Integrating Northern Ireland: Cross-group friendships in integrated and mixed schools

Danielle Blaylock*, Joanne Hughes, Ralf Wolfer, Caitlin Donnelly

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

While Northern Ireland strives to build a shared society, the current reality is that everyday experiences are still shaped by division along ethno‐religious lines. This is particularly pronounced in the education system, where more than 92% of pupils attend separate schools. Within the predominantly separate education system, however, exists a small collection of schools which cater to a more heterogeneous pupil body and offer the opportunity for young people from both communities to meet and interact, and potentially develop cross‐group friendships. The present study compares the network‐based cross‐group friendships within two such school types; an integrated and a separate post‐primary school. These schools boast a distinct ethos yet they similarly enrol students from Catholic and Protestant backgrounds. Findings reveal that both schools show a high level of interconnection between pupils; however, the integrated school, with an ethos that openly supports social cohesion, shows a greater tendency towards cross‐group interactions and best friendships than those found within the separate school. In line with contact theory, these findings suggest that it may not be enough to simply create opportunities for intergroup contact but that optimal conditions, such as institutional support, may be a prerequisite for positive relationships to flourish. Implications for educational policies designed to promote greater cross‐community contact are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Educational Research Journal
Early online date16 Jul 2018
DOIs
Publication statusEarly online date - 16 Jul 2018

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friendship group
school
friendship
pupil
contact
education system
school type
everyday experience
social cohesion
interconnection
educational policy
interaction

Keywords

  • Cross-group friendship
  • Education in divided societies
  • Intergroup contact
  • Social network analysis

Cite this

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title = "Integrating Northern Ireland: Cross-group friendships in integrated and mixed schools",
abstract = "While Northern Ireland strives to build a shared society, the current reality is that everyday experiences are still shaped by division along ethno‐religious lines. This is particularly pronounced in the education system, where more than 92{\%} of pupils attend separate schools. Within the predominantly separate education system, however, exists a small collection of schools which cater to a more heterogeneous pupil body and offer the opportunity for young people from both communities to meet and interact, and potentially develop cross‐group friendships. The present study compares the network‐based cross‐group friendships within two such school types; an integrated and a separate post‐primary school. These schools boast a distinct ethos yet they similarly enrol students from Catholic and Protestant backgrounds. Findings reveal that both schools show a high level of interconnection between pupils; however, the integrated school, with an ethos that openly supports social cohesion, shows a greater tendency towards cross‐group interactions and best friendships than those found within the separate school. In line with contact theory, these findings suggest that it may not be enough to simply create opportunities for intergroup contact but that optimal conditions, such as institutional support, may be a prerequisite for positive relationships to flourish. Implications for educational policies designed to promote greater cross‐community contact are discussed.",
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