In divided societies, the promotion of cross-cultural contact through the education system has been central to efforts to improve intergroup relations. This approach is informed by an understanding of the contact hypothesis, which suggests that positive contact with a member of a different group should contribute to improvements in attitudes towards the group as a whole. While a substantial body of research provides support for contact theory, critics have argued that its emphasis on harmonious encounters can result in the neglect of group differences and associated issues of conflict and discrimination during contact. The research discussed in this article explores this tension with reference to two shared education projects in Northern Ireland. Research data, gathered primarily through interviews with pupils, confirms that divisive issues are rarely addressed during contact and explores several influences on this: the nature of pupils’ relationships, the programme structure, and the prevailing social norms of avoidance.