‘Plugging the Gap’: Shared Education and the promotion of community relations through schools in Northern Ireland

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Although there is no consensus amongst educationalists as to the role schools play as drivers of hostilities in divided societies, there is broad agreement that they can facilitate more positive intergroup relations. In Northern Ireland the promotion of school based inter-group contact has been offered as a means through which this can happen. Until 2007, the approach was twofold, reflected on the one hand in short-term contact opportunities for pupils in predominantly Catholic and Protestant schools, and on the other, in support for integrated schools which educate Catholics and Protestants together. In 2007 the Shared Education Programme was introduced to ‘bridge the gap’ between short-term opportunities for contact, and ‘full immersion’ integrated schools. Informed by contact theory, shared education offers curriculum based interaction between pupils attending all school types, aimed at promoting the type of contact likely to reduce negative social attitudes and ultimately contribute to social harmony. In this paper, we examine the impact of shared education thus far. Our analysis suggests that whilst shared education is generally effective in promoting positive assessments of other group members, there is a danger that programme impact may be inhibited by the foregrounding of educational over reconciliation priorities. Appreciating that the downplaying reconciliation objectives may have been necessary when the programme was established in order to maximize recruitment to it, we argue that if the full potential of shared education is to be realized, moving forward, it is important for schools to engage with issues of group differences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1125-1142
Number of pages18
JournalBritish Educational Research Journal
Issue number6
Early online date26 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015


  • Inter-group relaitons; schools; reconciliation


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