General Teaching Council Northern Ireland

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Study highlights benefits of and barriers to interschool sharing


Irish News

Pupils working with peers from different sectors and communities can play an important role in improving educational and reconciliation outcomes, a new study has concluded.

An investigation by Queen’s University Belfast also highlighted the barriers to inter-school sharing.

School Collaboration in Northern Ireland: Opportunities for Reconciliation examined the nature and depth of school partnership.

It further explored the extent to which new collaborative educational structures had the potential to promote reconciliation between Protestant and Catholic communities.

The report is based on a research project by Dr Caitlin Donnelly and Professor Tony Gallagher of the university’s School of Education.

Research was undertaken at a time of evolving educational policy that demands that schools establish collaborative relationships to provide pupils with full access to the curriculum.

Factors such as the distance between schools, timetabling issues and differences in school policies all play a part in adversely affecting collaboration.

However, several programmes are trying to identify the best practice for schools to work with each other.

The Sharing Education Programme funds more than 60 schools in 12 partnerships to work in cross-sectoral collaboration.

In one project, girls from Belfast Model School for Girls, Little Flower Girls’ School and Our Lady of Mercy Secondary School in north Belfast co-published a magazine.

In Newcastle, Shimna Integrated College runs shared classes for primary schools and parents.

In Derry, Lumen Christi and Foyle and Londonderry College have a shared A-level programmes and let primary pupils share science classes in grammar schools.

In Belfast, St Louise’s Comprehensive College and Victoria College have a very effective shared drama course.

Prof Gallagher said the main point of the Sharing Education Programme (SEP) was to demonstrate that shared education, across the religious divide, could work educationally and socially.

“By developing mixed classes in core curriculum subjects, SEP seeks to make the institutional boundaries between pupils more porous and to enhance the contribution all our schools are making towards the construction of a better society,” he said.

“Alongside SEP we are running research projects on aspects of collaboration.

“The report published provides the results of a survey among post-primary schools on attitudes to collaboration.”

The report found that many schools said they had been involved in some form of collaboration and most believed it was a good idea.

There were concerns at some of the challenges posed by collaboration, not least of which was the fact that schools had to compete for pupils, Prof Gallagher said.

“Some schools worry also that ethos differences might act as a barrier to collaboration,” he said.

“We intend to survey schools on an annual basis to monitor whether there is any evidence of the extent of collaboration increasing over time.”


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