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The Mainstreaming and Internationalising of Shared Education

Tony Gallagher
Professor Tony Gallagher
School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work
Joanne Hughes
Professor Joanne Hughes
School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work
Children playing with multi-coloured fabric

Research from Queen’s University has provided the basis for a model of collaboration between Protestant and Catholic schools in Northern Ireland focused on promoting reconciliation and school improvement.

The research led to the adoption of Shared Education as a statutory responsibility for the Department of Education in Northern Ireland and the Education Authority.

The work heavily influenced the Shared Education Signature Programme (SESP) and Collaboration and Sharing in Education (CASE) programmes in Northern Ireland, as well as related programmes in Israel and North Macedonia.

Research Challenge

SEGREGATED EDUCATION SYSTEMS PERPETUATE CULTURAL ESTRANGEMENT

More than 90% of schools in Northern Ireland are segregated on religious grounds, operating with de facto parallel systems for Catholics and Protestants. Inevitably, this segregated education system perpetuates cultural estrangement.  

Integrated education in Northern Ireland was specified in the 1998 Belfast Good Friday Agreement as “an essential aspect of the reconciliation process” with the overarching goal of being to foster an understanding of the two dominant traditions and to overcome negative stereotypes as children from diverse backgrounds are educated together on a daily basis in the same classrooms.

Our Approach

OPPORTUNITIES FOR COHESION THROUGH EDUCATION IN POST CONFLICT SOCIETIES

Beginning as a pilot programme with just 12 schools in 2007, Shared Education has grown in over a decade to more than 700 schools and over 60,000 pupils now involved in regular, shared classes with Schools from different denominations.

The research has focused on the impact of sustained, regular contact as a mechanism for promoting reconciliation, while at the same time highlighting the need for system level support to maintain reconciliation as a priority goal.

Other work has focused on the role of cross-denominational school partnerships in facilitating engagement between communities and a variety of statutory and non-statutory agencies.

Throughout the research and development work, the research team carried out a high level of engagement with political, policy, education and community stakeholders to ensure they had access to accurate information on the rationale, purpose and outcomes of the work. This engagement included the provision of regular formal and informal briefings for politicians and policy-makers, and formal presentations to meetings of the Education Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Evidence from the research informed the work of the Ministerial Advisory Group on Shared Education.

International interest in the Northern Ireland Model of Shared Education has led to a range of comparative studies, including work on the challenges and opportunities of policy transfer of the model to other divided societies.

Queen’s researchers have also examined the importance of institutional support at school, policy and political levels across different jurisdictions in order to identify forms of leadership that are most likely to promote transformational change in local policy and practice.

This work has focused on countries where the Northern Ireland Model of Shared Education has been adapted for local implementation, such as Israel, North Macedonia and the cities of Jerusalem and Los Angeles, or in other jurisdictions where it is being planned for implementation.

 

“The education system presents a huge opportunity for relationship building in divided societies. It is my hope that our work in shared education can make a real difference to the lives of beneficiaries and promote wider social cohesion in communities affected by conflict and division.”

Professor Joanne Hughes

What impact did it make?

DELIVERING A MODEL FOR SHARED EDUCATION

The research directly influenced the statutory duty on the Education Authority to ‘encourage, facilitate and promote’ shared education in The Education (Northern Ireland) Act 2014 and, in consequence, the same statutory duty on the Department of Education in the Shared Education Act (Northern Ireland) 2016.

The University’s Centre for Shared Education was established in 2012. The impact of this work is being felt not only in Northern Ireland but across the world. The Northern Ireland Model of Shared Education has been adapted for implementation in other divided societies most notably Israel and North Macedonia.

Queen’s University is now recognised internationally for its Shared Education and the positive impact it is having in post-conflict societies.

In 2019 Queen’s University was awarded a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education for its work on shared education and the impact of this work in Northern Ireland an internationally. The submission which achieved the award includes letters from a host of principals and international figures on the impact of the research on their work. The Prize was presented by His Highness Prince Charles at a ceremony in 2020 in Buckingham Palace and received by Professor Ian Greer, Vice Chancellor of Queen’s, and Professor Joanne Hughes, Director of the Centre for Shared Education.

Key Facts
  • Queen’s University’s Centre for Shared Education was established in May 2012 to promote shared education as a mechanism for the delivery of reconciliation and educational benefits to all children.
  • The impact of this work is being felt not only in Northern Ireland but across the world.
  • In 2019 Queen’s University was awarded a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education for its work on shared education and the impact of this work in Northern Ireland an internationally.

Our Impact

Impact related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Learn more about Queen’s University’s commitment to nurturing a culture of sustainability and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through research and education.

  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • UN Goal 04 - Quality Education

Impacting in Countries/Regions

Impacted Regions
Impacted Countries

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