Education and a Shared Future: Options for sharing and collaboration in Northern Ireland schools was led by the School of Education at Queen’s and funded by the EU PEACE II Extension Programme administered by the Community Relations Council.
The study examines the attitudes of parents and educationalists (including politicians, policy makers and Education and Library Boards) towards sharing in and between schools, and highlights lessons that can be learned from initiatives in Scotland, England and the Republic of Ireland.
Dr David Russell, Visiting Research Fellow at Queen’s School of Education, said: “Sharing in schools can happen in a number of ways, such as pupils from schools with different religious compositions being brought together for some classes, a number of schools sharing the same facilities, and integrated education.
“Our findings demonstrate strong support for collaboration between schools, with over 70 per cent of both parents and educationalists in favour of developing shared facilities. A majority in both groups also support the development of shared campus initiatives where different types of schools could be located on the same site.
“The research found that if there was to be increased sharing then the majority of respondents would support mixed classrooms. 79 per cent of parents and 61 per cent of educationalists believe that children from schools with different religious compositions should at least sometimes be taught in the same classroom.
“Less than 50 per cent of the both groups who took part in the research supported retaining the status quo. While strong public opinion for integrated education was reaffirmed by 69 per cent of parents, only 19 per cent of educationalists who took part held the same view."
The study also examined approaches to shared education in other parts of the UK and Ireland. Dr Philip O’Sullivan, Researcher at the School of Education, said: "Northern Ireland has its own unique circumstances and while it may prove difficult to replicate sharing initiatives from other places, we can learn from experiences elsewhere.
“In Scotland, there are examples of Catholic and non-denominational schools sharing the same site and core facilities. Our research found that in these shared campuses children mixed and shared facilities without any significant antagonism or conflict based on religious identity and without any diminution of schools’ ethos. Moreover, building a shared campus as opposed to two separate schools had significant economic benefits, affording the local authority savings of 25 per cent on capital costs amounting to millions of pounds."
The report contains a number of recommendations to assist education policy makers. The authors concluded that shared education should be based on equality, affording equal recognition to all religious backgrounds and cultural traditions. It should be voluntary and informed by the views and opinions of parents. Steps can be taken to ensure that cultural and religious ethos is strengthened as a result of sharing, rather than being compromised.
'Education and a Shared Future: Options for sharing and collaboration in Northern Ireland schools' is available to download at http://www.schoolsworkingtogether.com/documents/education-and-a-shared-future.pdf and also at http://www.nicrc.org.uk/docs
Anne-Marie Watson | alfa
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