60,000 pupils in shared education in Northern Ireland

60,000 pupils in shared education in Northern Ireland

​However, some schools in shared partnerships are reluctant to "address issues that could be regarded as sensitive or controversial"

​That is according to an Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) report.

​Shared education involves pupils from separate schools and different backgrounds engaging in joint classes and activities.

​Teachers and school governors from different schools can also work together.

​It differs from integrated education where pupils from Catholic, Protestant and other backgrounds are educated together in the same school.

How does shared education work?

​Seaview Primary School in north Belfast has been in partnership with St Patrick's Primary School in the nearby New Lodge area for three years.

​Seaview's principal Corinne Latham said working together on a sustained basis helped pupils explore their similarities and differences.

​"The children from St Patrick's will come across to our school after a series of electronic exchanges," she said.

​"They use Skype and Facetime in the classroom and meet new friends, albeit virtually.

​"But then they have the experience of coming into each others schools.

​"So in my school it's quite regular to see children with a St Patrick's uniform walking the corridors just as it is to see the Seaview children in St Patrick's.

​"Not only do they meet new friends but they're learning that the main difference they have is actually their school uniform - they are the same people with unique personalities but different types of identity."

Who is involved?

​More than 580 schools from pre-school to post-primary are involved in more than 250 shared education partnerships.

​About £50m has been made available to fund the projects.

​The ETI evaluation into shared education said that "through learning with others, the pupils developed positive attitudes, including empathy, respect and inclusion"

​"When partnerships explored sensitive and controversial issues, such as aspects of history, the learning was deeper than in other situations," it said.

What are the benefits of the scheme?

​In the most effective partnerships, pupils, staff and sometimes parents and the wider community were jointly involved in planning and running sustained activities.

​However, the ETI report also said that a small number of partnerships had faced community opposition to shared education.

​It also said that sometimes joint projects were an "add-on" rather than an integral part of learning and teaching.

​"Not all partnerships were at a stage in their journey where they felt able to address issues that could be regarded as sensitive or controversial," it added.

​"While most teachers cite the benefits of shared education experiences on pupils, partnerships report that measuring pupils' attitudinal change remains a challenge."

​However, the ETI report also noted that many pupils involved in shared education said they were disappointed and frustrated by the lack of leadership shown by adults in creating a shared future.

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