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Shared Education Initiatives in Northern Ireland: A Model for Effective Intergroup Contact in Divided Jurisdictions

Authors

  • Danielle Blaylock,

    1. Queen's University, Belfast
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    • Danielle Blaylock is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in the Centre for Shared Education in the School of Education at Queen's University, Belfast. Her main research interests and areas of expertise are group process and intergroup relations, intergroup contact theory, and the role of education in divided societies. Her work is closely associated with the social identity theory.
  • Joanne Hughes

    1. Queen's University, Belfast
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    • Professor Joanne Hughes is Director of the Centre for Shared Education in the School of Education, Queen's University, Belfast. Her main research interests are in intergroup relations and the role of education in divided societies.

Abstract

As Northern Ireland transitions from violence to sustainable peace, one area in particular that remains deeply divided is the parallel education system that operates for Catholic and Protestant pupils. Working within the existing system of separate education, and underpinned by contact theory, the Sharing Education Programme (SEP) was launched in 2007 to deliver shared classes for pupils from the different sectors. While SEP is a relatively new initiative, evidence suggests that the programme positively impacts intergroup attitudes and behaviours of participants, and contrary to existing polemic that denounces the separate faith schools as a site for reconciliation in divided societies, the effectiveness of the programme suggests that separate education can be harnessed to promote more positive intergroup relations. Indeed, we argue that the value of the shared education approach lies in the fact that it can balance the aspirations of those who advocate separate education as a fundamental right in liberal democratic societies, and those who see integrated or common education as the only solution to ethnic/racial divisions. This ideological bridging enhances the appeal of the shared education model in other similarly divided jurisdictions – a point taken up in the discussion.

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