Shared Education Signature Project Research Study

Shared Education Signature Project Research Study

Funder: Atlantic Philanthropies

Duration: 2015-2018

Research Team: Dr Caitlin Donnelly (Principal Investigator); Dr Stephanie Burns; Prof Joanne Hughes; Dr Danielle Blaylock

Research Phase (1): Online Survey


Previous research has shown that when schools collaborate, sharing their resources and expertise and bringing children together in meaningful ways, there are measureable academic improvements for pupils. Within the context of Northern Ireland, previous research has also shown that meaningful and sustained contact opportunities can lead to improved relationships and attitudes between pupils from different community backgrounds. What is less well known are the differential outcomes between different types of shared education activities – that is, which ‘model’ of shared education might make the most impact. There is also a need for more evidence relating to the impact of school collaborations on a broader range of ‘soft’ educational outcomes, that is, outcomes other than attainment.

Research aim

The purpose of this study is to examine the impact of different types of school-school collaboration on (soft) educational outcomes and reconciliation outcomes for pupils.

The reconciliation outcomes that will be measured include:

  • Quantity of intergroup contact
  • Quality of intergroup contact
  • Number of cross-group friends
  • Intergroup comfort level
  • Intergroup empathy
  • Willingness for intergroup contact
  • Outgroup attitudes
  • Experiences of Shared Education

The educational outcomes that will be measured include:

  • Academic self-efficacy
  • Levels of school belonging
  • Levels of school engagement
  • Educational aspirations
  • Creativity skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Energy for work


We will be asking pupils who are partaking in shared education activities (funded by the Shared Education Signature Project – see  ) to complete an online survey that the Centre for Shared Education has developed, at the beginning and the end of each school year (or the beginning and end of a school term), for the duration of time that they are involved in SESP activity.

All schools that have been approved for funding by the Shared Education Signature Project (both primary and post-primary, all across Northern Ireland) will be invited to take part in this research. There are three different versions of the survey (one for Key Stage 1 pupils (Year 4 only), one for Key Stage 2 pupils, and one for Key Stage 3/4/5 pupils), to reflect the different levels of understanding they may have.

The survey is being delivered through the Northern Ireland Education Authority’s C2K intranet system. The Education Authority will anonymise the data extracted from the survey and will forward this data to the research team at the Centre for Shared Education for statistical analysis.

Research Phase (2): Case Studies - exploring how and why collaboration works


Whilst there has been a large number  of studies dedicated to examining the conditions necessary for effective intergroup contact and the ways in which contact can change attitudes and behavioural intentions, relatively little is known about why some school collaborations are successful in achieving positive change in reconciliation (and education) outcomes.  To therefore complement Phase 1 of this research and to add to existing qualitative studies on the environmental factors that might impact school collaborations and the experiences of school staff and pupils involved in shared education partnerships, Phase 2 will seek to explore and examine how particular shared education school collaborations work in practice as well as reasons why some collaborations tend to generate improvements in reconciliation and education outcomes while others do not.

Research aims

This research aims to highlight:

  • The meaning of collaboration according to the schools involved in shared education partnerships;
  • Schools’ motivations to collaborate
  • The challenges of collaboration - and how they were overcome
  • The perceived benefits of collaboration
  • The level of support for shared education that has been received from the wider community
  • Leadership and governance arrangements in school collaborations
  • The opportunities that staff have had for continuing professional development


This study will involve six case studies of school collaborations to ascertain their experiences of shared education in Northern Ireland, and within each case study, the views of school leaders, staff and governors, as well as parents and children will be explored.

The following is an overview of the intended methodologies and sources of case study data:

  1. Individual interviews
  2. Focus groups
  3. Creative group interviews with children and young people
  4. Direct observations of shared education classes/activity
  5. Documentation review


Please direct any queries about Phase (1) or Phase (2) of this research to Dr Stephanie Burns (phone: +44 (0)28 9097 5939; email:

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