This nine year study of behaviour in integrated and segregated achools by University of Ulster psychologists is more than a statement of the bleedin obvious. I hope it provokes an open debate among all responsible people, frustrated by the persistent failure of the end of the Troubles to blunt sectarian edges. Only 6% attend the integrated sector. But closer mixing can help relationships in the other sectors where however teachers in mixed schools in Northern Ireland can find it difficult to build a school ethos or challenge segregated attitudes. Lead researcher Maurice Stringer, the psychology professor at the University of Ulster in Coleraine said:
teachers in mixed schools in Northern Ireland can find it difficult to build a school ethos or challenge segregated attitudes. But, he said, the results of the study suggest that simply allowing children to mix and become friends in a supportive school environment is enough to produce change…
What we found is if you have structured activities in schools organised by a teacher, they dont have the same impact, he said. So we went back and asked the children why. It turned out that when children are creating a friendship, its important that they did it by themselves, such as choosing who to sit next to in the cafeteria. Teachers would be better off just facilitating contact rather than structuring things.
This non-ideological approach should encourage educational reformers of many kinds who accept it’s unrealistic to call for the dismantling of the entire education system in order to promote greater mixing. Prof Stringer has long been a strong evidence-based advocate of an education system that actively promotes greater mixing and the aims of the shamefully abandoned Shared Future programme. Well never scale down sectariansim without it, or something like it.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London