Shared and Integrated Education Top of the Agenda as Committee Evidence Sessions Begin

The Committee for Education launched its new inquiry into Shared and Integrated Education in September and this week saw the beginning of evidence sessions which over the coming weeks will help to inform and shape the Committees final report. The inquiry will examine how Shared and Integrated Education is delivered across Northern Ireland and whether there is a need for a formal, statutory definition of Shared Education. Members will also explore if there should be a legal obligation for its promotion and encouragement.

First to give evidence today were Ian Williamson, Principal of Ballycastle High School and Barbara Ward, Principal of Cross and Passion College Ballycastle. Both Schools have been involved in a successful Shared Education programme and were recently selected by the Department for Education as one of three local school partnerships to take part in the new Shared Education Campuses Programme.

Opening the evidence session, Barbara outlined the schools’ vision of collaboration which she noted had resulted in a more efficient use of resources and increased educational choices for pupils. She added that it had enabled both schools to better meet the needs of pupils and to cater to all ability levels.

The opportunity to provide additional training and qualifications in practical areas, such as agriculture, hospitality and media studies has also been an important driver in securing the success of the Shared Education Programme.

Ian and Barbara underlined both schools commitment to and place in the local community and the importance of nurturing skills to meet the needs of local employers.

The Committee was keen to tease out some of the factors that make this particular Shared Educational Programme successful. For example was geographical location important, given the fact that both Ballycastle High School and Cross and Passion College are in close proximity to each other? Both principals said that this was certainly helpful in the sharing of day to day educational experiences, but they added that Shared Education will only be successful in the educational and economic sense if it meets a real need. The training and development of staff was also cited as an important factor as was securing buy in and support from pupils, teachers and the local community.

The costs of running a shared education programme and whether or not this could impact on the continuing success of the Moyle partnership or any would be shared educational programmes was also queried by the Committee. Barbara noted that costs are a factor – but that the programme had benefited from Entitlement Framework funding, which provides students access to "a broad and balanced curriculum", as well as resources to support shared education. Funding and practical support from external agencies such as PEACE 3, the Sharing Education Programme and Peace, Inclusion, Reconciliation, Citizenship and History Project (PIRCH) have also been beneficial.

The Committee was also interested in how the schools brought parents on board? Both Barbara and Ian noted that it is made clear to parents that sharing can enhance their child’s experience at school, however both children and parents must have a choice and be comfortable with the sharing proposals, the schools do not take anything for granted. Barbara added that they have continually evaluated with parents, have set up focus groups and the feedback shows that no one feels the sharing should not happen.

The need for compromise was also raised – how do the schools agree on certain administrative issues for example? It was acknowledged by both principals that compromise was an important factor in the sharing process. Things like school holidays and staff development days had to be synchronised, close coordination in terms of timetabling and curriculum planning and the sharing of facilities have all arisen as factors to be considered and agreed upon. However, Barbara and Ian added that there has never been any need or wish to compromise in terms of the quality of education provision.

The Committee was also keen to hear how the shared programme worked in terms of bridging community differences. Barbara and Ian underlined the importance of nurturing mutual respect, of helping pupils to recognise that it’s okay to express who they are without showing disrespect or threat. Ian said that it was important to underline that the schools do not try to morph their pupils into something they are not and that within this particular context the students have developed genuine friendships and relationships.

You can watch Barbara and Ian’s presentation to the Committee below and read their joint written submission to the Committee.

While Barbara and Ian provided a very practical and personal sense of how the Moyle Partnership worked, Professors Colin Knox and Vani Borooah from the University of Ulster were also before the Committee to provide the theoretical context and findings from their research into Shared and Integrated Education.

Professors Knox and Borooah opened the briefing by discussing their research into Integrated Education, which included take up of places in Integrated schools and academic performance levels across the educational spectrum at both primary and post primary level.

Their research has looked at the differences between Integrated and Shared educational programmes and they were keen to highlight that both programmes have a place in the local educational system. They acknowledged that most research evidence on the impact of integrated education has tended to focus on reconciliation and societal benefits in Northern Ireland. They stated however that their research which examined variations in popularity across schools showed very clearly that parents choose schools largely based on educational performance. Professor Borooah noted “good results is the horse and reconciliation is the cart” and “primacy must be given to good results”.

The UU research on Shared Education indicated that pupils in this environment tend to do better academically. The evidence based on four selected primary and post-primary schools involved in the Sharing Education Programme concluded that  involvement  in  the  initiative  would  increase the likelihood of: getting good GSCEs; gaining fluency in a foreign language; and going to University.

However, both professors stressed that they did not see Shared and Integrated Education initiatives as competing. Factors such as geographical proximity, levels of cross community integration and interface areas are all important factors in the workability of Shared Education Programmes. They concluded that the new Shared Education Signature Project would be very important in terms of defining and setting goals for Shared Education as a whole.    

You can watch Professor Knox and Professor Borooah’s presentation to the Committee in full below and read their briefing papers to the Committee Part 1 and Part 2.

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