The data for the 2018 School Census was released recently.
This data was obtained in October 2018 for all Primary, Secondary and Special Schools in Northern Ireland.
These records are available as far back as 2000 so I have compiled and compared the data for that 18 year time period. Here is the yearly data for the question on religion for students in each and the comparison for the years 2000 and 2018.
|Year||Protestant||Catholic||Other Christian||Non-Christian||No Religion / Not recorded|
2000 140,337 166,311 4,275 1,110 16,012
2018 107,695 164,353 12,300 3,400 34,973
Change -32,642 -1,958 8,025 2,290 18,962
2000 42.78% 50.70% 1.30% 0.34% 4.88%
2018 33.37% 50.93% 3.81% 1.05% 10.84%
Change -9.41% +0.23% +2.51% +0.71% +5.96%
The obvious and main trend is the large decline of the Protestants in the student age groups.
The Catholic percentage has increased slightly over the 18 year time period. There has been an absolute decline in the number of Protestant students of 32,642 and the overall percentage has declined from 42.78% to 33.37%, a drop of 9.41%.
There has been a significant increase in the absolute numbers and percentages of No Religion, Non-Christian and Other Christian. The Non-Christian increase is due to the increase in Muslims, Hindus and others due to in migration.
The increase in Other-Christian appears to be due to several sources. Some are Eastern Orthodox, mainly the children of EU nationals from Romania, Bulgaria and Latvia. Others are the children of the increasing number of mixed Catholic-Protestant marriages. Some are former Protestants and Catholics who no longer identify with their original denomination but still identify as Christian.
This group is interesting since 25% attend integrated schools, which is much higher than the percentage of Protestants and Catholics who attend such schools. The number with No Religion has doubled in the past 18 years. A few are the children of foreign nationals. Some are the children of mixed Protestant-Catholic marriages. The majority of the increase is probably due to the increased secularisation of society. They are also much more likely to attend integrated schools.
The school census is the most extensive and accurate census of religion statistics for the school age population, and by extension, the adult population also.
It appears to have a 99% response rate to the religion question, compared to the 86% response rate to the religion question in the 2011 census.
The school age Protestant population is declining at a rate of 0.5% per year and by the year 2025 will be under 30%. All of these students are future voters. It is difficult to imagine that the union will be secure with such a low support base among future voters.
In 1921 unionists gerrymandered a unionist dominated Northern Ireland with a Catholic population of only 35%. In 2018 the Protestant school age population is less than what the Catholic population was in 1921.
At this time though, it is the eventual nature of Brexit that will have the most influence on a Border Poll.
However, whether Northern Ireland remains in the UK for another year or another 20 years, every year there will be a steadily declining unionist voting age population in each age cohort that reaches age 18.