How does work experience work in Northern Ireland? | Speakers for Schools

How does work experience work in Northern Ireland?  

How does work experience work in Northern Ireland

With the restoration of devolved government to Northern Ireland in February 2024, what can we expect from the newly appointed Ministers responsible for supporting post-primary work experience? 

Understanding the sectors 

The school system is different from elsewhere in the UK, given the segregated nature of education provision, with Catholic children still largely attending schools that promote a Catholic ethos (Catholic Maintained Sector) and Protestant children who attend state schools (Controlled Sector).   

It has long been recognised that this segregation in schooling is continuing to support divisions in wider society and needs to be addressed. 

One method has been the introduction of integrated schools (Integrated Sector), which do not promote a religious ethos in their teaching and which aim, since the development of the first integrated school in 1981, to bring children and staff together from Catholic and Protestant traditions to proactively strengthen peace-building attempts.

As of 2024, there are currently 21 post-primary integrated schools across Northern Ireland.   

What can the government do to help career education? 

The responsibility for providing educational policy across these sectors is divided between the Department of Education and the Department for the Economy

The Education Department is responsible for providing educational policy from nursery through to post-primary, relying on the support of several non-departmental public bodies to manage and deliver its functions, such as the Education Authority

The Department for the Economy has the responsibility for developing policies to support young people in Further Education Colleges and Universities and also has responsibility for career services which post-primary schools access for their pupils. 

The provision of career advice and work experience in schools is critical to our work in Northern Ireland. During a recent Question Time in the NI Assembly Chamber, Cara Hunter MLA (Social Democratic & Labour Party) asked the Minister for the Economy, Conor Murphy MLA, about ensuring access to work experience for all children after meeting with Speakers for Schools. 

Minister Murphy responded that he met with Minister Givan, the Minister of Education, to discuss their shared responsibility for education to improve the provision of career advice.  

Minister Murphy added, “We need to work together closely and seamlessly to make sure that all young people experience maximum advantage as they go through school. That will include work experience, because that is very much part of preparing people for choosing the path that suits them best.

In the first instance, concentrating on career and making sure that that is available and delivered to all. We have agreed that we will continue that work and develop more areas of work as that progresses.” 

Making work experience accessible for all in Northern Ireland 

Whilst work experience is not a statutory requirement in Northern Ireland, the intention to develop this area has been set by the Minister, and work will continue on the ground to gain cross-party support by Speakers for Schools, which has been operational in Northern Ireland since March 2021.

We now have relationships with many post-primary schools in Northern Ireland, but more needs to be done to improve the breadth of opportunities available to students. 

Written by Ziggi Stitt, Education Relationship Manager – Northern Ireland