As we contemplate the political wreck that is currently the Assembly, we might look around for crumbs of comfort. Although this has not been officially confirmed, I’m assured that the alarm sounded here and in the Irish News that the spend of only £3 million of a £500 million ten year fund pledged by Westminster under Fresh Start doesn’t mean lack of commitment. It is due to “normal” delay in capital start –ups and will be carried over to next year. We shall see.
Within the shared and integrated education policy, the Shared Education Signature Project is one of the unsung achievements of the last mandate. The silence is perhaps surprising as “sharing” boosted by the then Sinn Fein minister John O’Dowd constitutes quite a shift away from the rigidity of separate education and is intended to apply to all schools in Northern Ireland. It is curriculum based, not limited to games, music and hobbies and is designed to encourage “mixing.” A first tranche of two hundred schools is currently taking part.
It is probably the best a divided community and an even more divided political system can achieve. Who feels like confronting the CCMS and the vested interests on the other side? After fifteen years of trying, support stubbornly remains for academic selection, which is a breeze to end compared to replacing the present complicated and divided education system with full integration. Surely mixing will encourage closer coming together? This is not to deny that integration should be placed more prominently on the table, with incentives added.
Sharing has its limitations. The SESP uses the buzz phrases about ending poverty and social exclusion and improving life chances. But at £40 million (with £5 million awaited from EU peace funds), it is surely underfunded.
Improving educational standards takes priority over integration. This again is hardly surprising as there is no unanimity about what an integrated society would look like. What is for certain is that it cannot be compelled. The present system upholds a Catholic ethos (whatever that may be exactly) for the new majority of our children; the Protestants of the state sector seem equally content with the status quo.
The Alliance party and the Greens who are the strong supporters of integrated education should not think of the good as the enemy of the best, which for them is integration. They will surely at least acknowledge that reconciliation has become an identifiable goal for all schools.
These outcomes are identified in the big picture of the curriculum at key stage (2) and (3), y include:
• Concern for others
• Community spirit
• Openness and new ideas
• Integrity – moral courage
A key weakness is that while only participation in the project is reported I’m told there is no requirement for the Education Authority formally to report on how its progressing – though surely this must come. All I can find is a 2014 survey of heads commissioned by the investigative website The Detail. If anyone has an update of results, they might supply them below. Take up currently may be affected by the present wave of industrial unrest in education causing applications deadlines to be missed.
A third call for the shared education campus programme went out last October. Costs at Omagh are over running. As for integration, the transition is long but “worth it,” here in Killyleagh. Co Down.
That’s what its all about, isn’t it? How tragic to separate them out into Catholic and Protestant once they reach 11!
From The Detail
- Interested to know how you measure reconciliation outcomes? Can’t be short-lived (life of project) – needs to have lasting community-wide effect.
Kathryn Torney,06 June 2014 The Detaill
HOW MUCH SHARING IS HAPPENING NOW?
The School Omnibus Survey is designed to collect a range of information for the Department of Education’s policy teams. Questions were issued to school principals in March 2013 covering seven issues – one of which was shared education.
A total of 569 responses were received for the shared education questions from primary, post-primary and special schools. This equates to 52% of all schools.
Of the respondents, 76% said that their school had been involved in shared education with another school in the last academic year. Participation was higher in post-primary schools (94%) than in primary (71%).
Of all the principals who replied to the web-based survey, only 306 (54%) said their pupils had been involved in a cross-community partnership with another school while 43% said their sharing had been with a school from the same sector. The principals could choose more than one answer in response to this question.
The activities schools took part in were curricular and extra-curricular and included joint projects, shared facilities (including sports facilities), shared teachers, shared equipment (like minibuses and computers) and shared classes. Activities also took place outside of the schools – for example in outdoor activity centres, churches and cultural venues.
For those involved in partnerships, 59 principals said it only involved one class, 337 said more than one class and in 71 cases it was at whole school level.
Costs for schools included transport, substitute teacher cover and venue and equipment hire with funding coming from Department of Education earmarked funds, school budgets and external funding.
Disadvantages were identified by 285 principals, while 284 said there were no disadvantages.
Ninety-three principals said cost was a disadvantage. Other issues include disruption to classes, lost teaching time, time spent travelling and bureaucracy.
What the survey does not tell us is how focused the sharing was for these schools. We do not know how many schools just participated in a single joint school activity on one day – possibly involving one class. Or how many were at the other end of the scale with school principals from different schools regularly meeting and planning together for a series of joint classes and activities.