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Home arrow Education arrow Education Policy and Power-Sharing in Post-Conflict Societies: Lebanon, Northern Ireland, and Macedonia



According to the Ministerial Advisory Group on Shared Education, shared education is ‘two or more schools ... from different sectors working in collaboration, with the aim of delivering educational benefits to learners, promoting the efficient and effective use of resources, and promoting equality of opportunity, good relations, equality of identity, respect for diversity and community cohesion’.152 As mentioned, shared education is fundamentally different from integrated education: integrated education applies an immersion model, while shared education is limited cooperation between different institutions.153

Gallagher traces the idea of shared education back to the reflection that separate schools institutionalise boundaries between children of different backgrounds, while integrated schools eliminate these boundaries. ‘But would there be a way of leaving those boundaries in place but making them less important? Making them porous?’154 The idea of shared education also emerged from the finding that ‘it is the cross-community contact of integrated education, rather than the ethos of integrated education, which promotes positive out-group attitudes’.155 Thus, shared education attempts to provide opportunities for sustained, meaningful and positive inter-group contact without challenging the ethos and affiliation of schools. In contrast to integrated education, which evolved into a third educational sector, it aims to permeate every existing sector of schooling by ‘bring[ing] the separate schools together on a curricular basis and offer[ing] children an opportunity to study together for a sustained period of time’.156 Participating schools share their facilities and expertise and students move between schools for their classes. For example, Shimna Integrated College, a school with ‘specialist status in modern languages’, employed shared education activities to share its language teachers with local primary schools.157

Recent evaluations confirm that sharing provides some of the same benefits as integrated education. It allows children to meet different others, and provides sustained and regular contact even in very tense areas. This results in less prejudice, increased trust and forgiveness, an increase in mixed friendships and declining anxiety.158 In the short term, superficial contact may increase inter-group tensions, but schools are supported in managing the diversity created through cooperation.159

Moreover, sharing helps schools deliver the full range of the Entitlement Framework and complements Area Planning. The Entitlement Framework requires every school to provide a minimum of 24 courses at GCSE level and a minimum of 27 courses at A-level.160 Its primary aim was to provide students with more educational opportunities, but very few schools are large enough to provide such a variety of academic and vocational subjects without collaborating with other institutions.161 Thus, inter-school and inter-sector cooperation ‘was a good thing that we didn’t anticipate when the policy was being developed’.162 Similarly, shared education encour?ages collaborative school networks and furthers teachers’ sharing of good practices across sectors.163 This aids Area Planning, which aims to create positive interdependence between self-constituted networks of schools. In turn, school networks are expected to plan to reduce the number of empty desks while delivering a ‘range of options’ to pupils so they can help institutionalise the inter-sectoral networks established through shared education.164

Most education sectors support shared, education: its academic and financial benefits make it appealing for school managers, parents and school principals.165 Moreover, sharing is appreciated, but not ‘to such an extent that it would call into question whether or not their separate schools should exist’.166 Indeed, some schools worry that shared, education will erode their institutional identity or dilute their quality.167 Yet Murphy reflects that ‘no one has really asked the question how is this affecting our value-based education’: most assume that the impact will be minimal.168 Actually, shared education presents an important challenge to Catholic maintained schools: the need to ‘protect the distinctiveness of Catholic education as [it enters] a shared future with other sectors’. This effectively ‘mirrors the challenge for society generally’.169 Shared education also challenges the state-controlled sector. As mentioned, inter-group contact is most beneficial when identities are salient and ‘we define who we are in relation to them’.170 By avoiding ownership of a Protestant/Unionist identity, state-controlled schools may be ‘denying Protestant children a basis on which to engage with their Catholic peers’.171

In contrast, supporters of integrated education view shared education as a ‘watered down version’ of integration and worry that it may further legitimise the fragmented education system.172 Integrated education and shared education appear to be competing for pupils, political support and financial resources.173 Moreover, in 2013 the Ministerial Advisory Group on Shared Education argued against promoting an integrated education system because ‘promoting one sector over others would be divisive’.174 Thus, NICIE is justified in its ‘concerns that shared education is very much on the agenda and integrated education appears to be almost a dirty word’.175

Undoubtedly, public and political discourse has shifted from expanding integrated schools to furthering shared education. The 2011-2015 Programme for Government includes no commitments to integrated education. Rather, it promises more sharing of facilities and more opportunities to participate in shared education activities by 2015.176 Recent polls also show higher public support for sharing in education than for integrated education.177 This is perhaps because shared education respects the institutional integrity of schools, allows parents to enrol children in the school of their choice, does not threaten the school as an expression of community identity and does not express explicit community relations aims. In short, ‘it doesn’t have the same connotations as integrated education’.178

Public support may also reflect the fact that ‘the language of shared education is a catch-all term which all the key stakeholders can buy into’.179 All main political parties declared support for shared education in their recent manifestos.180 Yet, there are a variety of interpretations of the ultimate aim of sharing: some envisage a single education system while others welcome only more connections between distinctive institutions. Indeed, the most fundamental criticism of shared education is that there is no ‘end-game’ to sharing and this perpetuates acceptable levels of segregation.181 Thus, some warn that sharing facilities may simply lead to ‘two schools under one roof’, an arrangement rarely conducive to better understanding and inter-communal relations. s82 In contrast, advocates of shared education argue that no ultimate aim can be stated, as local models are allowed to develop organically within each network of schools.183

Therefore, Gallagher sees several ‘possible futures here’: if shared education is mainstreamed, it could lead to a system of common schools or allow the survival of separate sectors which routinely cooperate.184 In either case, shared education would help build relationships and cooperative networks across communal lines: these have been proven to contribute to peace in plural societies. Through inter-group cooperative networks, shared education may help move society ‘out of conflict and into a space where relations are different’.185 The risk is that shared education initiatives may also get diluted to the point that ‘anything becomes shared education’.186 Ultimately, echoing the peace process, Gallagher argues that ‘what we are doing is creating a process with enough guarantees in it that people won’t be forced to go somewhere they don’t want to go and leave it up to people to make their own decisions later down the line’.187

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