Integrated education is not the only route to greater mixing

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 don’t 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, it’s 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. We’ll never scale down sectariansim without it, or something like it.

  • aquifer

    It costs more to duplicate schooling provision, even before cost the occasional sectarian shooting war is counted. Shouldn’t we just close some schools and bus kids to the ones that are left?

  • otto

    “You wouldn’t expect segregated schools to have much contact across the religious divide, but what was most surprising from this study is that firmly held group attitudes towards the central issues that Protestants and Catholics disagree on most, changed through friendships in mixed schools because they got the opportunity to mix,” Stringer said.”

    Most surprising? If people aren’t going to moderate their opinions as a result of greater contact within another point of view what’s the point?

    I can’t find much justification for your choice of “Integrated education is not the only route to greater mixing” as a title for this thread Brian. Seems to me that the report’s finding is very much that there is no satisfactory substitute for integrated education if you’re at all interested in an integrated society.

    16% of marriages are cross-community but only 6% of kids can get integrated education. This is either a failure or a choice of Sinn Fein policy.

    NICE statements

    “Demand for places in integrated schools is
    continuing to grow despite a drop in the
    overall school aged population in Northern
    Ireland. New figures from the Department
    of Education show that the number of pupils
    attending integrated schools has risen to
    19,400 compared to 18,800 last year.”

    “It is an unfortunate fact that in September 2008, 831 applicants for places in Integrated schools had to be turned away due to lack of places.”

    That’s an entire school of children denied the opportunity of an integrated education in this year alone.

  • Brian Walker

    There’s nothing in the post which is opposed to integrated education. The “justification” you refer to is the subject of the report.

  • Frustrated Democrat

    ‘Integrated education is not the only route to greater mixing’

    It is however the best route, the rest are attempts to pacify the Churches and fundamentalists.

  • otto

    Huh?

    “A nine-year study on the effects of integrated and segregated schooling in Northern Ireland shows that sectarianism could be defused if more Catholic and Protestant children were sent to mixed-religion schools.

    Psychologists at the University of Ulster studied 1,732 children at ages 11, 12 and 14 at integrated schools, all-Catholic schools and all-Protestant schools, and found those who attend with children from a different faith have much more contact with members of other religious groups, both at schools and out of school, than children who attended segregated schools.”

    The nearest thing I can find in this to the suggestion in your title is the observation that teachers don’t need to direct mixing beyond the usual anti-bullying/anti-exclusion work that any school would do. The important thing seems to be just to let kids share the same classrooms and they’ll take care of the mixing themselves – but they still need to actually be in the same classroom.

    Taking protestant kids to GAA training or Irish dancing or catholic kids to mini-rugby, or arranging play-dates with children your kids have met at nursery school but who now attend a different denomination of primary school is all very well, but when the kids aren’t at the same schools cliques and other stronger relationships start to form and after a while children just stop asking to go.

  • integration? apartheid!

    Totally misleading heading. The report says that casual mixing in the classroom is the best way encourage hands-across-the-divide. How can you have casual mixing in the classroom under the religiously segregated system? You can’t. You need an integrated system if there is going to be any casual mixing in the classroom.

    But the Catholic church has no interest in giving up control of its state-funded private schools. Why would it? Indoctrination of the young is the best way to ensure life commitment to the organisation. And neither of the political parties which depend on Catholic votes, SF and the SDLP, is going to risk losing out to the other by falling out with the Catholic hierarchy.

    So it is not well-intentioned reports which point to the social benefits of classroom integration that are going to change the status quo, as regards religious apartheid in schools. It is the economic collapse that will force recognition that a duplicate system is a luxury we cannot afford. And the discrediting of the Catholic church as a moral authority, following the Ferns and Ryan reports.

    It can be done. Apartheid can be dismantled. We don’t have to endure religious segregation if we don’t want it.

  • Dewi

    “16% of marriages are cross-community” – now that’s interesting. With such levels of cross community interaction how on earth do the ancient enmities survive?

  • Turgon

    Dewi,
    “With such levels of cross community interaction how on earth do the ancient enmities survive?”

    Centrally because very few of us have “ancient enmities.” There is a major disagreement about the future of the state viz union vs unity. However, the overwhelming majority of people work with people of the “other side.” Many have close personal friendship on the other side: clearly evidenced by the high mixed marriage rate. One can be friendly with someone and yet not support their political position.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    aquifer: “It costs more to duplicate schooling provision, even before cost the occasional sectarian shooting war is counted. Shouldn’t we just close some schools and bus kids to the ones that are left? ”

    The example of Boston in the sixties comes to mind…

    Dewi: ““16% of marriages are cross-community” – now that’s interesting. With such levels of cross community interaction how on earth do the ancient enmities survive? ”

    The scab pickers, the ne’er-let-go’ers, the remaining active and semi-active organizations, the widows and orphans, the begrudgers and the rest of the trolls and bugbears borne of the Troubles…

  • Dewi

    “Many have close personal friendship on the other side:”

    You don’t though do you Turgon?

  • Turgon

    You may very well think that; I couldn’t possibly comment

  • Ray

    Integrated Education has been here for a few decades now.
    The true test of IE is where are all the leaders that came through IE?
    Where are they?

  • Dewi

    Turgon – I just think I remember you saying once that your parents had close Catholic friends but the troubles had changed things for you – perhaps I misremember?

  • integration? apartheid!

    There would be no need to bus pupils about.

    Education is at present outside the remit of Fair Employment legislation. Thus schools are allowed to have teaching staff of one religious outlook. The legislation should be applied to schools and enforced vigorously. That way all schools would have mixed staff within a few years and would lose their sectarian labels.