Centre for the Study of Conflict|
School of History, Philosophy and Politics,
Faculty of Humanities, University of Ulster
Education And Community In Northern Ireland: Schools Apart? [AND] Schools Together?
by John Darby, Seamus Dunn, Dominic Murray, Kenneth Mullan, Sean
Farren, D.Batts and J.Harris
Copies are available in bookshops or, by post, from:
Centre for the Study of Conflict
University of Ulster
T: (01265) 324666 or 324165
Education And Community In Northern Ireland
by John Darby, Seamus Dunn, Dominic Murray, Kenneth Mullan,
Centre for the Study of Conflict
The two research reports reprinted in this publication Schools Apart? and Schools together? were originally published separately. Their aims were to provide data on the operation of Northern Ireland's segregated schools system. Both have been out of print for a number of years but requests for copies continue to arrive at the Centre for the Study of Conflict.
As a result of this demand, and a growing interest in the relationship between schooling and conflict, the centre has reprinted both reports in a single volume.
Schools Apart? Education and Community in Northern Ireland, was published in 1977. It was a pioneering work in the sense that its central subject, that is the role of education in community conflict, is now much more widely considered as a topic for investigation and experiment - and not just in Northern Ireland. However, although many of the specific questions that the report asked remain unanswered, there is now a considerable range of developments, researches, projects and government initiatives in the field of education and community relations in Northern Ireland.
The original research was funded by the Ford Foundation, and it was carried out during the period 1976-77. It described its purpose as an attempt to fill the gap between the wide general interest in the subject of integrated schooling in Northern Ireland and the shortage of information about segregated schools, and it justified this with the view that 'As any survey of educational research in Northern Ireland will demonstrate, a researcher might enter the topic of segregated schooling at any of a dozen different points, and find a clear field in most of them.' Since then there has been, and continues to be, a great deal of activity in this area, some of which would have been thought highly unlikely in 1977. The highlights of this include the recent fairly dramatic growth in the number of integrated schools, the decision to introduce legislation which will place 'a statutory responsibility on the Department of Education to encourage integrated education', and the emergence of a strong commitment at all levels to the promotion of 'Education for Mutual Understanding' (EMU).
The second report, which is also reprinted here, called Schools Together?, was published in 1984, and built on the work of Schools Apart? The delay between the two was caused by an inability to interest any funder in continuing with this work, until the Department of Education, prompted by the enthusiasm of Donald Davidson, agreed to remedy this in 1982.
This second work examined links between schools across Northern Ireland's sectarian divide and concluded that there were very few such links of any importance
Since the conclusion of the Schools Together? research a third project has been completed. This involved a new emphasis on research and development and included a collaboration between the Department of Education, the Western Education and Library Board, and the Centre for the Study of Conflict. This project was a deliberately interventionist attempt to generate a set of detailed and permanent links among all the primary and all the secondary schools in one particular community. The report on the first two year stage of this, the third in this series, has been published recently as Inter School Links. Copies are available (£4.00) from the Centre for the Study of Conflict.
This research is an attempt to fill the gap between the wide general interest in the subject of integrated schooling in Northern Ireland and the shortage of information about segregated schools. To what extent are Roman Catholic and Protestant children educated separately? How different are the schools which they attend? what sort of contacts are there between them? How do principals and teachers regard the schools attended by the other religious group? These are some of the questions which it was designed to examine.
Social and educational research are difficult in any circumstances. In Northern Ireland there are extra sensitivities which complicate any investigation of Protestant and Catholic schools. Not the least of these is determining how the schools should be described, since the official designations 'Controlled schools', 'Maintained schools' and 'Voluntary schools' are not entirely synonymous with the central religious divide. For this reason schools participating in the project which were attended predominantly by Protestant children were designated Category A schools, and those attended mainly by Catholic children were named Category B schools; this device was maintained during the first phase of the project. However, in the more illuminative approach adopted in the Triangle report the terms became almost impossibly cumbersome and confusing. It became necessary to adopt the shorthand terms 'Protestant' and 'Roman Catholic' schools. This was done solely for ease of reading, and we apologise for any offence it may cause.
Our gratitude is due to the Ford Foundation which funded the project, and especially to John White. Our sincere thanks are particularly due to the principals, teachers, parents and committee members in the Triangle area, and to the principals who participated in the questionnaire. Finally, we are grateful to the North-eastern Education and Library Board, which permitted access to their schools.
Social research, unlike some physical research, more often leads to a growing respect for the difficulties and complexities of a problem than to its solution. Rather than stripping away layer after layer until an answer is reached, it is a case of each new piece of information revealing even greater possibilities and confusion. A study of Northern Ireland's denominational education system and its social effects similarly leads to a recognition of its complexity rather than clarity. For this reason it is appropriate to begin this research report by recording what the project was not attempting to achieve before going to a definition of its objectives.
As any survey of educational research in Northern Ireland will demonstrate, a researcher might enter the topic of segregated schooling at any of a dozen different points, and find a clear field in most of them. Limited resources demand the establishment of priorities, and such exercises are necessarily subjective. Any number of projects might have been justified: an assessment of the specific relationship between segregated schools and intolerant community attitudes among children, either by a longitudinal study or by attempting to isolate extra-mural influences, would clearly be an important contribution; so would a study of the school's role as a socialising institution in a divided society; it might also be argued that a more positive attempt to improve inter-schools relations or to conduct experimental projects in integrated schooling is badly needed. It is undeniable that these, and some other projects, would promote a better understanding of the relationship between segregated schools and community conflict, and indeed are fundamental to such an understanding. Nevertheless, considering the limited resources and the need to determine priorities, it was agreed that such projects should follow rather than precede a more basic examination of the existing similarities and differences between the learning experiences of Protestant and Catholic children in the province, and the project was shaped in that direction.
Implicit in the arguments of both sides in the debate about segregated schooling is the belief that there is a real difference in the experiences undergone by Catholic and Protestant children within their denominational schools. The Roman Catholic case for retaining their schools rests on a conviction that they provide a religio-moral ethos which is integral to Catholic education. Those opposed to segregation usually base their case on the belief that separate schools encourage divisiveness by propagating different and perhaps hostile cultural heritages. Both these stances are premised on the conviction that schools attended by Protestant and Catholic children are significantly different sorts of institutions, and that different activities are practised within them. Laying aside for a moment the fact that even the extent of denominationalism is unknown, no investigation has ever been conducted into the similarities and differences in practices within the two sets of schools. There is no knowledge of a systematic nature about their disciplinary practices, the functions of their principals, their extra-curricular contacts, in fact about the bread-and-butter organisations of the schools. It would appear likely that the general wooliness which has characterised the segregation debate is not unrelated to simple ignorance of practices within the segregated system. It may indeed be the case that the very lack of research on the differences actually perpetuates and exaggerates the perceived differences themselves.
This conviction that the differences and similarities must be carefully investigated has directed our research activities at every stage of the project, and led to the decision to concentrate the study on the learning experiences of Catholic and Protestant school-children within the existing segregated school systems. The main aim of the project, therefore, was to compare and contrast the operation of the two categories of schools by examining their managements committees, their disciplinary structures and their curricular and extra-curricular practices.
There is always a problem of scope with such investigations. At one end of the spectrum it might be argued that, with limited resources, only an intensive study of a single school could provide a real understanding of the dynamics of school life; at the other extreme is the view that such a restricted study would only have limited general applicability, and would give the element of interaction between schools in an area, and between schools and their community. The strategy which we adopted was to select a geographical unit - the Triangle area in the north coast of Ireland bounded by the towns of Portrush, Portstewart and Coleraine - and to conduct interviews at every level of decision-making within all 19 schools. To allow comparisons between the Triangle area and the rest of Northern Ireland the interviews were preceded by a questionnaire which was distributed to a stratified sample of primary and secondary schools throughout Northern Ireland.
It is hoped that the research findings will perform three functions: that they will fill some of the more acute gaps in the basic data which underpin the debate on segregated schooling; that they will contribute positively to the debate by permitting an assessment of the significance of denominational schooling, and by locating more precisely those aspects of the educational system which are most crucial to community relations; and that they will construct a platform upon which further systematic studies might be constructed.
(a) Roman Catholic and Protestant schools?
The main purpose of this research project was to compare the schools which are attended predominantly by Protestant children with those attended by Catholics. The problem is that there are no legally designated 'Protestant schools' or 'Roman Catholic schools' in Northern Ireland, and that some people take exception to the use of these terms. It is nevertheless true that a number of factors indicate the existence of separate denominational school systems.
The most obvious of these is the high level of denominationalism among both pupils and teachers. In 71% of the schools responding to the Education and Community questionnaire all the children came from only one of the two major religious groupings, and only one school in thirty-three had more than 5% of their pupils from a religious minority group. The teaching profession was even more polarised: only 41 of the 2,751 teachers from responding schools (1.5%) taught in schools where they were in a religious minority.
This high level of denominationalism among school pupils and teachers is reinforced by the roles adopted by clergy within schools. It is true that in all categories of schools clerics and clerical nominees represent a substantial force on management committees - in the Triangle area they constitute well over half the total membership, but in no case did a clergyman or his nominee cross the religious barrier and sit on a committee where religious persuasion formed a minority. When it came to visiting schools, clergymen demonstrated a very accurate ability to define schools primarily in religious terms; their visits to schools were frequent but rarely crossed the central religious divide.
Perhaps the most convincing demonstration of the existence of denominational school systems, at least in primary education, is its acceptance by the Education and Library Boards, which administer the system. Since few people in Northern Ireland would deny that some schools are overtly Catholic, it is not surprising that the Boards deal directly with the Roman Catholic church when a new Maintained (i.e. Roman Catholic) primary school is being planned. Less well-known, perhaps, is that when a new Controlled primary school - a state school entirely financed from public funds - has been built, the Protestant churches are asked to contribute nominees to its management committee, but the Roman Catholic church is not. It is, of course, possible that the Roman Catholic clergy would not wish to be consulted. That they are not, however, demonstrates an acceptance that Controlled Primary schools are de facto Protestant schools, and acknowledged as such by statutory bodies.
Add to these arguments - the denominational polarisation of pupils and staffs, the preponderance of denominational interests on management committees, and the acceptance of the existence of Protestant schools by Area Boards - the awareness among the parents interviewed during this project that schools were essentially separated on the basis of religion, and there is a considerable body of evidence to support the existence of denominational schools. The next step is to examine the differences between them.
(b) How different? How similar?
Some of the structural differences between Protestant and Roman Catholic schools have already been noted, notably the strong denominational bias among pupils and teachers. The operational differences, as demonstrated in the Education and Community study, appear to be concentrated in school management, school-home relationships and, to a lesser degree, discipline.
The main difference in the management of Protestant and Roman Catholic schools lies in the membership of their management committees. In particular, Protestant management committees are more representative of non-clerical influences. Very few Northern Irish schools have any teachers on their management committees, but those which do are almost invariably Protestant. Similarly with parents: it is true that those Protestant schools which are Controlled are obliged by law to have parental representatives on their committees, but it is also true that very few Roman Catholic schools have specific parents' representatives. To some extent this pattern is repeated in the broader issue of school-home relationships. In Northern Ireland in general and the Triangle area in particular Protestant schools were much more likely to have Parents' or Parent-teacher associations. Such formal relationships were not so popular in Catholic schools, although Catholic principals often stressed the relatively greater value of informal contacts with parents outside church on Sundays or in the course of preparing children for the sacraments. It may indeed be the case that it is easier to establish such contacts in the single-denominational Roman Catholic schools than in Protestant schools, where there may be three large denominational groupings. Regarding the exercise of discipline, the questionnaire returns demonstrated a greater tendency in Roman Catholic schools throughout Northern Ireland to adopt 'high level' disciplinary controls; they were more likely to use corporal punishment and to suspend pupils. The more detailed Triangle interviews, however, produced a rather different picture. Here both Catholic and Protestant schools practised corporal punishment, and no difference in emphasis was discernible. The questionnaire returns also showed that pupils were more often formally involved in the running of Protestant schools, as prefects or holding some other office. It is interesting that all these observed differences between the two school systems are associated with a higher level of formal procedures in Protestant schools, and a tendency towards more unstructured systems in Catholic schools.
Opinions about the significance of these differences will, of course, vary, but it is important to evaluate them within the context of the many similarities between the two sets of schools in their day-to-day procedures. In both school systems the educational qualifications of teachers were roughly similar; the work profiles of principals - how much they taught, the proportion of their time spent interviewing parents or in administration etc. - were almost indistinguishable; most classroom practices too are common to both systems - they stream pupils to similar extents and are equally likely to practice some form of integration within the curriculum. In addition to these similarities, principals and teachers may be interested to know that their opposition to increased parental involvement in schools and their reluctance to involve pupils in community projects is also shared by their colleagues across the religious divide.
More interesting, however, is the evidence of an acceptance by both school systems of some elements of a shared heritage. This covers quite a wide spectrum of school activities. School broadcasts and project materials, many of which deal with such value-laden areas as religion and history, are, with very minor differences, used widely by schools of both religions. The stereotyped picture of a strict split between Catholic sports like Gaelic football, hurling and camogie in Roman Catholic schools and Protestant sports like hockey, cricket and rugby in Protestant schools is far from accurate. While these sports rarely cross the religious divide, it is important to note that they are practised in only a minority of schools. Equally significant is the existence of a third group of sports which are popular in both Protestant and Catholic schools and which provide opportunities for frequent contact between them, sports like basketball, soccer and netball. Finally the notion that patterns of visits by pupils to places outside the schools might reveal different perceptions about cultural loyalties was not supported by the evidence. The Irish Republic and Britain were visited with similar frequency (or infrequency) by both sets of schools, although Protestant schools were more likely to visit the Continent; and the popularity of such venues within Northern Ireland as the Ulster Folk Museum, the Ulster Museum and the Ulster Transport Museum is of sufficient high level in all schools to suggest the existence of a shared Ulster culture.
While the project was directed towards an examination of the similarities and differences between Protestant and Roman Catholic schools, it is important to consider these in relation to other differences within the education system. Other variables emerged which cut across the religious one and which were more influential in explaining some differences between different types of schools. One of these was the secondary-level division between Grammar and Secondary schools; the greater frequency of ex-pupils' associations and graduate teachers. for example, was more marked in both Catholic and Protestant Grammar schools than in Secondary schools. An even more significant influence, however, was the dominance of the principal within both categories of schools. It is true that management committees, by selecting the principal, have considerable influence in determining the sort of person they wish to run their schools. It is also true, that, having been appointed, the principal soon becomes the major determinant of school policy. The management committee, which meets infrequently and usually confines its consideration to financial matters and appointments, rarely interferes in the school's day-to-day affairs. It also appears that staff meetings are not regarded, even by principals and teachers, as an important decision-making arena. While there is some variety between schools, most school principals regard themselves as the makers of decisions about the running of the school, and most teachers accept this situation.
(c) Contact between the schools
It is clear that there are considerable similarities in the day-to-day running of Protestant and Roman Catholic schools in Northern Ireland, but the very existence of two systems throughout the province presents a difficult question. Does the very fact of separation encourage mutual ignorance and suspicion and help to polarise attitudes? The answer, while outside the scope of this project, partly depends on the extent to which schools ensure that contact takes place across the religious divide.
The questionnaire returns revealed the existence of a high number of schools in Northern Ireland which claimed to have virtually no contacts at all with any other schools, even those within their own religious grouping. Almost a third of the responding schools did not engage in joint activities with another school, and the sharing of school facilities was minimal. The Triangle study, however, revealed some interesting differences. In the first place the level of joint activities was nigh. Pupils meet each other regularly when playing soccer, netball and other sports, and joint sports days, carol services, school outings, debating and cultural activities are quite common. Indeed, these activities appear in some respects to be more common between schools of different religions than within each religious group. This was particularly striking at primary level, where there was a marked tendency for some neighbouring Protestant and Roman Catholic schools to establish a special relationship. The characteristics of these twinned schools' are close administrative liaison, joint recreational and cultural activities and, often, unusually close relationships between the principals. The key to this relationship appears to lie in a shared sense of community, even though the schools served different religious segments of it. Nevertheless it seems unlikely that it could have developed without a deliberate decision by the principals to ensure that pupils of different religions have at least occasional opportunities to meet each other.
This concern about the possible anti-social effects of segregation was significantly more marked among principals than among assistant teachers. The most interesting explanation of this anomaly was suggested by one of the principals. He claimed that he and the other principals from the area, unlike the teachers, were in constant contact through administrative necessity and membership of common committees, and that the relationships thus established served to reduce suspicion and increase tolerance and co-operation. It is true that such close contacts between teachers were much less frequent than between their principals. No attempt was made in the project to examine the relationship between levels of cross-religious contact and levels of tolerance, so it would be premature to read too much into the suggested connection. Nevertheless the fact that a connection was perceived at all is interesting in itself.
All this adds up to a picture of much closer relationships in the Triangle area than was apparent from the questionnaire returns from all over Northern Ireland.
(d) Religion in the schools
The high level of denominationalism in school populations is reflected in the religious practices and procedures of schools. The prominence of clergy in the schools, by virtue of their membership of management committees and visits to schools, has already been noted. The questionnaire returns also demonstrate a high level of religious orthodoxy in all schools. Common religious education classes is the norm for all pupils in both Roman Catholic and Protestant schools; only 9.9% of the responding schools indicated that any pupils opted out of these classes, and in only one school did the number of pupils opting out exceed 5% of the population. This general picture was confirmed in all respects in the Triangle study. Within both systems conformity of religious practices is high.
In addition to these formal and measurable religious activities, however, it has been claimed that a major justification of separate Catholic schools is the peculiarly Catholic ethos or character which pervades them, although no one claimed a similar quality for Protestant schools. It was not part of the research design to examine this question, but the frequency with which it was raised by teachers was striking. A considerable majority of both Protestant and Roman Catholic teachers, when commenting on the differences between the two groups of schools, focused on the role of religion in Catholic schools. The difference between them was that, while Protestant teachers emphasised the level of clerical control exercised by the Roman Catholic church, Catholic teachers frequently commented favourably on the Catholic moral ethos which distinguished their schools. no Catholic teacher was able to describe this ethos, but many were convinced of its existence. Since Catholic teachers admitted almost complete ignorance of how Protestant schools operated, and hence had little basis upon which to claim peculiarity for their own schools, this would appear to be a key area for further research.
(e) As others see us
As the interviews in the Triangle area proceeded during the project, increasing emphasis was placed on the perceptions of principals, teachers and parents rather than on the more objective and more easily assembled data on the operation of schools. Three interconnected conclusions emerged from these interviews.
There is a high level of mutual ignorance about the two sets of schools. Since it is relatively rare for Protestant teachers to teach in Catholic schools, and vice versa, virtually nothing is known at first hand about the day-to-day running of the other school system.
There was also a degree of mutual suspicion, emerging in part at least from ignorance. Protestant teachers, for example, were suspicious of the influence of the Catholic clergy in schools, and Catholic teachers sometimes opposed integration, because it was regarded as a euphemism for a take-over of Catholic schools. More significant, perhaps, was the tendency for Catholic teachers to apply less favourable stereotypes to Protestant schools than Protestant teachers did to Catholic schools. From Protestant teachers references to 'priest-ridden' institutions were the most severe criticisms applied to Catholic schools. Catholic teachers, however, regarded Protestant schools as cold', 'rigid', examination orientated and unfriendly. Whether or not these judgements are accurate is another matter. The point is that they were made by the same teachers who had earlier professed almost complete ignorance of Protestant schools.
The third characteristic of the interviews with principals and teachers was a very high level of concern about the possible consequences of segregated schooling. This applied to both Roman Catholic and Protestant schools. However this concern about the effects of division did not always extend into advocacy of immediate integrated schooling. Catholic teachers were sometimes apprehensive about its possible effects on their Schools, and even the most enthusiastic integrationist recognised the problems inherent in its introduction, and only saw it as a long term prospect. But, regardless of what views were expressed about the feasibility of integration, the almost universal expressions of concern about the separate education of Protestant and Roman Catholic children was perhaps the most expressive factor to emerge from the interviews with principals and teachers.
It is important to preface any remarks about the implications of the Education and Community project by indicating its thresholds. For example, it was not possible to observe teachers and pupils during classes in the course of the project, so any assessment of classroom influences must be circumspect. Again, as the interview-based phase of the study, which discovered some of the more subtle relationships between Roman Catholic and Protestant schools, was restricted to the eighteen participating schools in the Triangle area, it is difficult to assess the extent to which its findings might apply more generally to other parts of the province. The questionnaire returns provide general guidance in this respect, but they cannot illuminate the more subtle community interactions.
What then can be said about schools in Northern Ireland? The first point is that simplistic generalities about integration of Roman Catholic and Protestant schools are inappropriate and inaccurate. Whether from conviction or pragmatism, the great majority of teachers believe that it is quite impossible to envisage it in the immediate future. Within the divided system, however, the similarities between the two sets of schools in their day-to-day operations are considerably more conspicuous than the differences and, in the Triangle area at any rate, contact between schools across the religious divide is high. Even in the Triangle, however, where community relationships are good, teachers were concerned about the institutional split between Roman Catholic and Protestant children. More constructively, this concern was frequently expressed in a willingness to improve relationships within the existing systems.
The main implication of the Education and Community study is that, whether one favours integration or not, the emphasis in the foreseeable future should be on establishing more fruitful and constructive relationships within and between the two sets of schools. There are a number of ways in which this might be advanced.
It is clear that a number of useful points of contact already exist. These are often in the competitive setting of the sports field. This is, of course, in the very nature of inter-school contacts, but care is required to ensure that children may meet in co-operative as well as competitive settings. The special relationships discovered between neighbouring 'twinned schools' of different religions may suggest that, in some small communities at least, they might become vehicles for encouraging further co-operation. There is a case, for example, for establishing common local history resource centres or encouraging joint community projects which emphasise common rather than sectarian loyalties. Indeed the question of teacher exchange a primary level, if only on a limited scale, is also a matter for consideration. Teachers' Centres too might be encouraged to investigate the possibility of adopting a social and recreational role, if local teachers express a desire for this. Regardless of its cross-religious implications, there was a suggestion from the interviews that their function was too limited.
In curriculum affairs there is also a surprisingly high level of cooperation. Both the New University of Ulster and the Queen's University of Belfast are involved in development projects in schools, which not only emphasise the common environment shared by both Roman Catholics and Protestant children in Northern Ireland, but are evolving teaching materials and approaches in the general curricular area of social studies and the humanities. Perhaps more remarkable is the acceptance of a common Religious Education curriculum in the Northern Ireland G.C.E. syllabus. The subject which still excites most emotion is history, and there is a case for building on the work started by the Northern Ireland Public Records Office and producing history-teaching materials, including textbooks, which focus on Northern Ireland and local studies and which would be acceptable in all schools. The initiative for such a move might come from the Inspectorate, the G.C.E. History panel or history teachers themselves. The project suggests that the atmosphere may be right for an initiative.
The willingness to improve relationships between schools also had administrative implications. In June 1977 Lord Melchett, the minister responsible for education in Northern Ireland. established the principle that 'reorganisation (i.e. of secondary schools) should not create or perpetuate barriers against integrated education'. This is clearly a welcome, though negative, attempt to prevent the two systems drawing further apart. The level of concern expressed by teachers about the effects of segregation suggests the need for a more positive lead in the direction of cooperation and closer relationships. For example, there are indications that nursery education and sixth-form education - the two age groups on the boundaries of compulsory schooling - offer specific possibilities for common education. Attitudes appear to be less intransigent at these levels than at primary or secondary levels. Segregation in nursery schools has not yet become institutionalised, although there are signs that it is moving in that direction. Sixth forms are currently segregated, but the debate on comprehensive education has suggested quite a high level of flexibility from the churches, and a willingness to discuss the possibility of integrated sixth-form colleges in some districts. It is likely that, in the absence of a positive initiative to prevent it, both these segments of the education system will drift, through a combination of tradition and inertia, towards more rigid denominationalism. It is not suggested that this initiative should be generally applied. Indeed, just as it is accepted that a uniformly imposed model of comprehensive schooling would be inappropriate to Northern Ireland's circumstances, so any move to moderate the effects of the present high level of denominationalism must take account of both regional variations and the varying levels of segregation which exist at the different stages of a child's education.
Whatever type of initiative is introduced, it must be accompanied by research and development projects. It is important to establish whether the relatively close contacts between schools in the Triangle are a consequence of the area's good community relations or its demographic structure. It is important to discover whether this picture is peculiar to the Triangle, or operates in many other parts of the province. However, there is enough encouragement in the Education and Community study to suggest the introduction of experimental projects in particular areas which would build on existing relationships and explore means of improving them.
The time is appropriate for an initiative by the Department of Education which takes notice of the concerns expressed by the teachers in the survey, and supports efforts whereby they may be advanced.
The problems of Northern Ireland are not amenable to simple solutions and must be examined and understood from a number of positions and in a number of contexts. This research report looks closely at an area of growing interest and concern, that is the contribution that the two schools systems might make to the promotion of inter-community understanding and co-operation.
The report builds to some extent on an earlier research published as 'Schools Apart?', and two of the authors of that work are associated with this new report. The major findings of the first report were:
This report is made up of this foreword, five chapters and a set of appendices. Chapter one introduces the project and sets the scene; chapters two and three contain descriptions of the data collected; chapter four is an analysis of this data; and chapter five is a short summary of recommendations for action. The appendices contain a short report on the activities in this area being carried out by other bodies, and a set of case studies of some projects that have taken place or are currently taking place.
We are grateful to Mary Connolly, Donna Breen, Vivian Kerr and Joe McCormack for providing us with these appendices since they provide a set of interesting and contrasting examples of ways in which progress can be made.
The report does not include a literature or research survey. This was a decision made in order to try to keep the report as short as possible. However such a survey has been written and a copy can be had from the authors.
Our thanks are due to the Department of Education Northern Ireland, who provided the funding, and in particular to Donald Davidson for all his help and advice. In order to ensure that we had access to counsel and help from as many interested groups as possible a liaison committee was established with the following membership:
This committee met regularly and we are extremely grateful to all members for their time and patience and help.
Finally our thanks are due to Dorothy Dallas for her expertise with the word-processor.
In Northern Ireland there are two quite distinct sets of schools with differing managerial systems and almost completely separate constituencies. This separation arose from the desire of the churches to control their own schools. For ease of discussion, and because it is true in practical terms, we will refer to these as Catholic schools and Protestant schools, although officially they are called maintained schools and controlled schools. (This picture is complicated slightly by the existence of a third set of Voluntary, mainly grammar, schools some of which are Catholic and some Protestant).
However, because of the peculiar overlap in Northern Ireland between religion and politics, this separation is often thought to have consequences that are not simply religious. In particular the relationship between this dual system and the general community life of the province is repeatedly raised. This often takes the form of a claim that an integration of the two systems would help to integrate the communities and so help to reduce conflict. The extent to which this claim is true is probably impossible to decide, finally, but the discussion is hampered by the fact that there have been very few attempts by social scientists to investigate the issue in any systematic way. As might be expected this lack of evidence one way or the other has not been an effective barrier to comment or political rhetoric, or even to attempts at intervention: but the shortage of studies continues to be an obstacle to a more effective understanding of the problem.
In 1977 the report 'Schools Apart' (Darby, J. et al.,(1)) was published. This was a research paper based on a project funded by the Ford Foundation and carried out at the New University of Ulster. The research had two main strategies. The first was to collect information about the complete school system in the province, using a postal questionnaire and a stratified random sample of schools. The second was to look in some detail at one single geographical unit within the province, and to conduct interviews with as many people as possible from all levels of the educational system within this unit. The first strategy allowed the research to fill gaps in the basic data about the system, and, for example, made it clear that there was little or no overlap between the two sets of schools. The second strategy involved an examination of the degree and level of relationships between the two school systems within one defined community. Among other intentions, it was hoped that this work would construct a platform upon which further systematic studies might be built.
Aims of this Research
The research which this paper reports began in January, 1983. Its first and most general purpose was to design and carry out an empirical field-study into relationships among schools within Northern Ireland's segregated educational system. It was designed to build on and develop from the insights and themes uncovered by 'Schools Apart?'. For this reason it is called 'Schools Together?', and two of the authors of the earlier report are also associated with this one. Schools Apart had described two relevant and important points of view about Northern Ireland's schools. The first was "a very high level of concern about the possible consequences of segregated schooling"(p 73); the second was that integrated education was not a likely or even a possible option in the foreseeable future.
The consequence of the coexistence of these two views was, we felt, that concern about the effects of segregation should begin with the actual existence of two sets of schools, accept them as such, and try to develop strategies for examining and encouraging co-operation between them. Since it appeared that integration was unlikely, this approach might begin to ameliorate the social effects of separation. In order to do this effectively research was needed into existing patterns of co-operation among schools. The mechanism of inter-school relationships was therefore a main concern of the research. It was our hope that we could consider a variety of questions relating to a large number of variables within the system. These included the role of the various individuals and bodies crucially involved with schools such as teachers, principals, parents, management committees, and so on. we also wished to examine the role of other community institutions which overlapped with, or had close relations with, the educational system. Finally we wished to try to be clear about the possible roles of government and of local authority in this area.
The methodology used in Schools Apart had two main strategies. The first involved a postal questionnaire to a large sample of Northern Ireland Schools: the second was a close and detailed study of all the schools in one community. In the end it was clear that the community study aspect had been the more valuable part of the work. The Schools Apart study had two limitations:
The main research instrument to be used was the semi-structured interview, which had proved its appropriateness in the Schools Apart study. A number of interview schedules were prepared for specific target groups including school principals, teachers, parents, school-governors, and representatives of other community institutions. They were constructed in such a way that, while ensuring that the necessary range of issues was covered, they were also flexible enough to allow for the emergence of unexpected ones. It was also necessary to use, on a local basis, a variety of short questionnaires and check-lists so that background information could be recorded efficiently.
This research has helped to identify some of the conditions and practices which encourage or prevent closer inter-school co-operation. These may be summarised briefly.
(a) In all four districts examined, the level of contact between schools was low. The insularity applied within the two religious groups as well as between them, and reflects the nature of institutions as well as sectarian suspicion. Grammar schools were more likely to co-operate than any other category of schools.
(b) As in the earlier 'Schools Apart?' project, teachers were almost unanimous in expressing concern for the effects of educational divisions and support for closer co-operation between Catholic and Protestant schools.
(c) There was widespread ignorance about how closer co-operation might be accomplished.
(d) The cutback in educational spending was often regarded as one of the more serious obstacles to initiating programmes of co-operation.
(e) The time is propitious for encouraging educational co-operation: Teachers are willing to become involved; the Department of Education has been supportive; the area boards have recently become active, and two have already developed a policy on the matter; the NICED Primary Guidelines, and the 11-16 review are going on at primary and secondary levels. All of this suggests that circumstances have rarely been more promising for an initiative to improve co-operation between schools.
To convert these promising circumstances into action the following recommendations are made:
1. Raise consciousness.
The research data suggests strongly that many teachers are open to encouragement towards co-operation, but lack the expertise and resources. The interviews by our researcher were themselves sufficient to promote initiatives between schools in two of the four districts under study. The more systematic provision of information on how to initiate projects, would be likely to encourage activity. Some examples of the kind of information that might be provided is given in the appendix of this report.
2. Encourage Co-operation
Consciousness raising would have a limited effect without a more determined initiative. While our research was an unconscious catalyst, consideration should be given to how such an effect might be achieved consciously. The research suggests the need for help on two fronts. First the provision of written material such as guidelines and regular news-bulletins containing case-histories, suggestions for action, advice about how to begin, warnings about pitfalls, and so on. This might be done through NICED, and some subject committees might be encouraged to build in a community relations dimension to the curriculum reviews. Second the provision of resources, mainly in the form of manpower, but also for such expressed needs as transport. The secondment of teachers through the Area Boards and Maintained Schools Committee, funded by the Department, might be one means of achieving this. As well, where schools propose a program of regular co-operation this should be reflected in their staffing allocation.
3. A Process for Encouraging Co-operation.
A process should be established by which different elements in the educational process - DENI, area boards, the churches, teachers, parents, and others - can contribute towards the longer term encouragement of co-operation. A single research project and its recommendations will have little effect on practice. Our recommendation therefore is that the Department of Education assume responsibility for the initiation and overall management of a more structured and long-term system of encouragement and enablement of inter-school, and in-school, co-operation.
4. An experiment in Cooperation
It must be stressed that this project had limited and modest objectives. Its main aim was to chart and review the extent and forms of cooperation between schools in four districts within the province. There was no intention to try to encourage schools to co-operate, nor to affect their behaviour in any way.
Nevertheless, as with all interview-based research, some unexpected findings emerged. One of these was the high level of interest in school cooperation which was expressed by teachers in all districts. Another was the evidence that this interest was more than rhetorical. The very arrival of our researcher into schools, asking questions about the frequency and forms of cross-schools contact, was enough to spark off at least two projects between schools in two different towns.
This combination of concern among teachers and the incidental effect of consciousness being raised by an external catalyst provides a very promising springboard for examining ways in which cross-religious cooperation might be encouraged. Motivation among teachers is high, but is frustrated by the pressures of the timetable and scarce resources. The time is right for an initiative which sets out deliberately to encourage the latent interest which has been identified in this study.
Our final proposal is: