and dispute resolution
  • ensure that that relevant legislation is amended to address deficiencies and to improve the educational experiences of students with SEN and or disabilities
  • ensure children in the juvenile justice centre have access to an appropriate education curriculum

Address wider issues in education

We recommend that action is taken to:

  • develop a system of post primary transfer which enables all pupils to maximise their potential
  • mainstream equality and good relations issues into initial teacher training and continuous professional development
  • ensure greater sharing and collaboration between teacher training colleges
  • better understand the reasons for and impacts of, different patterns of enrolment to education providers

Programme for Government: our recommendations

The Equality Commission has set out its recommendations in relation to the next Programme for Government and Budget of the NI Executive. These include actions relating to education, namely to:

  • ensure a move to a system of education which routinely teaches all pupils together via a shared curriculum in shared classes, and where sharing impacts meaningfully and substantively on every learner
  • tackle prejudice based bullying; address gender stereotyping in education; and remove the barriers facing looked after children and young carers
  • address education inequalities, including those experienced by Irish Travellers; those entitled to free school meals, particularly boys, notably Protestant boys; and children/young people with disabilities
  • mainstream equality in education, including in the curriculum, teacher training and the policies/practices of schools and wider education bodies
Further information

Commission responses to PfG proposed delivery plans:

Further information is available on the Programme for Government section of our website

Additional information
Contact us

As with all of our work we will continue to seek to engage with the Executive, relevant Departments and key stakeholders to refine recommendations and to champion key actions to advance equality. If you have any views on our draft priorities and recommendations please contact us, email: or Tel: 028 90 500 684. Your input will help us to develop and refine our proposals which will be used to advance equality in NI.

< Education
< Addressing inequality
Case study videos - Improving attainment

Our policy recommendations call for actions to tackle prejudice based bullying and address inequalities in attainment. Our research on key inequalities in education highlight the extent of inequalities for specific groups.

Key Inequalities in Education in NI - introduction
Many children in Northern Ireland continue to experience persistent inequalities in education. The equality grounds where key inequalities were highlighted include: ethnicity, disability and gender, among others. These key inequalities are lifelong and impact upon the whole education journey.

The following examples reflect our recommendations. They show how specific targeted actions aimed at equality groups can contribute to improving their attainment.  Examples cover engagement with the wider community, parental involvement, the importance of supportive and inclusive learning environments and collaborative approaches.

Sandy Row Homework Club - Community engagement

Billy Ennis, Tutor Co-Ordinator at Sandy Row Homework Club, explains how community involvement and collaboration has improved the attainment levels of local children.

Oisín's story - Parental involvement and early intervention

Bernadette and Eugene Mee and son Oisín talk about his condition, Autistic Spectrum Disorder, and his education experience. It shows the impact of early intervention and parental involvement on the education experience of a pupil with a disability.

St Paul’s High School, Bessbrook - Targeted action for boys
Daíthí Murray, Vice-principal at St Paul’s High School, Bessbrook, Co Armagh, talks about the steps his school has taken to significantly boost the performance of boys at GCSE level.

Special Education Needs Advice Centre - Outstanding issues for SEN framework
Fiona O’Donnell, Support and Information Officer at the Special Educational Needs Advice Centre (SENAC), provides an advisor’s view of the SEN framework.

Malone College, Belfast - Inclusion and community outreach
Máire Thompson, Principal at Malone College, Belfast, explains the actions taken to welcome and promote the attainment levels of Newcomer students.

Patrick's story - Supportive and inclusive learning environment for Travellers
Patrick McDonagh, an Irish Traveller studying at Trinity College, Dublin,
describes his experiences of the education system and how Traveller attainment could be improved.

Belfast Boys' Model School - Collaborative approachesBelfast Boys Model School
Boys' Model School in North Belfast has achieved success by harnessing the dedication and effort of teachers and support staff, pupils and local community to ensure greater achievement by Protestant working class boys.


< Key Inequalities in Education
< Education (main landing page)

How have we advised Government on policy issues?

We regularly consider and comment on government policy and strategy where there are equality or good relations implications.

Here are our responses to consultations in the education sector:

Consultation responses

Equality Commission consultation responses to:


Disability in Education & SENDO consultation responses


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