Centre for the Study of Conflict
School of History, Philosophy and Politics,
Faculty of Humanities, University of Ulster
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Breaking The Mould: The Roles of Parents and Teachers in the Integrated Schools in Northern Ireland
by Valerie Morgan, Seamus Dunn, Ed Cairns and Grace Fraser
Out of Print
Breaking The Mould:
|2.||Context and Background|
|3.||The Development of the Integrated School Movement in Northern Ireland|
|4.||Methodology of the Project|
|5.||The Integrated Schools in Operation at the time of the Project|
|8.||Relationships between Parents and Teachers|
The Centre for the Study of Conflict welcomes this latest addition to its corpus of work on the role of education in a divided society. It is particularly grateful to Grace Fraser, the researcher on this project, and to Valerie Morgan who worked closely with her in all of the work, especially in the production of this final report.
We are also grateful to ESRC for funding the work, and to the principals and staffs, and many of the parents, associated with the integrated schools of Northern Ireland. Their cooperation and encouragement at all times were of great value to the work.
Before publishing a research report, the Centre for the Study of Conflict submits it to members of a panel of external referees. The current membership of the External Advisory Board comprises:
Dr Halla Beloff, Department of Psychology, University of Edinburgh;
Dr Paul Brennan, UER Des Pays Anglophones, University of Paris III;
Professor Ronnie Buchanan, Institute of Irish Studies, Queen's University Belfast;
Professor Kevin Boyle, Centre for the Study of International Human Rights Law, University of Essex;
Professor John Fulton, School of Education, Queen's University Belfast;
Dr Richard Jenkins, Department of Social Anthropology, University College Swansea;
Dr Peter Lemish, Department of Education, University of Haifa;
Professor Ron McAllister, College of Arts and Sciences, Boston, USA;
Dr Dominic Murray, Department of Education, University College Cork;
Professor James O'Connell, School of Peace Studies, University of Bradford;
Professor John Rex, Centre for Research in Ethnic Studies, University of Warwick;
Professor Peter Stringer, Centre for Social Research, Queen's University Belfast;
Professor Joseph Thompson, Department of Politics, University of Villanova, Pennsylvania.
Director, Centre for the Study of Conflict
The establishment, during the last decade, of a number of planned integrated schools in Northern Ireland has been one of the most important structural changes in the Northern Ireland education system since the foundation of the state (Dunn & Morgan, 1988). In a wider context these schools represent one manifestation of the upheavals and conflict which have dominated life in Northern Ireland for over twenty years. (Darby, 1976; Dunn, 1986b; Moxon-Browne, 1983).
The Centre for the Study of Conflict in the University of Ulster was initially established to record and investigate all aspects of local social conflict. The remit of the Centre has subsequently widened and taken on an international dimension. It was natural, therefore, that the Centre should, over many years, have taken a prominent part in attempting to analyse and understand the role of education in a divided society (Dunn, 1986a; Dunn & Smith, 1989b; Gallagher, 1989).
Against this background, and because they reflected the existence of social division, academics from the Centre took an interest in the development of the integrated schools from the outset. At first this posed problems since the schools were very new, few in number and small in size, and because there was a fear amongst some of those directly involved with their establishment that research interventions could be harmful or even dangerous. By 1987, when the formal proposals for this and other related studies were initiated, this phase seemed to have passed. There were then seven planned integrated schools (two secondary and five primary) and the researchers were aware of the danger that if investigations were not initiated quickly much information about the early stages of the integrated school movement might be lost. (Dunn & Darby, 1987; Cairns et al, 1989).
A group of academics connected with the Centre for the Study of Conflict, therefore, initiated a series of investigations of the integrated schools. These covered aspects of the founding and management of the school; the involvement of teachers, parents and other groups (such as the churches) in their development; the evolution of the curriculum; and the effects of integrated education on the attitudes of the pupils. This particular study (funded by ESRC) was designed to investigate the roles of parents and teachers in the foundation and subsequent running of the integrated schools. It arose out of a long period of consultation with a number of teachers, parents and other individuals some of whom had been involved with the movement for integrated education from its inception and many of whom had been active in the founding and running of specific schools. Without their co-operation and generous provision of time and information, the project would not have been feasible.
The Aims of the Project
The overall aim of the investigation was 'to examine the roles of parents and teachers in the establishment and running of the set of planned integrated schools which have been established and are in the process of being established in Northern Ireland'.
Under the umbrella of this general aim a number of more specific issues were identified, and these have provided the framework for the actual research. They included:
We have tried to keep all these objectives clearly in view throughout the project. Inevitably, as the empirical work progressed, it became clear that some of the issues initially identified are more significant than others, and this is reflected in the balance of the report. The last three years have also been a period of rapid educational change, both in the general education scene in Northern Ireland and further afield, and also in the specific area of integrated schools. This has meant that new factors, such as the impact of the provisions relating to integrated schools in the Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, had to be incorporated into the investigation and subsequently included in the report (DENI, 1988; DENI, 1990; HMSO, 1989).
The final structure of the report represents an attempt to organise the data collected in a way which reflects what we believe are the central issues concerning the involvement and interaction of parents and teachers in the integrated schools. After a short discussion of the historical background to the development of integrated schools, and a description of the methodology of the study, we have divided the main body of the report into three sections. In these we examine in turn the information we gained from parents, from teachers and about relationships between the two groups. The final part of the study examines a number of issues which we believe will be crucial to the future development of the integrated schools in Northern Ireland. Several of these can only be tentatively identified now, and will have to be investigated through further research over the next few years if their significance, both for education in Northern Ireland and also in a wider UK context, is to be fully understood.
The Northern Ireland school system is clearly related to that operating in other parts of the United Kingdom, but it has a number of distinct features some of which are crucial to this study. A brief discussion of the structure of educational provision in Northern Ireland and an outline of its historical development, therefore, seems appropriate.
Until the establishment of Northern Ireland, in 1922, the six counties which now constitute Northern Ireland shared in the general system of Irish education based on the National School system. This structure had evolved during the nineteenth century out of government initiated attempts to provide a system of general, free, elementary education which would cater for both Protestant and Roman Catholic pupils on an equal basis in jointly organised schools. In some areas this plan had met with initial success but, during the later part of the nineteenth century, the various churches fought for and gained increasing control of education and denominational schooling came to predominate in almost all parts of Ireland (Akenson, 1970: O'Buachalla 1988).
The Northern Irish state, therefore, inherited an education system which consisted of a network of elementary schools serving the whole country but almost totally segregated on denominational lines between Protestants and Roman Catholics. In addition there were a limited number of secondary schools providing a ‘grammar school’ form of education. These were mainly fee-paying schools and were usually either long established charitable foundations (such as the Royal group of schools) or religious foundations, established and staffed by members of religious orders. Again almost all these schools took either all Protestant or all Roman Catholic pupils.
Initial attempts were made, during the first few years of the state’s existence, to establish new educational structures which might serve the whole community, but in the context of a state whose very existence was questioned by a substantial minority it is hardly surprising that there was little will for compromise on either side. The 1920’s and 30’s saw a number of bitter controversies over education which left Northern Ireland with an almost totally segregated education system and gave the churches a very powerful voice in the organisation and management of schools. Post-war developments, including the 1947 Education Act, which closely paralleled the 1944 ‘Butler’ Education Act, affected many areas of funding, curriculum and resource provision but left the religious divide untouched (Akenson, 1973; Dunn,1990; Darby, 1978; Farren, 1976).
Religion, or more accurately differences between religious denominations, has clearly been a major force shaping the present structure of education in Northern Ireland. But politics and religion have been inextricably linked for centuries in Ireland and, therefore, the present schools reflect the outcome of a long series of political and cultural as well as religious controversies. Added to these divisions have been arguments and compromises linked to class, gender and local interests. In particular selection of pupils at the end of primary education for either ‘grammar’ or secondary’ schools still exists over most of Northern Ireland. This is known as the ‘qualifying procedure’ and is currently based on two 50 minute verbal reasoning tests which are taken during the autumn term of the final year of primary schooling. Until recently, a small number of unqualified fee-paying pupils were accepted by many ‘grammar schools. Single sex primary schools remain in many urban areas and at secondary level single sex schools have only recently ceased to be in the majority. The scattered population and largely rural character of much of Northern Ireland, when combined with all the divisions already discussed, produces a large number of very small schools. The result is an education system which although small in the state’s existence, to establish new educational structures which might serve the whole community, but in the context of a state whose very existence was questioned by a substantial minority it is hardly surprising that there was little will for compromise on either side. The 1920’s and 30’s saw a number of bitter controversies over education which left Northern Ireland with an almost totally segregated education system and gave the churches a very powerful voice in the organisation and management of schools. Post-war developments, including the 1947 Education Act, which closely paralleled the 1944 ‘Butler’ Education Act, affected many areas of funding, curriculum and resource provision but left the religious divide untouched (Akenson, 1973; Dunn,1990; Darby, 1978; Farren, 1976).
Religion, or more accurately differences between religious denominations, has clearly been a major force shaping the present structure of education in Northern Ireland. But politics and religion have been inextricably linked for centuries in Ireland and, therefore, the present schools reflect the outcome of a long series of political and cultural as well as religious controversies. Added to these divisions have been arguments and compromises linked to class, gender and local interests. In particular selection of pupils at the end of primary education for either ‘grammar’ or secondary’ schools still exists over most of Northern Ireland. This is known as the ‘qualifying procedure’ and is currently based on two 50 minute verbal reasoning tests which are taken during the autumn term of the final year of primary schooling. Until recently, a small number of unqualified fee-paying pupils were accepted by many ‘grammar’ schools. Single sex primary schools remain in many urban areas and at secondary level single sex schools have only recently ceased to be in the majority. The scattered population and largely rural character of much of Northern Ireland, when combined with all the divisions already discussed, produces a large number of very small schools. The result is an education system which although small in
overall size displays a complex series of divisions between Roman Catholic and Protestant, Grammar and Secondary and girls and boys (Darby, et al 1977; Darby, 1978; Dunn, 1986b; Cairns, 1987; Dunn & Darby, 1987; Gallagher, 1989).
One side effect of this complexity is that a number of the terms frequently used to describe types of schools are also likely to be unfamiliar to educationalists outside Northern Ireland, and the table below is an attempt to clarify the structure. The integrated schools have deliberately been omitted from this analysis as their position is discussed in detail in the next section:-
School Management Types
|Controlled||Under the direct control of the Area Education and Library Boards (the equivalent of Local Authorities).|
|Intake almost exclusively Protestant.|
|Maintained||Church controlled but linked to the Area Education and Library Boards.|
|Intake almost exclusively Roman Catholic.|
|Voluntary||Under the direct control of the Department of Education of Northern Ireland (DENI) rather than the Area Education Boards - may or may not also have a close church connection.|
|Intake usually either all Roman Catholic or all Protestant, though there is a little mixing within individual schools.|
Features of Primary schools
Features of Second-level schools
a. Secondary schools (formerly called Intermediate schools)
b. Grammar schools
c. Comprehensive schools
it is difficult to trace precisely the origins of the integrated school movement since it began in a rather nebulous and informal way. From the early days of the ‘troubles’ in the late 1960’s questions had been asked about whether the segregated education system contributed in any way to community division. This was a period when simple solutions could still be postulated and there were those who suggested that if children from the two communities went to school together they would be less likely to shoot one another when they grew up. Against this it was argued that the conflict was rooted in religious, economic, social and political divisions and that education was a manifestation of division rather than a cause (Whyte, 1983; Dunn 1986b).
During the early 1970’s there were a number of more systematic analyses of the potential social impact of education in a divided society. Funded school-based projects were established which looked at ways in which children from the two communities could be encouraged to think about their differences. These included the Schools Cultural Studies Project and the Religion in Ireland Project which were curriculum projects, strongly affected by reconstructionist models of education and the ideas of John Dewey. These were particularly influenced by Malcolm Skilbeck, who was at the time Professor of Education in the New University of Ulster and who for a short period had a considerable impact on educational thinking in Northern Ireland (Robinson, 1987). At the same time a number of psychologically based studies which had more indirect educational implications were carried out. In some of these the attitudes of young people from the two communities were analysed and in others the impact of violence on children was assessed (Harbison, 1980; Cairns, 1987). At a slightly later date more empirical data, relating to the actual levels of interaction between schools across the community divide, were collected and analysed in a series of studies based in the Centre for the Study of Conflict (Darby, 1977; Dunn, 1989a; Dunn & MulIan, 1984; Dunn & Smith, 1989; Smith & Dunn, 1990).
It is difficult to assess the practical impact of these academic studies but they did provide a background against which debate about the role of education began to be more widespread. Out of this growing general awareness informal pressure began to be exerted by groups of parents who felt instinctively that separation must be damaging to their children. Much of the initial work was done by individuals and very small groups meeting informally in private houses and the contribution of a few very committed people was crucial.
Many of these individuals and informal groups came together in 1974 when the All Children Together Movement (ACT) was founded. This was a pressure group which initially sought to lobby for change in the existing school system. They hoped to persuade parents, the churches and political leaders that the segregated school system was contributing to poor community relations. They felt that some existing schools could be persuaded to change themselves into integrated schools, and used as evidence to support this belief the series of opinion polls which indicated that there was a considerable body of opinion in Northern Ireland in favour of some form of integration. In the event, however, it proved very difficult to persuade any existing schools to even consider converting to integrated status. The churches were firmly opposed, even those who had made some tentative noises about integration, and there were legal problems (Dunn, et al 1989c).
The mid-seventies were not an auspicious period for initiatives in community relations. The level of violence was high, direct rule from Westminster had been imposed, the attempt at a power-sharing executive, established in the wake of the Sunningdale Agreement, had collapsed after the Ulster Worker’s Council Strike. The communities appeared to be becoming more polarised, and the hopes of success for any pressure group, especially one interested in a structural change as profound as modifying the basis of the education system, looked very slight. It is probably true to suggest that at this stage most people involved in education felt that ACT was unlikely to make much progress and would probably not survive long. It seemed like another ‘gesture movement which would attract publicity for a time and then, as it failed to achieve anything tangible, would fade away (Darby, 1976).
But some of the founder members of ACT were much more persistent than anyone in the churches, the political parties or the civil service could have envisaged. By the late 1970’s, when it became clear that no existing schools were likely to try to become integrated, ACT decided to establish such a school itself. Over a period of several years they set about raising money, negotiating the complexities of planning and safety regulations, finding temporary premises, employing staff and meeting the requirements of education legislation.
In September 1981, Lagan College was opened to a blaze of publicity. Lagan was followed by a primary school in south Belfast, Forge Primary and by two schools in the north of the city, Hazelwood College (secondary) and Hazelwood Primary. The question of the rate of growth of the integrated school movement, and how quickly new schools should be opened, began to cause difficulties during the mid 1980’s and a new organisation, BELTIE (the Belfast Trust for Integrated Education) was established by some former members of ACT. Whilst ACT favoured a gradual expansion of integrated schools and was anxious that Lagan and Forge should become firmly established and prove their viability before other schools opened, BELTIE supported a faster expansion policy, feeling that the integrated schools needed to make a rapid impact in as many areas of Northern Ireland as possible. In the event the opening of schools has gone on at a rate which is probably intermediate between the ambitions of ACT and BELT IE. Outside Belfast all the schools have been at the primary level and they have developed out of local initiatives with little central planning and often tenuous, or even non-existent, organisational links with either ACT or BELTIE.
This development history has raised a number of issues about the structure of the integrated school movement itself and its interactions with other organisations. A few of those closely connected with some individual schools favour a high level of autonomy for each school and resist the idea that there is an integrated school ‘movement’ at all. Others are anxious that there should be a coherent structure through which the schools can negotiate as a group with government departments, founding bodies and the churches. Supporters of this view have been instrumental in establishing NICIE (the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education) but there are still some problems and not all the schools are linked to NICIE (Dunn, 1989c).
Although the structure of education in Northern Ireland is complex, with controlled, maintained and voluntary schools, a set of relationships between the Department of Education, the local Education and Library Boards, the churches and the teaching unions have been established over the years, and these work relatively smoothly. The integrated schools had no such established relationships and have had to try to negotiate their position with each of these groups, and also with the major charitable trusts who have played a vital role in providing initial funding. Each school has been established by a group of parents and their local supporters. This group has had to set up what is essentially a private or independent school. The finance for buildings, salaries and running costs has had to be raised form a combination of local efforts, major grants and interest free loans from large charitable foundations (such as the Nuffield Foundation and the Rowntree Charitable Trust). Only when a school is established and has proved its ‘viability’, as evidenced by a sizable enrolment and evidence of preschool children on a waiting list, can negotiations about taking the school into the state system begin. In each case to date, protracted individual negotiations have been necessary, and the schools have had to support themselves for several years until these negotiations are successfully completed. When DENI accepts a school into the system the school buildings are purchased from the local group by DENI and the school is eligible for payment of 100% of its running costs (salaries, maintenance, consumables) and 85% of capital costs (new buildings and major equipment).
Several of the school support services such as routine maintenance, advisory support, individual music tuition and the library service are provided by the Education and Library Boards and the integrated schools have had to negotiate with the relevant Board for their areas about the provision of these services. The responses of the Boards have varied and whilst some have been supportive others have been less helpful. The churches and the political parties have in general been reluctant to become involved at all. Any support has been tacit rather than overt and there has been some direct criticism of the schools. For example, the Roman Catholic church has made public its support for its own church schools and has raised questions about the religious education and preparation for the sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation provided in the integrated schools. From a quite different quarter there have also been indirect attacks from fundamentalist Protestant clergy, pointing to the dangers of ecumenism posed by the schools. In addition the teaching unions have a adopted a rather equivocal position; they have expressed general support for the concept of integrated education but have raised questions about the need for schools in specific locations and have also raised the issue of the threat to teaching posts in existing schools posed by the opening of a new school in a town. Overall the integrated schools have had considerable difficulties as they have tried to establish a position within the education structure of Northern Ireland and in many areas these difficulties are not yet resolved (McGaffin, 1987).
The Education Reform Order (the equivalent of the Education Reform Act in England and Wales) came into effect after this research began, but some of the Orders provisions are likely to have a major effect on the development of integrated schools (HMSO, 1989). The Minister of Education has indicated that he wishes to support the establishment of integrated schools ‘where this is the wish of parents’. This support will take the form of measures to make the initial funding of the schools easier, 100% funding for capital projects and priority in the allocation of capital funds. It is too early to say yet whether these moves will have a major effect on the spread of integrated education. What is clear, however, is that any attempt to change existing structures within the fragile political context of Northern Ireland is problematic. The Roman Catholic hierarchy have challenged, in the High Court, the provisions in the Reform order for the financial support of integrated schools and although this has failed in law, feelings of grievance remain. Some supporters of integrated education themselves have misgivings about the increase in government support, on the grounds that a considerable part of the movement’s early success was related to its obvious independence and separateness from any organisations which could be identified with either side of the community. There are fears that closer links with DENI could be interpreted as a lessening of this independence.
It will already be clear from the previous section that many of the issues surrounding the establishment and current operation of the integrated schools are extremely complicated and potentially sensitive in political terms. Research which seeks to investigate such areas, in a community as deeply and dangerously divided as Northern Ireland, faces difficulties which inevitably affect the choice of methodology. The research sought to examine how individual parents and teachers became connected with the schools, what they have actually done, how it has affected their lives and relationships and how they hope integrated schooling will develop. Answers to questions of this sort involve disclosing personal views and commitments, and in the Northern Ireland context, this can be threatening both for the researcher and the subject of the research.
The use of questionnaires could have had the advantage of formal anonymity but it would have been difficult to design a questionnaire which would have produced sufficiently detailed information and still been manageable. Discussions with groups involved with integrated schooling during the design of the research also indicated that there would be hostility to questionnaires, particularly amongst parents and that the response rate would probably be low. On the other hand it was felt that individuals would be willing to talk about things which they would not be prepared to write down and that an ethnographic approach would be productive (Smith, 1978; Ball, 1983).
We decided, therefore, that all information would be collected on a personal basis, either through attendance at meetings or through semi-structured personal interviews Dexter, 1970; Seldon, 1983; Moyser, 1987; Haplin, 1990). This procedure was inevitably time consuming and was one of the main reasons for the decision to concentrate investigation on three of the schools - one secondary and two primaries. Initial contact was made with all the schools to explain the project, and the research officer maintained links with all but one of the schools throughout the project. One school did not wish to have any links with the project or the research officer, feeling that research at this point would be counter-productive. However, the main focus of the work was on three identified schools. There were only eight schools in operation when the project began, ten throughout most of its life and twelve during the final report writing phase and each one was distinctive in some way. This meant that the choice of sample could not hope to produce a set of ‘typical’ integrated schools since no such thing exists. In the end the choice was based on judgment and a degree of pragmatism. We needed a primary and a secondary school, schools in urban and less urban environments, a range of social and demographic contexts and the support of the parents and teachers.
In each of the three schools the project was explained to a meeting of parents and also to a meeting of teachers. Attendance at meetings of the parent’s councils (the main forum for the parents to express their views and comment on school policy) was negotiated and appointments for interviews with individual parents and teachers were set up. Inevitably the interviews presented some problems. In the case of the teachers the numbers were small enough (thirty five), for the research officer to be able to contact them all. It would, however, have been impossible to interview all the parents, and so a selection had to be made. Given the problems previously outlined about approaching people and asking them to take part in a study of this sort, picking a random sample and then either writing to individuals to ask for an interview or turning up at their homes to ask them to take part in an interview, did not seem appropriate. The strategy used was for the research officer to attend parents’ meetings and make contacts at these meetings. These contacts were usually willing to take part in interviews themselves and were also able to arrange introductions to other parents who could also be asked to take part. Whilst this procedure could not produce a random sample, we believe that, with time, patience and the establishment of an extensive range of personal contacts, we were able to reach a wide range of parents and build up sufficient trust to enable us to obtain extensive and very detailed interviews with a representative spectrum of parents associated with the three case study schools. In all fifty parents were contacted and interviewed in this way.
All the interviews were carried out by the research officer. This was partially to ensure comparability and also because she built up a network of contacts which enabled parents and teachers to have confidence in her. The interviews were based on a semi-structured format to ensured that a range of topics were covered in each interview, though the order in which issued were raised varied depending on the ways interviewees responded. A small number of trial interviews were carried out to establish the best conditions and format for respondents and to get some idea of the time needed.
The semi-structured format used with parents and teachers was basically similar although some of the actual areas discussed were different because of the differing concerns of the two groups.
The interviews with parents raising the following issues and questions:
The interviews with teachers raised the following issues and questions:
On the basis of the trial interviews it was decided that the outline was appropriate but that it was necessary to allow considerable flexibility in the order in which questions and issues emerged or were raised. In addition a conscious choice was made not to tape the interviews since the research officer found the tape recorder intrusive and off-putting for some respondents. Instead notes were taken during the interview and a report written immediately on returning to the project office. All the reports were filed on computer and a hard copy was circulated to the other members of the project team as soon as it was available. The most recent interviews reports were then discussed on a weekly basis. The average time needed per interview was about two hours, plus a period for setting the scene and winding up, so a total of three hours was allowed for each interview. Almost all interviews with parents were carried out in parents own homes and most frequently during the evening, since this proved more convenient for the respondents and allowed us to interview more working parents. In a few cases the parents preferred to come to the integrated school for the interview and in these cases an office or the staff room was made available. The teachers were all interviewed at school, in the staff room, in their classroom or in the school office. These interviews took place during non-teaching periods, at lunch time or after school. In some cases time needed, and the constraints of teachers timetable, meant that an interview had to spread over two sessions. At all times parents and teachers were extremely helpful, they gave a great deal of their time, took considerable interest in the project and answered question with a level of detail considerably greater than we had anticipated. We thank them all for their co-operation and the insights they provided for us.
At this stage a certain amount of factual information about the integrated schools themselves seems necessary. The following list gives details of all the schools which had opened by the date when the project ended.
|a.||Lagan College - founded 1981
South Belfast - Castlereagh
Secondary school. Age range 11 - 16 until the 1989-90 academic year. A sixth form was established in 1990-91.
|b.||Hazelwood College - founded 1985
North Belfast - Whitewell Road
Secondary school. Age range 11 - 16, no sixth form as yet but it is expected that one will be established in the next few years.
|c.||Forge Primary School - founded 1985
South Belfast - Malone
Primary school, with nursery provision until 1989.
|d.||Hazelwood Primary School - founded 1985
North Belfast - Whitewell Road
Primary school with nursery provision
|e.||All Children’s Primary School - founded 1986
Newcastle, County Down
Primary school with nursery provision
|f.||Bridge Primary School - founded 1987
Banbridge, County Down
|g.||Mill Strand Primary School - founded 1987
Portrush, County Antrim
Primary school with nursery provision.
|h.||Windmill Primary School - founded 1988
Dungannon, County Tyrone
Primary school with nursery provision
|i.||Braid Primary School - founded 1989
Ballymena, County Antrim
Primary school with nursery provision.
|j.||Enniskillen Primary School - founded 1989
Enniskillen - County Fermanagh
Primary school with nursery provision
|k.||Portadown Primary School - founded 1990
Portadown, County Armagh
|I.||Omagh Primary School founded 1990
Omagh, County Tyrone.
There are plans for further schools to open in time for the 1991-1992 schools year in London/Derry and Lame. The Larne School will be a primary school, but there is discussion about the possible establishment of an integrated secondary school as well as a primary school in London/Derry.
The three case-study schools were selected from the list given above, but we gave an undertaking to parents and teachers at the outset that no places or individuals would be identified. We have, therefore, tried to ensure that anonymity is maintained and will not be giving any details which would make identification straightforward, although with such a small number it is difficult to disguise individual contexts completely. As noted in the section on methodology, the research officer visited all the schools which had opened by the 1989-90 school year except the one school which expressed serious reservations about the wisdom of research at this stage in the development of integrated education. This means that, although the research is based on a sample, it has been possible to discuss some issues in a rather more general context since information about how almost all the schools are handling certain situations or reacting to particular problems is available.
One of the central aims of the research was to gain information about the ways in which parents have contributed to the development of the integrated schools and about how their relationships with the teaching staff have evolved. A great deal of information about these two issues was obtained through the personal interviews and in order to structure this information, a number of major issues have been separated out and are examined in detail below. This does not imply that these can be neatly separated, in reality, or that all aspects of parental involvement can be fitted easily under specific headings but some format for handling the large volume of available information was needed.
Who are the parents?
Amongst the questions which are most often raised with reference to the growth of the integrated schools are ‘What sort of people are involved in setting them up?’ and ‘Who sends their children to integrated schools?’. Not only are the questions common in general social conversation but there also seem to be several general views about the answers. We were frequently told, usually by people with no connection with the schools, that ‘Its only middle class people who send their children to integrated schools’ or ‘They (the integrated schools) are for liberal intellectuals’ or ‘It’s people who couldn’t get on in the ordinary schools’.
(a) Social Class
The issue of class is a difficult one to investigate fully. In order to classify the parents of children at the schools in terms of standard social class categories, data would be needed about occupations. In the Northern Ireland context, for security reasons, people sometimes feel threatened by being asked to reveal their occupation or place of work. We, therefore, made a conscious decision not to attempt to get specific information from parents about their occupations. During the personal interviews, which were often carried out in parents’ homes, impressions were formed about the social background of individuals, and discussions with teachers and principals also contributed information in this area. From this subjective data it seems that the social mix in the schools is wide. It varies, for example, between schools, depending partially on the type of area in which they are situated. The north Belfast schools are situated in a very mixed social area and have a large number of children from working class backgrounds, whilst the south Belfast schools are in more middle class areas and consequently are likely to have a different mix. All the other schools are in small market towns, and appear to attract children - from the town and the surrounding rural areas -with a wide variety of backgrounds. Certainly the stereotype of the middle class intellectual, liberal, non-conformist as the typical integrated school parent does seem a serious over-simplification. One qualification should perhaps be entered here. Some of the parents we interviewed had fairly recently become involved with the schools, whilst others had been connected with the integrated school movement from its earliest stages. Amongst these ‘founder’ parents we did find that a high proportion were middle class and would fit some of the stereo-types much more closely than the wider body of parents currently connected with the schools.
(b) Founders and Followers
As hinted above, during the course of the research, we became aware that there were some difference between those parents who were involved in the early stages of the development of the integrated schools and those whose links with the schools began when they sent their child to an already established integrated school. These two groups might be referred to as the ‘founding’ parents and the ‘following’ parents. This distinction was found both in the organising groups, such as ACT and BELTIE, which had been responsible for the initial lobbying for integrated schools and also in the groups of parents connected with each individual school
First, the founders. Just as each of the schools is distinctive, so no two founder groups are alike. In all of them, however, we found a disproportionately high incidence of professional educators such as, teachers, lecturers, and people working in educational administration. Pioneers are rarely known for their capacity to blend into the landscape, so each school inevitably bears the particular imprint of the strong-minded individuals who set it up. But because the goal was always the same - the establishment of a new type of school in an unsupportive or even hostile environment - it was inevitable that the groups would share a significant number of characteristics.
Although research findings have indicated a reasonable measure of support in Northern Ireland for integrated education, in practice only small numbers of people have been involved in actually founding the schools (Cairns, 1989). The sizes of the founding groups range from a minimum of six or seven to a maximum of around thirty. There were a number of possible reasons for this small number, the most important being the strong element of personal contact. It would have been surprising if friends had not contacted friends of like mind or acquaintances on whom they could count to share their views on education. Northern Ireland’s population of one and a half million operates through a closely-knit series of social networks which easily accommodates this kind of interaction. In many cases the early meetings were held in private homes. In this way discussions could take place and plans could be formulated undisturbed by attention from the media or the general public. Wider interest and support were usually only canvassed when groups felt sufficiently confident to do so. The initial groups often worked together very closely over a period of months or years. They had to overcome considerable problems in negotiating with official bodies and funders and had often put in enormous amounts of their own time. These periods of ‘quiet processes’ bonded the founders together in a close fellowship of common aims and shared experiences which was to have important implications.
Not surprisingly many of them were strong personalities with deep commitments and convictions; this often meant that they had very clear views about how the schools should develop and what aims an integrated school should have. They were usually anxious to avoid appearing critical of existing schools, and restricted their comments to the divisive nature of the system which nurtured the schools. Freedom to exercise choice is fundamental to integrationists, so founder parents were unlikely to deny others the right which they claimed for themselves. Their position was, and remains, that if parents wish to send their children to maintained or controlled schools then they should be free to do so. But if others believe that educating children in segregated schools is not in the long term conducive to community harmony, then they should have the option of settling for a school system which reflects this position. That is to say, founder parents regarded integrated schools as an alternative to, not a replacement for, maintained and controlled schools. For perhaps the first time in Northern Ireland, parental choice was not to be limited to choice between two types of denominational schools. If the full exercise of choice involved establishing their own schools, ipso facto such parents were expressing dissatisfaction with an established system. The ramifications of this rejection were to reverberate far beyond the classroom.
Second, the followers. Once a school was operational and children began to be enrolled, the parent group inevitably widened, and as new parents who had not been involved in the foundation became associated with the school, tensions began to develop. On the one hand the founding parents tended to look back to the original tight group, and its struggles, with nostalgia - the period when there was ‘real’ enthusiasm. Yet at the same time they were expressing anxieties about the low level of interest shown by ‘new’ parents. They were also worried that some of their objectives might be lost as the parent group widened. The ‘new’ parents who came into the group and were faced with taking responsibility for continuing the development of the school also expressed some anxieties. They were often not sure how to get involved and felt that the original group of parents formed an inner cabinet which it was hard to penetrate, which took a lot of decisions, and which sometimes seemed to resent interference.
Many of those parents involved with the integrated schools from the very beginning have continued their association. Their presence can be easily detected in the various levels of management, in parents’ councils and their sub-committees. Because of their common background they form an identifiable group. This has had both positive and negative results, Other parents who have become involved after the opening of the schools, sometimes perceive the founder parents as a ‘clique’ who speak the same language and call each other by their first names. This can be off-putting to newcomers. At the same time the founder group can provide a sense of continuity, and can help ‘new’ parents to understand the original aims of the school. A founder parent put it this way, ‘certainly there are cliques, but at least they are directed towards helping the school’.
This tension between an ‘in’ and an ‘out’ group is familiar in many social organisations, but in a school it can be a particular problem. Normally the commitment of parents to a school is closely linked with the period of their children’s attendance at the school and so is relatively short term. If one particular group establishes a monopoly on power, there is a danger that, once their children leave and their connection is broken, there will be no-one with sufficient experience to take over. Whilst it is not yet clear whether this will happen in the integrated schools, there is some evidence that the problem may arise. Continuity might be maintained if some parents retain their connection after their children have left. But this creates its own tensions as the priorities of those with children in a school and therefore a strong personal and individual interest, and of those with less direct interest but a primary concern for the general growth of the school, may diverge quite strongly. Again it was early to say how much of a problem this might be, but there was some indirect evidence. At the level of the organising groups, ACT and BELTIE, differences sometimes developed between those who were directly connected with individual schools as either parents or teachers, and those less immediately involved who wanted to exercise a more general overview role.
All of this seems to raise the question of whether or not founder parents have a ‘shelf life’. For them it is essential that the original aims of the school should not be lost sight of. One way of ensuring this is to continue to be involved in the life of the school until it becomes apparent that the structures which have been established are functioning as they intended them to. But the question remains, at what point is the founders’ involvement in danger of becoming the founders’ interference?
(c) Experience of the ‘Troubles’
In looking at ‘who the parents were’ a further issue came up which is difficult to quantify or categorise, but which is seems appropriate to introduce at this point. The research officer carried out many of the interviews with parents in their own homes and this involved establishing personal contact so that both parties felt at ease in the situation. To do this the research officer always gave interviewees the opportunity to tell her something of their own background. This might have been expected to yield factual details about their family, education and employment, but the researcher was frequently struck by the openness and frankness of the responses. There was a willingness to reveal personal experiences and feelings which seemed striking in a society not normally given to personal discussion of sensitive issues outside a restricted circle. Later a similar phenomenon was also encountered in Parents’ Council Meetings. Although our evidence is limited, it may be that a willingness to discuss community issues and the source of community divisions is a definite and positive characteristic of many of the people associated with integrated schools.
Initially this request for background information was perceived by us as a preliminary to the main interview. However, because of the openness of the discussion, it often had direct relevance to the central issues we were investigating. Particularly striking was the number of instances in which parents referred to some personal involvement with the ‘Troubles’ (the violent events of the last twenty years in Northern Ireland) and how this had affected them. Some cited family commitments to one side or the other, and how these had affected them; a few had direct experience of the effects of violence on their family; and others had been particularly affected by their indirect experience of a specific incident. Whilst only a small minority had had direct or close experience of actual violence, all felt they had ‘experienced’ the Troubles personally. Many of them talked about how some incident had led them to think deeply about the community divisions in Northern Ireland, and to want to do something specific to fry to counter them. In the light of the view that sectarian violence polarises attitudes this was very interesting. It would seen to suggest that, for some people at least, personal experience of community division produces a counter reaction and a commitment to reconciliation. In Northern Ireland it may be difficult and dangerous to find practical ways of expressing such a view, so for some of these people the integrated schools were a relatively safe way of making a constructive statement. Many introduced an element of caution, and said that integrated education could not be a panacea; but it was for them ‘a step in the right direction’. This sense of caution was also a reflection of the number of initiatives which have been tried over the years and which have fallen by the wayside. All this is clearly linked to why parents have chosen to send their children to integrated schools and an attempt is made to analyse this in the next section.
Why parents have chosen an integrated school for their child
If the integrated schools in Northern Ireland are to be viable in the long term, considerable numbers of parents have to choose to send their children there. Understanding the determinants of parental choice is, therefore, crucial in assessing the future of integrated schools. But it has much wider implications, since parental choice is central to some of the changes embodied in the Education Reform Act for England and Wales. The viability of schools throughout the United Kingdom will be dependent on how many parents want to send their children to them. So trying to understand what factors parents take into account in selecting a school, and how they evaluate these different factors, was one of the central aims of this research.
Perhaps the most striking finding was the diversity of reasons given as the basis of choice. Before we began the fieldwork we had assumed that, since the distinctive feature of the schools is their cross-community dimension, parents would have chosen to send their children there because they were religiously mixed. In fact we found that the situation was much more complex, and that there were four main groups of factors affecting choice and that parents usually choose the schools for a combination of reasons from more than one of the groups.
(a) Ideological Reasons
This was perhaps the most predictable set of reasons for selecting an integrated school. Many parents indicated that they wanted their children to attend a school where they would meet members of the ‘other’ community since they believed that this would help to develop better relationships across the whole community. Some also indicated that they felt that the actual existence of integrated schools helped to establish cross community contacts between adults. In various ways they were expressing a belief in the ‘contact hypothesis’, the idea that relationships between potentially or actually antagonistic groups can be ameliorated through regular meetings and joint activities. Amongst the metaphors they used to describe why they supported the schools was the comment that it was about ‘breaking the mould’. The implication seemed to be that the schools represented structural changes and that such changes were both more important and more difficult to achieve than ones which occurred within the existing system.
This ideological commitment to the improvement of community relations seemed to arise either from strong political and social beliefs or from religious conviction. In many cases, as indicated in the previous section, they had also had some sort of direct or indirect personal experience of violence or disruption related the community conflict in Northern Ireland and this often seemed to had acted as a trigger which moved them into active support of integrated education.
For those whose commitment was based on political and/or social beliefs, sending their children to an integrated school was a way of making a political statement in a society where it is difficult for moderates to take action. Since there was no channel for a direct expression of political views because the main political parties were clearly identified with sectarian interests, and since the scope for political action, in the context of ‘Direct Rule’ from Westminster, was limited, they felt that by openly supporting the integrated schools they were ‘doing something’.
A related but rather different set of beliefs was expressed by those whose commitment was based primarily on religious views. There were many deeply committed Roman Catholics and Protestants amongst the parents. The views they expressed centred on what they perceived to be the unchristian nature of the divisions in Northern Irish society and the need to express their Christian commitment to reconciliation between the two communities.
The existence of a sizable group of deeply religious parents committed to integrated education is particularly interesting in the light of the attitudes of the major churches in Northern Ireland. These have varied from lukewarm to openly hostile. The Roman Catholic hierarchy in particular has indicated that, whilst the education of children is the prime responsibility of the parents, a proper grounding in the faith can only be gained through attendance at a Roman Catholic school. The tension between their personal religious beliefs and the attitudes of their churches was clearly a source of distress for some of the parents.
Although the ideals of these two sub-sets of parents are clearly related, the existence of two rather different ideologies, based on political/social and religious beliefs respectively, appeared to be a possible source of difficulty. The group with strong religious views were anxious that the schools should provide their children with a clearly Christian education. They saw the integrated schools as firmly Christian in character and indeed felt that they should be more Christian than the other schools in the province. Whilst they wanted the integrated schools to welcome children of all faiths and none, they saw this wide community as existing within a Christian framework. In just a few cases this concern went a little further, to a fear that ‘too many non Christian pupils might lead to a diminution of the ethos which they felt the schools should have. In contrast, some of the parents who had strong social and political views were not sympathetic to a very clear Christian emphasis within the schools. Some were Christian but others were agnostic or atheist, and they expressed concern that the schools could become too closely identified with Christianity. In some cases this was related to a view that ‘there’s too much religion in Ireland anyway’, and in others to a fear that in an overtly Christian school those of other religions or none might not be totally comfortable or feel fully valued. These differences had not become a major issue at the time the research was being carried out, but there does seem to be uncertainty about whether ‘integrated’ means a cross-denominational Christian school which accepts some non-Christians, or a school which attempts to welcomes the enrolment of pupils from all forms of religious and non-religious backgrounds on an equal basis.
(b) Educational Reasons
Almost all the parents interviewed talked about their concern over their children’s educational progress and for most of them the hope that their child would gain educationally had been a factor in the choice of an integrated school. In other words they were evaluating the school in terms of the quality of education it offered in the same way they would any other school. This does not mean, however, that the same educational criteria were being used by all the parents. In our sample differences can be detected between those sending their children to the primary schools and those sending children to the secondary school, and also between those who had enrolled their child in the first form of the school and those who had moved a child or children from another school to the integrated school.
Comprehensive secondary education has only been introduced in a few areas in Northern Ireland. This means that grammar and secondary schools remain in almost all areas, including Belfast. Most parents are very anxious that their child should gain a place in a grammar school, but places are available for only about 30 per cent of each year group, and are allocated on the results of a competitive testing procedure. The two integrated secondary schools were specifically established as all-ability schools. They do not admit pupils on the basis of the 11 + or ‘transfer procedure’ results, but through a combination of personal parental application, report from the primary school and interview. This ‘de facto’ comprehensive status means that for some parents the integrated schools are judged educationally as ‘not as good as a grammar school, but better than a secondary school’. The schools themselves had tried to avoid this type of comparison, but in a situation where a hierarchy of quality in secondary schools is deeply embedded in the society it is probably inevitable that these new schools should be assigned a place in the hierarchy. The effect of this is that there are a number of parents who chose an integrated secondary school for their child, not primarily because of a commitment to integrated education, and not as their first choice. This does not mean that they are unsympathetic to integrated education but it does mean that they are perhaps less interested in the philosophy of the schools, at least initially, than those with an ideological commitment.
At primary level the choice available to parents is less constrained, at least in theory. A child can be enrolled in any controlled primary school of the parents choice, similarly parents can apply to have a child enrolled in any maintained primary school. The only restrictions relate to the provision of free transport, the relevant regulation states that the cost of transport will be paid to the nearest suitable’ school, and this is interpreted to take account of the existence of the two separate school systems and the right of parents to exercise a choice on grounds of religious denomination. The religious divide is very rarely crossed and almost all children attend the neighbourhood primary school appropriate to their own community, which will be ‘controlled’ if they are Protestant and ‘maintained’ if they are Roman Catholic. The purely educational grounds for enrolling a child in the reception class of an integrated school are, therefore, less clear cut than in the secondary case. Some parents did suggest that they chose an integrated school because they felt it would place less emphasis on preparation for the 11 + than other primary schools, whilst others seemed to be motivated mainly by dissatisfaction with a school of which they had direct experience and this had precipitated a move. This issue of dissatisfaction will be dealt with in more detail in the next section.
One significant factor, however, is the availability of nursery units linked to most of the integrated schools. Nursery provision is very limited in Northern Ireland, and so the availability of nursery places in the units attached to the integrated schools has proved very attractive to parents. In theory there is no reason why a child should not attend the nursery class of an integrated school and then transfer to the local controlled or maintained primary school’s reception class. But in fact almost all the children do go directly from the nursery to the reception class. This nursery provision in the primary schools may, like the comprehensive status of the secondary schools, have the effect of bringing a group of parents, who do not have an initial ideological commitment, into the integrated school movement. It is interesting that whilst some of the founding parents would see this widening of the base for integrated education as desirable others would express anxiety about possible dilution of the ideals of integration.
There are very few nursery units in Northern Ireland and government funding for education of under four year olds has been limited. As a result very few controlled or maintained primary schools have been able to develop any nursery provision. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that the development of units attached to the integrated primary schools has generated considerable hostility amongst other members of the teaching profession. Interviews with a group of principals of controlled and maintained primary school indicated that, although they accept that the integrated schools have to fund the nurseries themselves, they believe that their very existence represents ‘unfair competition’.
(c) Dissatisfaction with existing schools
In addition to the parents who sent their child to an integrated school at the beginning of nursery, primary or secondary education, there were also a number of parents who moved their child to an integrated school part-way through a phase of education. This was rather a distinct group which was probably more numerous in the early phases of each school’s development. Some of these parents were so strongly committed to integrated schooling that they moved
their child out of an existing controlled or maintained school as soon as the integrated school opened. This set included most of the founding parents with children of appropriate age. But there were also parents not so closely linked to the founding of the schools who were in some way dissatisfied with the existing system and saw the integrated school as a way out of their problem.
Within this category there were further variations. Some parents had moved because they felt a general dissatisfaction with the existing schools; amongst the views expressed were that the schools in Northern Ireland were too formal, that they did not provide an education with enough emphasis on the child, and that because of this formality it was difficult for parents to talk to teachers or to discuss their concerns. For such parents the ‘child-centred’ aims of the integrated schools, and the emphasis on close parent-staff contacts, were very attractive. In addition, in the early phases of each school’s development, classes were usually small, and this was also cited by some parents, although in most cases this is now ceasing to be a factor as the schools grow. These were fairly generalised reasons for changing school but there were also parents who were more specific. Some children had been transferred into the integrated school because of a perceived lack of educational progress or because of emotional or behavioural difficulties. In some of these cases children were moved at a fairly late stage of primary education because of a history of difficulty, sometimes in the form of learning or behavioural problems. Such children had often already been moved between schools at least once before and they usually transferred into the upper classes (P5, 6 or 7) of the integrated schools. This type of move was most common during the first years after a school opened, when numbers were small in the upper forms and there was some pressure to take pupils. The results were predictably varied, in some cases parents were satisfied that the child did benefit, in others they were disappointed and felt there was little ‘improvement’. There was also some anxiety from other parents and from teachers that too many potentially disruptive children might come
into the schools and create additional difficulties at a time when just getting started was already a hard task.
It may seem surprising in discussing a movement which has involved such a level of commitment and controversy, to find that for some parents the choice of an integrated school was a matter of convenience. However, quite a number of those interviewed did indicate that they sent their child to the school because it was the nearest school, or was easy to reach on their way to work. It is interesting that proximity and convenience were mentioned quite frequently by parents in a strongly Protestant working-class area close to one of the primary schools. Many of these parents came from relatively ‘hard-line’ working class Protestant backgrounds, and they did not see their child’s attendance at an integrated school as conflicting with their loyalist political views or as threatening their children’s identity.
(e) Mixed Marriages
One particular group for whom the establishment of the integrated schools appears to have presented a particularly welcome new choice is parents in ‘mixed marriages’. In Northern Ireland ‘mixed marriage’ does not mean a marriage across racial divisions but one between a Roman Catholic and a Protestant. Society’s reaction to such marriages is very variable but they are often the source of considerable conflict and bitterness within families. In some cases one or both partners may be estranged from their family for a period, and in extreme cases permanently. One ‘mixed marriage’ parent offered the succinct comment, ‘where mixed marriages are concerned, they often seem more important to other people than to those involved’. The proportion of mixed marriages varies considerably in different parts of Northern Ireland. In some areas they are very uncommon, while in others between twelve and fifteen percent of marriages involve partners from the two communities. One of the case study schools is in an area where the proportion is over ten per cent.
Our interviews included a considerable number of parents involved in mixed marriages and it became clear that the integrated schools presented a particularly important choice for them, since religious upbringing and choice of school are so closely linked. Interviewees indicated that the question of the education of children was usually discussed at the outset of the marriage, long before children were born, and then again with much more immediacy once children were born and began to approach school age. Existing evidence suggests that children of mixed marriages are frequently brought up in the religion of the mother, and attend the appropriate school, and that this is particularly so when the mother is a Roman Catholic (Compton, 1989). In addition grandparents seem to exert considerable pressure over their grandchildren’s religious upbringing and education. The parents interviewed in our study suggested that the existence of an integrated school prevented considerable friction both between the parents and in the wider family circle. In some cases parents said that once they had chosen an integrated school they felt a great sense of relief. Some felt it was other members of the family who ‘bothered’ most about the children’s education and the choice of an integrated school helped to placate them. One Roman Catholic mother recalled that her mother was not pleased that she did not choose a maintained school but was better pleased than she would have been if a controlled school had been chosen. The integrated schools provide a possibility of compromise within a society where stark choices are all too frequently the norm. For this reason they are seen as very important by individuals who in their own personal lives have stepped outside the rigid divisions. Where there is no such compromise available the choice of school can create the perception that either the father or the mother has had to ‘give up’ something. The integrated school allows them to avoid this. In a wider sense the integrated school also helps to validate the mixed marriage itself by providing a context in which cross community contact is celebrated and parents are able to mix with other people who either share their experience or are sympathetic to it. This provides a form of support difficult to obtain elsewhere.
However, once the choice is made, there are still problems to be solved. Religious education in the integrated schools is provided partially through a common curriculum which seeks to emphasise shared Christian values. But separate religious teaching is also provided, particularly in the primary schools where provision is made for specific requirements, such as preparing children for the sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation in the Roman Catholic church. Parents then decide whether or not their children are to receive this additional denominational teaching; for parents in a mixed marriage this could still be contentious as it would to some extent ‘identify’ the children with one or other denomination. In fact the interviews suggest that the system works quite well, perhaps because there has not been the need for a clear cut choice of a denominational school, and so specific issues about doctrine seemed less threatening. However, the need to provide very specific teaching to meet the requirements of the Roman Catholic church, when there is no clear parallel requirement from the Protestant churches, has lead some people to suggest that the Roman Catholic church is still exerting great power even in the integrated schools.
How they think attendance at an integrated school affects their children?
We were interested in what the parents wanted from the integrated school and whether their expectations were being met. The decision to send a child to an Integrated School is clearly not the end of the parent’s concern. Once the child is enrolled the focus shifts to the experience itself, and how it is affecting the child. We therefore asked a number of questions about these issues.
In general the parents expressed the normal range of views and concerns of any parent about the formal educational progress of their children. Most parents said that they were generally happy with the way the curriculum subjects were being presented, though there were specific points about the progress of individual children in particular subjects or classes. Some parents commented that their child had made much better progress since being moved to an integrated school, while a few expressed disappointment that there had not been the hoped for improvements.
Our research focus meant that we were particularly interested in how parents felt the schools were affecting their children’s social development. Integration is centrally about contact between the two communities in Northern Ireland and about improving relationships. When questions were asked about the children’s social development, and more specifically about effects on their responses to the ‘other’ community, parents were perhaps understandably vague. The questions seemed to give them the opportunity to articulate their own aspirations for the schools rather than to describe the effects on their children. They wanted the schools to foster tolerance and openness, awareness of the culture and traditions of the other community and also a pride in their own background. The word which kept cropping up was ‘awareness’; the parents seemed especially anxious that their children should ‘know’ about the other community, its traditions, religious beliefs and so on. There was a sense of regret that they had not had the opportunity to mix or be ‘aware’ during their own childhood and that they now saw this as a loss which their children might be able to avoid. Precisely how this was to be achieved and how it would be possible to detect whether or not it was being achieved, they, in common with everyone else, found difficult to evaluate. One parent believed that his son was already more tolerant than his father and added that he hoped his son ‘would go further than he had towards the other community’.
On a rather wider scale parents quite often indicated that they hoped the schools would be part of a long term solution to the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland. They did not see the schools as a simple direct solution but as a more subtle indirect influence. Comments such as ‘they will be seen to work’, ‘they are an example of what is possible’ and ‘they make people think’, catch the flavour of the views expressed. There was also a feeling that it was very important that ‘staunch’ Protestants and Roman Catholics were choosing to send their children to the schools. One parent was pleased that there was already a measure of attendance from ‘hard’ areas which indicated ‘a hopeful break in attitude. The ice has been broken.’
Another issue was whether the schools should directly teach content which would contribute to improved community relations through the formal curriculum or whether such objectives would be better achieved through the hidden or para curriculum. The responses suggest that, whilst they were quite happy that their children should study topics which would help them to understand both sides of Northern Ireland’s cultural, literary and historical background, they felt that the actual presence of the pupils and teachers from the two communities in the one institution was the crucial factor. In other words they saw the hidden curriculum, as the most important feature of the schools.
There was also some evidence of an interaction or even possibly a confusion between two sets of aims for the schools. The importance of integration was usually stressed but there was also the hope that the schools would be more ‘child-centred’ than most of the other schools in the province. This may seem a slightly outdated phrase in to-day’s educational world, but there is clearly a strand within the integrated school movement which sees changes, towards a more ‘liberal’, child-centred model, as one of the prime objectives of the establishment of new schools. It seems that improved community relations and child centredness are both important for parents. Some parents place emphasis on one and some on the other, but most see both objectives as being furthered partially through the overt curriculum and partially through the hidden curriculum. In a complex situation many features of the schools appear to serve different purposes for different parents, but the resulting contradictions currently seem to be causing little difficulty. Certainly, the consensus of opinion amongst those interviewed was that their children were ‘happy’ at their integrated schools.
Overall the parents seemed proud of their association with integrated schools. This is expressed openly as a sense of achievement, one parent said she was pleased ‘to have stuck it out’ and to ‘have followed it through’. Some parents said they talked about the school to others and always praised it. (Although in contrast one parent said that, although she was happy with the school, she did not have the right to try to influence the judgment of others). Many parents felt that they had undergone some form of personal development as a result of their association with the integrated school. ‘I learned about education and in particular about how the school was working’. This might be described as ‘education by association’. Although, of course this was not universal and some argued that they had not been affected so much. A number claimed that as they were ‘liberal’ before they became involved with the schools they did not experience a major change in attitude.
Parental involvement, how parents are involved with the schools
In conventional terms parental involvement has been taken to mean parents and teachers working in a close partnership for the benefit of the child (Blackstone, 1979; Beattie, 1985; Docking, 1990). In the context of integrated education the phrase ‘parental involvement’ has come to have new meaning because the schools have been set up by parents. They do not owe their existence to the local Education and Library Boards or to the Department of Education for Northern Ireland or to any of the churches. They are there because parents wanted them to be there, because parents were willing to undertake the task of creating schools which would provide the kind of education they wanted for their children. For founder parents, parental involvement predates and parallels the life of the school. It is both fundamental and developmental. The relationship of the founder parent to the school sometimes seemed almost like that of the parent to the child, an emotional attachment with all the attendant responsibilities, fears, tensions, and of course joys.
This fundamental involvement led parents to undertake a variety of tasks which would normally be the responsibility of an official body like a Local Education Authority or an Education and Library Board. These included providing and furnishing suitable premises, hiring teaching staff, selecting a principal and locating sources of funding. Parents found themselves having either to learn new skills or seek out those who could provide them. There seems to have been a recognition early on among founder groups of the need to involve people whose professional expertise would be useful such as accountants and architects.
The interval between the initial meetings of parents and the opening of the integrated schools was one of intense activity which grew increasingly more frenetic with the approach of the first term. Parents recall spending hours in discussion several times a week for months. Practical matters became very time-consuming. Once located, premises had to be made ready. By this stage parents were performing a wide variety of tasks, all designed to ensure that schools would be up and running by the planned date. As one parents said ‘there was something for everyone to do’. There can be little doubt that this was an exhilarating period for those concerned. Many of those interviewed referred to the sheer excitement of being involved with something ‘new’. There was a definite element of nostalgia for this time among both parents and teachers.
Once the schools were opened, parental involvement inevitably began to change its nature. Since it was seen as important that the spirit of co-operation should be maintained, many founder parents continued their association with ‘their’ school, as trustees, directors and parents governors, They also began to realise that their work in setting up schools was only a beginning, and that the real task now lay ahead. This realisation was to be crucial in the development of their thinking about parental involvement. At the start they had chosen parental involvement as a major aim, but as time went on they began to appreciate that this was a more complex process than they had expected, ‘it seemed easy at the beginning’. It is interesting that when founder parents were asked why they chose integrated education most said that they were initially attracted by the prospect of having a close relationship with their child’s school. In contrast, the later parents tended not to mention this as a reason for choice of school.
At the beginning, integrated schools had chosen parental involvement as a major aim. Now that parents and schools were confronted with the job of putting it into practice, founder parents began to understand how difficult it was going to be to sustain parental interest at the same high level as before. Parental involvement had to be seen to be just as essential, interesting and worthwhile as before. We know a great deal about parental activities prior to the opening of the integrated schools. What has been the nature of their involvement now that these schools have been up and running, some of them for a number of years?
Although no two schools are alike, parental involvement in the integrated schools appears to operate through a number of levels. Such a concept of levels of involvement could be applied to all schools, not just integrated ones, and each level could be seen as indicative of a particular relationship which a parent has with the school. From this a model of an ascending ladder of levels can be postulated. A high level would mean a considerable involvement, while a low level would mean minimal involvement. Traditionally, parentschool relations have tended to operate at this kind of low level. Such involvement would usually be of a formal nature and school rather than parent orientated. Parents would visit schools when invited for parent-teacher evenings, open days and occasionally for matters of a disciplinary nature. It is interesting to note that some of the materials produced by the European Parent’s Association indicates similar findings and asks the question ‘what are the psychological implications of parent-teacher contact tending to be only at times of crisis?’ (Macbeth, 1988). We would suggest that the relationship between parent and school engendered by this type of structure can be narrow and one-sided. The parent appears to be interested only in his or her own child’s progress, and the school in how the parent can support their efforts to maximise this. It would be fair to say that most parents and probably a large number of schools have come to accept such a level of parental involvement as the norm.
This type of involvement is found in the integrated schools but even here there is a difference. The ‘low’ level of involvement had been taken up and the quality of it has been improved upon. Parents still visit schools when asked. They do attend parent-teacher evenings. But these things tend to happen much more frequently so that communications between staff and parents is enhanced. To a great extent the relationship is still between the individual parent and teachers, but it appears deeper, less formal and in particular surrounded by fewer obstacles. There is little doubt that many parents in the integrated schools were more than satisfied with the level of involvement which they had achieved in this way and that both they and the teachers considered it to be beneficial to the children. It was interesting to note what parents and staff had to say about the traditional ‘meeting-ground’, that is discipline, for it was in this area that change seemed to have come. Both groups believed that the closer relationship meant that problems of this kind could be resolved more easily and quickly than before. Teachers did find parents very supportive in this area through some felt that they themselves had had to undergo a learning process in this respect. ‘The teacher must justify his/her actions. The whole question of discipline requires much more care than in other schools’. In the integrated schools, however, some parents extend their relationship beyond the basic teacher/parent level. They take part in the activities of parents Councils, act as teacher-helpers in the classroom, assist with transport on outings, raise funds for the school. In these ways, the focus of their relationship with the schools widens from that of the parent concerned with his/her child’s education per se, to a more global concern with the school as a whole. This is a more difficult level to sustain than the first, perhaps because the relevance is less apparent. All Parents’ Councils expressed anxiety about numbers of parents attending meetings. In most instances this had not presented a problem at the start, but as time went on numbers had begun to fall off. A sample of comments from parents may go some way to explaining why. The first meetings were often ‘off-putting and a waste of time. Business was repetitive and obsessed with trivia, such as endless discussions about uniform’ or ‘they went round in circles and would have turned your head’. A founder parent put it this way ‘some parents found it easier to volunteer for specific tasks like cleaning and painting which are patently positive rather than the more vague format of sitting at meetings and talking. The type of involvement needed now might not encourage some parents who would have been perfectly happy previously to come along and paint’. Some parents who were not founders felt they should be involved but ‘did not know what the school expected’ of them. No one had tried to explain what parental involvement was. Some thought that teachers themselves were equally unsure. One such parent said that from her own experience she had not been used to the idea of any ‘great input from parents’, but a senior teacher had talked about a parents’ ‘drop-in room’ which was to be set up in the school. The parent was looking forward to this although she did not know what the purpose of the room would be.
It would be fair to say that induction programmes for ‘new parents have been tried in some instances, and it would seem that these would be even more needed as the parent body continues to expand well beyond the nucleus of the founder group. Some founder parents claimed that those who come ‘later’ could not be expected to be as committed as they had been. Perhaps an explanation can be found in terms of perspective. Parents who set up schools are not likely to do so for the sake of their own children alone. Their vision is usually wider than this. It has to be. Their involvement is directed at the school as a whole. To use Joan Sallis’s phrase, it is the difference between being a ‘representative parent and a parent representative’ (Sallis, 1988). This is not to say that those who come later do not share this perspective - this would be quite wrong - the difference is that they may not necessarily realise that their role will be equally if not more demanding. In this sense, the comment of a founder parent that ‘they would not require the feeling of the original group but having enthusiasm will be sufficient’ is perhaps misleading.
Parents’ Councils are beginning to recognise the need to find a clearer focus for their meetings if parents are to continue to be attracted to them. We feel that there will be a need for them to appreciate that not all parents will have the staying power of the parent who said, ‘In spite of it all, I will continue to attend so that I can learn about the schools and on the off chance that the meetings may hold something for me’. To this end one Council had arranged for teaching staff to come along and talk about their work. This kind of meeting had been well received.
Parents have also become involved with the schools beyond the levels described above as governors and/or directors. As a parent governor, the type of involvement is managerial and the form of the relationship between parent and school becomes much more specific and formal. One parent justified the demands of being a governor by saying ‘Who has more at stake in whether a school works or not than a parent?’. Of course, although greater parental representation is possible on integrated schools’ boards of governors and directors than is the case with controlled and maintained schools, not all parents who might want to can be governors or directors. Significantly few parents expressed interest in becoming involved at this level. Why was this so? The parents themselves offered a variety of reasons. The one most often cited had to do with the perception that they lacked the expertise which they believed a governor would require. ‘I would not feel qualified to take part in the actual running of the school. That should be left to professionals’, or ‘I would rather leave that kind of thing to those who can do it’. This means that for many parents it appeared to be a different kind of relationship perhaps requiring different skills. Importantly, even given the strong parental representation on Boards of Governors, one parent still had misgivings, ‘I prefer to remain in the Parents’ Council because there I am always with parents. This would not necessarily be the case with the Board of Governors or Directors, some of whom would not be parents’. Similar misgivings among parent governors have been noted by a research project which looked at the functioning of ‘democratised school government ‘in Birmingham primary schools in the early 1980’s (Pascal, 1988). Poor communication between Boards of Governors and Parents’ Councils in some cases possibly exacerbated the perceived image of boards as rather remote. An example of this came from one parent who had been made a governor to replace a parent who had not been able to complete their term in office. The new governor was never officially informed and only found out about it when she received an irate call from another governor asking why she had not been attending. Another reason often put forward for not wishing to become involved in the school at this level was the very considerable amount of time which would have to be set aside for frequent meetings.
Parental involvement in the integrated schools cannot therefore be defined in straightforward or definitive terms. It is the sum of many parts. It can mean different things to different people. It is not static but is still developing and changing as would be expected of any activity based on human relationships. There can be no norm because each school has pursued parental involvement in its own way. Any conclusions which we might offer will be general rather than specific.
There are different levels of involvement. Most parents are content to operate at the basic level, which in the integrated schools usually signifies a close two way relationship with teachers for the benefit of the child. Beyond this stage, parental involvement comes to mean something rather different. At this level, parental activities broaden out from the relationship described above to a relationship with the school qua school. This is not to say that parental concern for the child’s education is lost, rather it becomes merged in a wider feeling for the institution which sustains it. Parents will be involved at this level as classroom assistants, members of working parties, fund-raisers and active members of Parents Council. Their numbers will tend to be fewer here because what is required of parents at this stage often appears unclear and irrelevant. Parents’ Councils try to encourage participation but of all the levels of parental involvement it is perhaps at this one that parents can feel isolated as a group, even de-skilled and hence they begin to question the validity of what they are trying to do. This is perhaps why meetings which include teaching staff talking with parents are popular; they remind parents that they are still directly connected with their children’s education. Finding an acceptable role for themselves at this level would appear to be an ongoing process.
Again, parents involved at the next level have a different kind of relationship with the school. This time they are sharing in management and are, therefore, taking an active part in the running of the school. This kind of involvement seemed to hold little appeal for most parents because it was perceived as the domain of the professional person, who could presumably cope with areas like institutional finance which were perceived as being beyond the competence of the ‘ordinary’ parent. This is an interesting perception, particularly in terms of LMS, of parent governors and the national curriculum. Research based in Exeter (Brigley, 1990; Golby, 1989a; Golby, 1989b), has shown how many parent governors felt overwhelmed by the demands being imposed upon them by such new legislation. At this stage, too, the question of accountability is raised. This in itself would be off-putting to some. It is possible that as far as parental attitudes to the Boards of Governors are concerned the situation in the integrated schools reinforces evidence from other sources. The larger number of parent representatives on the Boards is not in itself a guarantee of increased interest and there are still severe problems in attracting a wide range of people.
Areas of concern for parents
We specifically asked parents if there were issues relating to integrated education which were causing them concern. Many of the points which emerged in response to this question have already been touched on in the sections on educational issues. For example, the fact that the schools were new and had no ‘track record’ meant that parents were anxious about academic standards. As one said ‘will the school match up to other schools in the area?’. Perhaps because of this lack of hard evidence about the comparative standing of the schools some parents were sensitive to details which they felt might indicate something about discipline or standards. Anxiety over issues like the use of first names for some staff in one school and the presence of litter in another were indications of concern over discipline. Similarly, there were also a number of views expressed about uniform and whether pupils looked ‘neat’. For some parents, therefore, it would seem that integrated education did not mean a move away from the ‘traditional’ values. Their expectations in this respect seem to have been no different from those of most other parents outside integrated schools.
The only general concern seemed to be about children attending an integrated school who might have to ‘go back’ into the segregated system. This could happen if the family moved to an area out of reach of an integrated school, since the geographical coverage is still limited. More frequently, however, it was an issue at the end of primary schooling or at entry to sixth form. For the parents with children reaching the end of primary education there was a real dilemma. Outside Belfast there are no integrated secondary schools, and, given the demographic pattern in Northern Ireland, the prospects of setting up viable integrated secondary schools (except in one or two areas) do not seem good. So parents have to choose either a maintained or a controlled secondary school. The seriousness of this problem varied with geographical location and was also related to the child’s likelihood of passing the eleven plus examination. In some areas there are secondary schools with a tradition of taking a small number of pupils across the community divide and parents saw these as schools which might be sympathetic to children from an integrated primary school. There was also a clear sense that the problem was not too serious if the child passed the eleven plus and could go to a grammar school, since these were perceived as less sectarian in their culture than the secondary intermediate schools. There is little evidence either way about this, but the perception does exist. But in some areas, going from an integrated primary school to secondary school is a real cause for concern. This concern may or may not be valid, but it arose from the perception that many secondary schools had considerable numbers of pupils with strong loyalist or republican sympathies. At the time of the research neither of the integrated secondary schools had a sixth form and pupils who wished to do ‘A’ levels had to move from them to a local grammar school. This was not seen as a problem since parents felt that pupils would be old enough to handle any problems that might arise, and also that the schools they would be going to would not be very sectarian, especially at sixth form level. Even in Belfast, where children can move from an integrated primary to an integrated secondary school, we found some concern about the need for stronger links between primary and secondary schools so that the transition could be eased.
The other central group in this research was teachers and a series of personal interviews was carried out, essentially similar to those conducted with parents. Most of the teachers interviews were arranged during school hours when they had non-teaching periods, over lunch or after school. In some cases the length of time needed to complete an interview meant meetings were spread over several days. Since a full record of the conversation was made immediately after each session the break during some of the interviews did not prove a problem.
Who are the teachers in integrated schools?
The interviews with teachers began by asking them to describe their professional career. In this way information was collected about their qualifications, training, and previous appointments. This allowed us to build up a picture of the professional background of the teachers in the integrated schools. From this it is clear that their demographic and educational characteristics are very similar to those of the general teaching force in Northern Ireland. In line with the policy of the integrated school movement the teaching force is ‘balanced’, that is, as near as possible equal numbers of teachers from the two communities are employed in each school.
The teachers ranged from newly qualified graduates in their first year of teaching, to teachers with over thirty years of experience who were approaching the end of their professional careers. The majority of the primary teachers had been trained in Northern Ireland, at the Roman Catholic teacher training college St. Mary’s, at Stranmillis College which trains teachers for the controlled schools or at the University of Ulster, Coleraine, which has an integrated teacher training course. There was also a few primary teachers who had trained at colleges in other parts of the United Kingdom. In the secondary school the range of qualifications was wider, as might be expected. Graduates of the two Northern Irish universities, Queen’s University, Belfast and the University of Ulster, were in the majority, but there were also teachers who had completed their higher education in Great Britain and in the Republic of Ireland.
Whilst the majority of the teachers had been born in Northern Ireland and lived there throughout their lives, there were also a number who had been born in the province but then lived and worked elsewhere for a period. Usually they had taught in England or Scotland for a time after qualifying and then returned either directly to their present post or via a post in a non-integrated school. But there were a few who had worked further afield, in Africa and America. There were also a few who originated outside the province, either from Britain or the Republic of Ireland, and they had originally come to Northern Ireland for a variety of reasons, such as to attend university, as a result of marriage or to a job. None of those born outside Northern Ireland who were interviewed had come specifically to take a post in an integrated school. In contrast, there were one or two of those born in Northern Ireland who had come back, after considerable periods of teaching in Britain or overseas, deliberately to work in an integrated school.
It is of course impossible to make accurate comparisons, since the detailed statistical data are not available. However, we did feel that the proportion of teachers with some experience of living outside Northern Ireland was higher in these schools than in the established schools of the province. All the teachers who had had previous appointments in Northern Ireland had taught in schools which had an overwhelming majority of pupils from one community. The majority of those interviewed had never taught any pupils from the ‘other community before coming into the integrated school. From their own comments about their background and their previous teaching experience we gained the impression that a number of them had been dissatisfied in the segregated school system and that quite a lot of them perceived themselves as ‘outsiders’ even before they made the move. As one teacher commented she was ‘at odds with the system’. In such situations they may well have felt that although the move to an integrated school looked like a risk, given their history they had less than most others to lose as they were already on the edges of the conventional mainstream of the teaching profession in Northern Ireland.
Why teachers came into the integrated schools?
An important first question was, why had they decided to apply for and accept a post in an integrated school. This was particularly important given that these teachers were in most respects very similar to the general teaching force in the province. As with parental choice there proved to be a wide range of motives often with considerable overlap. We will attempt to analyse these under four headings, but this is to some extent an artificial division since in many cases elements from several categories were referred to by an individual teacher.
(a) Ideological commitment
As with the parents there was a clear sense of commitment on the part of many of the teachers. They had chosen to teach in an integrated school because they believed that the establishment of such schools would contribute to improved community relations in Northern Ireland. Many of them talked about their own experiences at school, college or university as having been important in making them think about the effects of separation on children and young people. Several talked about never having met members of the ‘other’ side until they went to university and suggested that this was almost ‘too late’. ‘Integration from an early age’, one maintained, ‘would prevent misinformation’. Another recalled how, coming from a mixed but relatively troublefree area to train at a Catholic college, had not prepared her for the bitterness of feelings expressed by some of her fellow students who had been reared in the polarised communities of the city or the borders. One teacher claimed that her training in an ‘integrated’ environment rather than a denominational college had ‘prepared’ her well for teaching in an integrated school. However, it was also clear that clerical opposition usually at the parish level meant that this kind of training is not an easy option for Catholic students hoping to teach in the province. In general, the teachers believed that, not only was it wrong to educate children separately but that, in the words of one experienced teacher, it was necessary to oppose it ‘in practical terms, not just by speaking out against it’. So, as with the parents, there was a feeling from the teachers that the schools offered individuals the opportunity to give tangible expression to their desire for improved community relations. In some ways this was even more of a commitment for the teachers since they were staking their career and their financial security on the future of the schools and in most cases expected to have a long term, possibly a lifetime, involvement in integrated education. It is clear that some parents, when they were considering sending their children to an integrated school, were impressed by this, as one said, ‘Teachers were making a major commitment. They were putting their careers on the line. This was convincing’.
(b) Religious Commitment
With regard to religious commitments, the views expressed by the teachers are closely related to those of the parents. It was often difficult to separate religious and ideological motives. Many of the teachers expressed their strong religious faith and said that it was this that had made them anxious to teach in an integrated school. Like some of the parents they felt that the separation of children was alien to the spirit of Christianity. In several cases the expression of these views had led then into argument with the clergy of their own church and this had clearly been distressing for them. For some this meant that they were experiencing a stressful conflict between their loyalty to their church and their deeply held personal religious views. In other cases the views of clergy had led them to distance themselves from formal religious structures and to rely on their own interpretation of Christian values. One teacher, who expressed her views in this area particularly clearly, summed up many of the main points raised. Although she taught Religious Education within the school she felt that religion should be the concern of the family and should not determine the choice of school. She based her views directly on her experience of teaching in both maintained and controlled sectors. Neither of these had suited her: she found the maintained schools ‘narrow-minded’ and talked about the ‘catholic twilight syndrome’. In controlled schools, on the other hand, she felt ‘constrained’ and was not ‘free’. For instance she was very aware that minor features of her speech, such as the way she pronounced the sound ‘h’, immediately revealed her ethnic identity. Constrained was a term she used frequently about both types of schools. By moving to an integrated school she hoped that she ‘could be herself’. She ‘wanted to be a catholic without having to apologise for it’ and she felt that the integrated school provided a possibility of making that hope a reality.
(c) Educational Reasons
Many of the teachers cited educational considerations as a reason for their move into integrated education. They saw in the schools the possibility of working in an environment with a different educational ethos. A number recalled how, at the interview for a post in the school, they felt it necessary to convince the panel that, if appointed, they would be able to fit in with regard to child-centred education, a different approach to discipline and so on. The main point was that the existing schools were very formal and hierarchical and that the integrated schools seemed to hold out the possibility of a more relaxed and ‘caring’ educational environment. The desire for a more ‘child-centred’ education voiced by some of the parents was also echoed by teachers. Dislike of single-sex schools, and unhappiness about the eleven plus selection procedure, were also mentioned, especially by the secondary school teachers. One teacher commented that, ‘I was unhappy about teaching in a system where the school appeared to be run for itself, rather than for the children’. A new school offers the chance to try out ideas, and this had also attracted some of the senior members of staff in particular. The newness, the rhetoric of participation and the challenge of making integrated education work, were all mentioned as factors which had attracted them. Amongst the principals there were individuals with clearly developed educational philosophies and they felt that they were now able, for the first time, to try to put these into practice. The centrality of ‘valuing’ the child, and giving each individual a sense of his or her own worth, were at the core of the philosophy of one of the principals. This approach was being closely linked to integration through the concept that only pupils who were confident of their own value could in turn value and respect others, especially others who differed from them in religion, culture or political aspirations.
(d) Career Move
In addition to the motives related to social, political, religious and educational values, the teachers also expressed strictly practical reasons for their move to a post in an integrated school. Quite a few indicated that they had been unable to secure promotion in their previous school and had been trying to change job in order to get a scaled post, a departmental headship or a principalship. In most cases they had applied for several posts of which the integrated school job was one. However some did suggest that their own educational views made promotion in the established schools unlikely; one said ‘because of my attitudes I would never have been promoted’. There was also a hint about gender related discrimination in the case of two mid-career female teachers who argued that they had failed to get promotion in their last school, despite lengthy service and wide experience.
For some of the teachers their post in an integrated school was their first teaching post since qualifying, or their first permanent post. For them the priority had been to get a permanent job and they had taken the first such post offered. This does not imply that they were not interested in the philosophy of integration but they had had to adopt a pragmatic approach to getting a job, especially since there is a surplus of newly qualified primary teachers in Northern Ireland.
Although generalisations are dangerous, there was some evidence that the main difference between teachers’ motives for working in integrated schools were related to their age and career stage. The oldest group mentioned their commitment to the ideals of integrated education most frequently. It was as if they had consciously decided that, in the final stages of their teaching career, they wished to make a concrete gesture in reaction to the ‘troubles’. In a few cases older teachers had moved from more senior to less senior posts, a direct underlining of the strength of their commitment to integrated education. Amongst the mid-career teachers there was also a strong sense of commitment, but the need for promotion had also been important in their calculations. The youngest teachers had not always been too conscious of the special nature of the integrated schools when they applied for their posts. Their priority had been to get a job and their commitment to integrated education had developed as they worked in the school and became more clearly aware of its aims.
The experience of teaching in an integrated school
We were anxious to find out what the experience of teaching in an integrated school was like for teachers. The majority had previously worked in one of the two segregated sectors in Northern Ireland so they had a direct basis for comparison. We wished to know whether working in an integrated school was actually different.
The answer, as might be expected, was ‘partly yes and partly no’. Many of the basic features of a teacher’s life remained constant. The planning and presentation of lessons, marking work, preparation for examinations, handling classroom discipline and the day-to-day management of the school went on much as in any other school. But there were differences. One teacher commented, ‘teaching in many respects goes on as usual, but the major differences relate to what integrated education tries to do. It permeates all attitudes - to parents, the curriculum, even inter-staff relations’. Linked to this perception, some teachers felt they were more aware of the things they said in the classroom; the fact that children from both communities were in the room made them very sensitive about their choice of words. They found they had to rethink words and phrases which they had previously taken for granted but which they now saw as having possible sectarian overtones. This seemed to affect the secondary school teachers particularly, and in subjects such as history, literature and religious education the teachers were aware of some changes in their classroom presentation. It was also obvious that Religious Education did present particular problems for the primary schools where few teachers were specialists. There was concern about the question of ‘balance’, how to construct a syllabus which would reflect equally the traditions of the two major faiths. Teachers themselves often did not know a great deal about the religious beliefs and practices of the ‘other’ community. One Catholic teacher worried that she was not achieving a balance because it was difficult for her to come to terms with what she referred to as the ‘less tangible nature of Protestantism’. The teachers themselves have, therefore, to become part of the wider learning process. There was evidence that teachers were concerned about the meaning of integrated education, that they were indeed, ‘conscious of the need to be different’, and worried if they perceived that they were not. Just like the founder parents, teachers realised that integrated education was an ongoing business which needed ‘continual working at’. One experienced teacher who referred to the school as her ‘fifth child’, argued that one hundred percent commitment was needed because ‘the ethos has to be worked at harder. As the school has grown there are more parents, more children and more teachers, so the school has to be ‘sold’ to them’.
There was much comment about the structural and organisational aspects of the schools and it was here that the teachers were most aware of contrasts. Almost without exception the teachers talked about the time commitments demanded by working in an integrated schools. Since teachers in all schools are currently expressing anxiety about the time needed to handle the demands of the National Curriculum and management changes such as LMS, the work that has had to be done in the integrated schools provides concrete evidence and experience of the effects of such change.
A distinction must be made between the initial stages of each school’s life and what might be described as the ‘ongoing’ situation. All the teachers who had experienced or were experiencing the first year of a school’s operation were overwhelmed by the time demands made during that year. They had to organise the curriculum, especially with reference to such potentially sensitive areas as religious education, set up management structures to carry through the objective of close parental involvement and handle the immediate practical problems of buildings, furniture and resources. There were almost daily meetings at lunch time, after school and in the evenings during the first year. Not only were these an erosion of preparation and relaxation time, they also made new and unfamiliar demands in terms of the skills the teachers had to develop. Since all the schools have been independent during their first year or two of operation, each has been through a period where they have had to handle their management and finance alone. Negotiations have been necessary with the Department of Education for Northern Ireland, the local Education and Library Boards, planning authorities, architects, builders, suppliers and charitable trusts. In relation to all these areas teachers have been asked to exercise new skills for which they have no formal training.
After the early phase, when structures have been established and some of the financial worries have eased there is a degree of let-up, but the management patterns of the integrated schools and the specific objective of close parent-teacher co-operation mean that there is still a heavy commitment to meetings. The teachers described the experience of so many meetings as interesting and largely productive, but also as very tiring and potentially stressful. Principals in particular are being placed under severe stress. In the primary schools they have the added problem of a full teaching load since the schools are currently too small to qualify for a non-teaching principal. At present the teachers are carrying these burdens out of enthusiasm and commitment but the question must be raised as to whether this is feasible or desirable in the long term. Also debatable is whether such a level of involvement could be achieved in schools which did not have such a strong underlying ideology and such a distinctive social context.
Teachers also raised specifically the problems created by the need to maintain a religious balance in staffing. (This also affects the question of promotion which is dealt with later.) The schools have a stated policy of trying to retain a numerical balance between the two communities in pupils, teaching staff, ancillary staff and governing bodies. Teachers suggested that this can produce artificial structures and place constraints on the choice of staff, especially when the school is relatively small and the balance can hinge on one appointment. This was particularly the case in the primary schools where there seems to be a convention that if the principal is from one community the vice-principal should, if at all possible, be a member of the other. Teachers expressed personal anxiety about this since it could mean that non academic criteria would affect advancement, but at the same time they were conscious of the need to be seen to be maintaining balance. They felt that it was especially important that the community outside the schools should see them as ‘fair’ and not as tilting towards one group or the other. They seemed to be suggesting that, at this stage in the development of integrated education, the image of the school in the community was of such importance that some anomalies and contradictions within a school had to be carried to avoid any possible comments about religious bias from outside. Whether this will remain an issue in the long term, or whether (if the schools can establish their cross-community credentials firmly), precise head counts will no longer be necessary, remains to be seen.
The career prospects for the teachers
In the course of discussing how and why they had come to teach in an integrated school many teachers also talked about how this choice might affect their future. They expressed feelings of isolation from other teachers and a sense that they were a small separate, perhaps vulnerable, group.
The general belief was that any teacher who had chosen to work in an integrated school would not be employable in any other type of school in Northern Ireland. They believed that going to work in an integrated school was interpreted as ‘betrayal’ by many other teachers in both the controlled and maintained sectors, and as a result they would not be ‘allowed back’. Their most frequently used phrase was that they had ‘burned their boats’. This may seem rather melodramatic, and there has certainly not yet been sufficient time for it to be tested, but within the traditionally polarised educational world of Northern Ireland it would be surprising if there was not some antagonism to those who overturn established structures.
Because this issue was frequently raised and clearly reflected considerable anxiety, we decided to try to gain some impression of the feelings of teachers outside the integrated schools. This had not been part of the original research design and so a major investigation was not possible within the tight timetable of the project. As a small scale case study we selected the area surrounding one of the integrated primary schools and arranged interviews with the principals of the nine other primary schools which serve the community. These included both controlled and maintained schools. The principals agreed to take part in a semi structured personal interview in which they were asked to comment on the general growth of integrated education and, more specifically, on the establishment of an integrated school in their community.
From these interviews it became clear that there was hostility both to the general idea of integrated schools and to the establishment of an actual school in the area. The issues raised tended to represent indirect and quite subtle criticism of integrated education and, by implication, of those teachers who took posts in them. It was suggested that it was ‘unprofessional’ for teachers to move into the integrated sector since the establishment of such a school would inevitably lead to falling roles for other schools in the area and hence the possibility of redundancy for ‘fellow professionals’. Integrated education was also thought to be ‘divisive’ since it suggested that existing community relations in the area were not ‘good enough’ and that the established schools did not co-operate with each other. The argument, therefore, was that the establishment of an integrated school, far from contributing to cross-community contact, could damage it. In addition there was particular resentment about the provisions of the 1989 Education Reform Order relating to integrated education and in particular to the funding of capital building projects to provide suitable facilities for integrated schools. These were interpreted as giving the integrated schools priority over other schools and hence an ‘unfair’ advantage in terms of capital funding. The fact that the government was now showing interest in integrated education and taking the schools into account in formulating policy also gave rise to suspicion and the suggestion that the schools could be ‘used’ as an agent of social policy. There was also misunderstanding and confusion about the level and form of public funding the schools receive, with a number of principals under the (erroneous) impression that minibus services provided to collect pupils for the integrated schools and the nursery units attached to many of them were paid for by DENI.
The response to the actual existence of an integrated school in the area was one of deliberate non-involvement. Only one of the principals had visited the new school, although most had been invited to special events such as the official opening: nor did they normally invite the principal or staff of the integrated school to functions held in their schools. There was an informal principals’ group, made up of the principals from the larger controlled and maintained primary schools in the area, which met on a fairly regular basis to discuss current educational policy and development. However, the principal of the integrated school was not invited to these meetings. In such a climate the anxieties of the staff in the integrated schools about their careers seem to have some foundation.
The controlled and maintained schools already form two distinct sectors with almost no staff interchange. There is a little cross community movement of teachers in the voluntary grammar schools, some Protestants work in Catholic grammar schools and vice versa, but the actual numbers are small. It would appear that, if the situation does not change over the next few years, the teachers in the integrated schools could become another separate sector. For the teachers there will be the additional problem that, if the schools remain relatively few and geographically scattered, it will be difficult to establish a clear career structure.
Concerns and anxieties about the future of the integrated school movement
During the early phases of the development of the schools there were immediate worries for many of the teachers. The financial position of some of the schools had been very precarious on numerous occasions and the teachers suggested that there had been times when they wondered whether they would have a job next month or whether there would be a pay cheque at the end of the month. In retrospect they were philosophical and even amusing about the anxieties they had experienced, but it was very clear that the levels of stress which had been endured were very great and that even now the teachers feel less secure than those in other schools.
The issue of employment outside the integrated schools touched on in the section on career structures was an obvious area of anxiety for the teachers although the extent of their worry varied. Many seemed relatively resigned to the situation , ‘I know I’m never going anywhere in career terms now’. The older teachers were probably least worried, and took the view that they had gone as far as they were going to go in career terms anyway, and so could afford the prospect of having to ‘stay put’ for the remainder of their time in teaching. They had taken a conscious decision to move to an integrated school, but did not feel they would have to pay too high a price for their gesture. The teachers in mid-career were aware that they had put themselves in a much more vulnerable position. Even those who had gained promotion in coming to the integrated school felt that it was quite likely to be the last promotion they would ever have unless the integrated sector grew dramatically over the next few years or unless they were prepared to move outside Northern Ireland. They did not foresee very rapid growth in the number of schools and the sheer economic and social problems of leaving Northern Ireland deterred most from considering that option. The young teachers at the start of their careers had initially not given a great deal of thought to their long term future. They were pleased to have a job in what they felt to be a friendly environment and were immersed in the immediate problems of ‘finding their feet’. Some of them were, however, beginning to think about what it meant to be labelled as a ‘teacher in an integrated school’. Their main hope was that with a long career stretching in front of them they would see major changes in the educational system in Northern Ireland, although they were not clear what form such changes might take.
The isolation of integrated schools
Some of the teachers talked about links with other schools. Their interest probably arose from the concerns already discussed about career patterns and the security which work in an integrated school could offer. The issue they were interested in analysing was, whether the integrated schools should remain separate from the rest of the school system or whether there should be more efforts to establish contacts and interchanges. Some of the teachers were worried that the schools could become ‘exclusive’ and just another separate group which would add to the divisions in the education system rather than reducing them. They found this particularly distressing because they felt that they had learnt a great deal by working with members of the other community within the school. This was often in quite practical terms, such as beginning to understand religious and social conventions which they had previously found strange or threatening. They also praised the opportunity for professional development which integrated education could provide ‘there are so many responsibilities to be undertaken .... teachers are constantly reassessing their work in the light of their aims ... all of this ought to stand someone in good stead in interviews in other schools’. This led some to the view that the contribution they might make to the overall school system in Northern Ireland would be more valuable if they did move back into the controlled or maintained sectors where they could share this learning. Few, however, believed that this would be possible ‘in real terms’. In any case as some pointed out, it was unlikely that they would want to teach in any other kind of school after this experience. A primary teacher who had previously worked in both sectors said that for her part such a move would ‘...require major re-thinking. Teaching in integrated education is a whole attitude of mind’.
Previous sections have dealt with the views and concerns of both parents and teachers separately, but central to the original objectives of those who founded the integrated schools was the relationship between the two. Partnership between parents and teachers is mentioned frequently in the literature of ACT, BELTIE and NICIE. So, from the outset, one of the main aims was to establish a quite different pattern of relations between parents and teachers and the early history of the schools has reinforced this distinct pattern.
To an extent quite unfamiliar in most educational settings the schools have been ‘parent driven’. Individual parents initiated the original meetings at which the idea of integrated education was discussed; in each locality groups of parents met in private houses and then set up the public meetings to gauge community support. So from the outset parents have been involved in a range of aspects of education with which they would not normally have any contact. They had to find suitable buildings for a school, negotiate all the details of purchasing, finance and renovation and oversee all stages of preparation up to painting the walls and arranging the desks. It was often only at quite a late stage, perhaps only two or three months before the school opened, that the first teacher was appointed. This was usually the principal and he or she was appointed by a panel on which parents formed the majority. The principal and teachers during the first year or two of each school’s existence were employed by a trust which was in effect made up of parents.
The ongoing involvement of parents is also written into the constitution of each of the schools. The exact form varies, but in all there is parental input to all the bodies connected with the management of the school. There are parents amongst the trustees, parent governors and a parents’ council. The parents’ council is open to all parents and meets regularly to discuss finance, management, staffing and curriculum matters. There are also sub-committees of the parent’s council and the governing body to deal with specific issues such as the religious education provision and curriculum. All of this means that parental involvement is institutionalised in a much more extensive and formal way than in most schools, and there is the potential for a much closer interaction between parents and teachers. The founding parents clearly intended that a new type of relationship should be established and one in which the balance of influence between the two groups would be tilted towards the parents.
However, even when complex structures have been established, translating the new relationship into reality proves a complex and difficult process. Both parents and teachers raised a number of issues which cause concern. The period of transition from the founding phase, during which the parents have very direct inputs, to the running phase, where the teachers move to a more central position, has been difficult for both groups. During the period before the school opened to pupils the parents were actively working in the school building and taking many of the practical decisions. At this stage they felt that the school was ‘really ours’, but once the teaching began and more of the decisions became traditional educational ones, they felt less confident and experienced a sense of ‘losing the school’. One parent said, ‘It seems to be run much like other schools now. The role of parents has become normalised’.
The teachers who had been involved since the school opened also expressed nostalgia, particularly about the first year of the school’s operation. At that stage schools were small and teachers felt that they were able to establish closer relationships with their pupils and their families than they had ever experienced in any other educational setting. With increasing numbers they felt this was slipping away. The teachers also felt that there were problems about coming into a situation where parents had already made many decisions, both about the actual physical layout of the school and about the role which they wanted to play in the school’s future. At a purely practical level they sometimes found it disconcerting to be working with parents on painting classrooms on Saturday, socialising on a first name basis and with the parent as the expert; and then trying to establish a different set of relationships on Monday when the same parent came into the classroom to discuss their child’s progress in reading. One commented, ‘I don’t like them coming in during the day and calling me by my first name in front of the children’. In some cases teachers felt that they faced situations of divided loyalty since the demarcations between parents and teachers were no longer clear cut. One teacher said that sometimes colleagues expressed concern about forms of ‘parental interference’ which she did not find threatening. But when she said that she did not think it was a problem, there was a danger of being accused of ‘siding with the parents’, and this could increase tension in situations where pressure of work was already putting everyone under stress.
The schools had established structures at the beginning to try to regularise and formalise parental involvement and the relationship between parents and teachers. But they had no models to guide them and even the definition of the relationship itself posed problems. The Parents’ Council was established as the main forum where parents could meet on a regular basis to discuss any aspect of the running of the school. But the precise relationship between the teachers and the Parents’ Council seemed unclear. In some cases teachers attended the Council as observers, whilst in others there was a formal report from the Council to the teachers. It seemed that the process of defining clear structures for close and productive parent teacher interaction, whether through the Parents’ Councils or by some other mechanism, had not yet been fully successful.
The Parents’ Councils were set up as the central channel through which parents can air their views and formulate requests to the teaching staff. Ideally the Council should be the equivalent of a staff meeting and could be a valuable structure for formalising parental input into school policy and hence parent-teacher relationships. In fact attendance by parents at council meetings was quite low in some instances and this was giving rise to concern. Some of the founder parents felt that the problem was that ‘newcomers did not understand the original aims’ and so did not see how important the Council was. ‘Meetings are left to the old stalwarts ... in this respect the school is just the same as any other place. There is nothing magical about it’. Others felt that the Council meetings did not address the central educational issues, ‘parents should be able to seek explanations from the teachers at meetings, for example about teaching methods, without anyone feeling embarrassed’. Other parents saw the meetings as too academic and not related closely enough to what was happening in the classroom, ‘they tend to go over my head’, or ‘sometimes I feel out of place’.
At present the parents are not sure how to get involved. One parent said, ‘Parents need active encouragement from staff to get involved’. The seeds of disillusionment could also be detected in some responses, such as the comment, ‘I was impressed in the early exciting heady days by what appeared to be on offer - the opportunity to help shape the curriculum ... this has not been followed through which is a pity because it had great potential’. At the same time teachers are not sure how to retain their professionalism whilst sharing responsibility and decision making. Sometimes they feel the parents are holding back ‘there is still much reticence on the part of the parents, they could get more out of their relationship with the school’. We felt both groups needed more time to think through the implications of their roles, to consider questions such as whether there is a role for parents in actually planning classroom activities and how much involvement teachers actually want.
It is clear from the interview data that to talk about parent! teacher relationships as a unitary concept is an oversimplification. Contact and interaction takes place at a number of levels and in a number of ways. At the first level there is the personal interaction of the individual parent with the individual teacher. This may differ little from what would occur in any school, except that it takes place against a background of a school philosophy which places parent / teacher relationships in a different context and therefore quite possibly produces different expectations on both sides. Then there is the level of the formal structured involvement of the two groups in policy making. This is much less familiar territory and there is clearly uncertainty amongst both parents and teachers about aims and procedures. On occasions we felt that some of the difficulties arose, not from disagreement between parents and teachers, but because either the teachers or the parents as a group, had not formulated an agreed position. Some teachers were much more ambivalent than others about, for example, parental contributions to curriculum development, and these differences made for uncertainty and suspicion when members of staff had to negotiate with parents.
Amongst the parents there were even clearer contrasts. Many, possibly the majority at this stage, welcome involvement but see it primarily as a personal thing relating mainly to their interest in and commitment to their own child's education. They are satisfied that involvement works if they feel they can talk to teachers in a more relaxed and informal way than they had previously been accustomed to and can go to visit the school without feeling intimidated. A number of parents said they were now not ‘afraid’ to approach staff. But there is also a group of parents who want to broaden the concept of involvement into a more general relationship with the school which goes beyond the education of their own children and affects the long term educational philosophy of the school. They seem to define parental involvement, not only as the personal interaction of parent and teacher over the education of the individual child, but as the exercise of influence over the management and running of the school as an institution, by parents as a group. This view seems to be held by many of the founder parents, and almost certainly results from their having had to take major decisions about the schools before any teaching staff were appointed. They see a continuing major role for parents in determining the policy and curriculum of the school and express frustration with what they see as the ‘lack of vision’ of some of the new parents.
The evidence from this study is necessarily provisional but there are indications that the pattern of parent-teacher relations may currently be going in different ways in the primary and secondary schools. In the primary schools the teachers seem to be on the defensive. They are anxious that parents may be making too many inroads into areas which they see as their province. In the secondary schools on the other hand the parents seem to be much more unsure about their role. They seem to feel that they do not have the competence to make valid inputs into the decision making process. This is true especially with reference to classroom practice, and perhaps reflects the raised level of academic difficulty of the curriculum material. This contrast may also be linked to the more general way in which the level of a parent’s involvement in all aspects of their child’s life gradually becomes less close and direct as the child gets older. Often, too, by this stage, mothers who had given up work when their children were born, may have returned to employment and would be unable to undertake daytime activities to help the school.
At primary level, especially when the child first enters school, the parents have a very direct sense of involvement (Farquhar,1986; Hannon,1986; Hannon,1990). They are likely to visit the school with the child, talk to the staff about the practicalities of the school day and then accompany and collect the child daily at least to begin with. This regular direct contact, linked with the integrated school’s stated policy of building up a partnership between parents and teachers means that most of the parents do not feel intimidated by contact with the school. In addition they feel they know the child better than the teacher and thus have valid inputs into any discussion. There is also the issue of the professional status of primary teachers and the general estimation made of the skills they have to exercise and the level of specialist knowledge needed to present learning tasks to young children. Although many parents do appreciate the magnitude of this task, there is still some sense that because the academic level of the content presented is limited it ‘can’t be that difficult to do’. All of this, coupled with the natural anxiety parents feel over a child’s early progress in numeracy and literacy, creates a climate in which some parents at least are keen to take advantage of the chance to have a say about the curriculum and teaching methods. For the teachers this can very easily become threatening and led some of them to interpret what a parent sees as ‘interest’ as ‘interference’. As a defence some were anxious to establish boundaries, both to the contexts in which issues could be raised and to the areas where parental input was legitimate. This remains an area where negotiation will be needed and individual integrated primary schools will have to evolve a pattern which respects the views of both groups.
In the secondary schools the balance seems to be rather different. Secondary school teaching, especially in grammar schools has traditionally had high status in Northern Ireland and this is reflected in the pattern of relationships emerging in the integrated secondary schools. By this stage the parents are still anxious to be informed but they are usually less sure of their competence to make direct inputs about teaching methods and content. The curriculum is seen as a much more specialised area in which ‘expert’ knowledge is needed. So concern focuses on the need to ensure that children achieve success in external examinations as a way of gaining access to higher or further education, training or employment. The parents are just as concerned as at primary level but do not feel they know enough about syllabuses or examination structures to be able to contribute directly to the formulation of the curriculum. In this situation it is the parents who feel threatened and who need supportive structures to enable them to raise issues and ask questions without the fear of ‘looking foolish’. The secondary schools are also considerably larger than the primary schools, so there may be more practical difficulties about parents and teachers meeting and this in itself may necessitate more formal structures. The problem in the integrated secondary schools does not seem to be that parents will ‘interfere’ but that, unless new patterns are firmly established, the reality of parental involvement may come to mean little more than the typical activities of a parent teacher group in any other school.
This section on the relationships between parents and teachers may seem to present a rather depressing picture. But as the research progressed we came to see the current diversity as positive. We would now suggest that a period of some uncertainty is a part of the process of trying to establish new patterns in a situation where neither parents nor teachers has any relevant precedents. In each school the two groups are evolving from a relatively naive belief in co-operation over children’s education, to facing the reality of shifting attitudes and expectations. The hope is to generate a measure of practical co-operation, and this is likely to be a long process with each school probably developing a slightly different pattern.
Out of the analysis of the parent and teacher interviews we have gained considerable insight into the attitudes and motivation of parents and teachers. In this final section of the report we want to reiterate and reinforce some of the general issues which seem crucial in understanding the development of the integrated schools to date and which are likely to have major implications for their future.
Time and skill requirements
Throughout the study we have been conscious of the immense time inputs which teachers and parents have had to put into the development of the schools. The time demands were at their maximum during the initial phases of the establishment of each school but they continue to be heavy. They arise from two main sources, the fact that parents and teachers have had to undertake so many of the responsibilities which would normally fall to a local authority or government department and also from schools' central philosophy of consultation.
This raises a number of questions which in the light of changes towards greater parental involvement and increased local management of all schools, have implications outside Northern Ireland (Halpin,1990; Howell,1990). A situation in which each individual school handles its own interactions with every outside agency does raise issues about efficiency. In the early stages it was probably inevitable that problems had to be tackled on an individual basis, but now the schools are beginning to think about possible structures which might enable them to co-ordinate some aspects of planning in order to cut down the volume of work for each set of governors, parents and teachers. On a very practical level can teachers, and especially teaching principals, be expected to undertake such a wide range of management tasks. The teachers themselves expressed concern about the effect on the quality of their teaching of having to do this over long periods of time. In some cases there may even be a risk to the physical health of those involved. In two of the integrated schools there was a change of principal just at the start of the life of the research project. Although such things are hard to quantify, in both cases it does seem that stress was one of the major factors involved. Similarly there must be uncertainty about whether large numbers of parents can be expected to input so much time and skill indefinitely. Our evidence suggests that parents want to be involved in their children's education but that for most this does not imply a wish or even a willingness to be heavily committed to meetings on a regular basis.
Commitment and motivation
Up to now in the integrated schools these very heavy requirements for time and skill inputs from parents and teachers have been sustained out of the very strong commitment to the concept of integration. Almost all of those strongly connected with the schools are anxious to improve community relations in Northern Ireland and see work for the integrated schools as one practical way of contributing to this process. For many in the core groups behind each school there is a strong link to their religious or political beliefs.
This again raises questions both for the future development of the schools and for wider issues relating to parental involvement in education. It must be questionable whether, in situations where a group was not driven by such a clear commitment and such strong underlying beliefs, parents or teachers would be prepared to put in so much time. Even in the integrated schools some of those who were active at the founding stage indicate that they now feel 'burnt out' and at the same time they are anxious that parents and teachers who are now coming into the schools may not be so ideologically committed and so may not be prepared to invest so much time and energy.
At the same time the very strength of commitment of some of the pioneers of integrated education could itself be problematic. It is not at all clear what are the long term consequences of a relatively small group of individuals with very strong views having a major input into the policy of a school. In the integrated schools the contribution of such individuals was crucial in the initial stages but it may now be posing some problems. The debate over the extent to which the schools should be 'Christian' in their ethos and how this should affect the attitude to the participation of teachers, parents and children of other religious backgrounds or none is related to this and is producing a range of strong opinions. This clearly echoes some of the debates currently surfacing in Britain about the place of religious education in multi-ethnic schools
Another aspect of the impact of individuals with strong commitments and views is the tension between long term and short term policy making. Schools as institutions usually have a long life, well in excess of the child-rearing span of any one family, but individual parents have a much shorter period of direct active participation in their family's education. In a situation where parents have a strong voice in the management of a school, a group of parents with a clear ideology may influence school policy in a particular direction only to be replaced in a relatively short period by another group who may have quite different aspirations for the school.
The integrated schools and official bodies
As was made clear in the first section of this report the integrated schools developed outside the formal religious, political and administrative structures of Northern Ireland. The churches, the political parties and government agencies did little to help the original groups who campaigned for integrated education and in some cases put obstacles in their way.
Once the first schools had been established the attitude shifted from one which could have been characterised as 'we don't want it, but it won't happen anyway' to one which saw the integrated school movement as unwelcome but too small to have to worry about. There has also been a problem for the 'establishment' institutions in that although they may disapprove of integrated schools it has been quite difficult to focus opposition. It is hard to object to parents' wish to influence their children's education or to condemn an organisation which has as one of its central aims the desire to improve community relations and end sectarian violence. This ambivalence is clearly seen in the attitude of the churches, particularly the Roman Catholic church, which on the one hand supports the right of parents to choose the appropriate education for their children but on the other seeks to ensure that all Catholic children are educated in Catholic schools.
Throughout the development of the schools one of the strengths of the movement has been that it has been very difficult to 'tie' the integrated schools to any faction in the community conflict. A common way of defusing cross community movements and peace initiatives in Northern Ireland has been to try to link them to the political aspirations of one faction and hence to undermine their credibility with other elements in the community and destroy their effectiveness as reconciling agents. In the case of the integrated school movement to find and exploit any such weakness has been very difficult since they received no help or support from any official groups or organisations on either side of the community - they could not be portrayed as agents of either Unionism, Nationalism or British government policy.
This may have changed with the Education Reform Order, since this does give a measure of government support to integrated schools. Since financing the establishment of each school has been such a difficult undertaking, the order seeks to provide a financial structure which will assist parents wishing to set up new schools and also provides incentives for turning existing schools into integrated schools. This has clear advantages for the integrated school movement but it does alter their perceived position in the community. What began as a 'grassroots' movement outside all official structures now has government support. In many contexts this could simply be interpreted as government policy reflecting the wishes of the governed in the best traditions of democracy. But in a situation of civil unrest, such as exists in Northern Ireland, it can also be interpreted as government taking over and using an initiative for political ends. Any official support or recognition carries dangers in Northern Ireland and the integrated school movement will have to come to terms with the delicate task of establishing a relationship with DENI whilst at the same time preserving a high level of visible independence.
The structure of the integrated school 'movement'
During its early phases integrated education developed in a very 'ad hoc' fashion. Groups of interested parents met in private homes to begin discussing the issues, planning campaigns for change and eventually organising the establishment of schools. ACT and BELTIE subsequently developed as umbrella organisations to try to co-ordinate the campaign for integrated schooling and exert pressure on government for support, but they have not developed a clear structure and policy nor can they claim to represent all the schools. Individual schools have continued to be established as a result of the work of local pressure groups and there has been no planned sequence in the opening of schools and no general policy concerning the geographical distribution of schools. The effective control on the opening of the next school has usually been the availability of finance, in the form of either grants or loans from the major foundations
After almost ten years and with fourteen schools in operation (1992) there is now considerable pressure both from the foundations and the government for the development of a more coherent policy and organisational structure. The foundations do not wish to continue to be asked to respond to individual local initiatives and government have to try to operate the new legislation in the Education Reform Order relating to integrated schools. Both would like some central body through which negotiations could be carried on. NICIE would seem to be the natural organisation to take on this role but this is currently proving problematic for a number of reasons. One of the things which originally attracted many of the founders to become involved with integrated schools was the 'grassroots' nature of the enterprise and the freedom from a central bureaucracy. Some of those early pioneers are averse to any suggestion that there is an integrated schools 'movement' for them there are just individual integrated schools which may have no more in common with one another than they have with any other schools in Northern Ireland. To move to a position where a body such as NICIE could speak on behalf of the schools or negotiate for them would be seen by many parents and teachers as undermining their roles. At the same time integrated schooling may well now have reached a stage where some thought will have to be given to the development of a medium term strategy for coordinated planning for the opening of new schools and the growth of existing ones.
The future pattern of Integrated schooling
This question of forward planning is clearly linked to the various possible future patterns of and roles for integrated education within the Northern Irish education system. At present both parents and teachers seem to see the future mainly in terms of the expansion of the school they are connected with, plus a general interest in seeing 'more schools' in other parts of the province. The wider issues tend to be seen through rather specific concerns. The teachers see the growth in the number of schools as giving them more flexibility in terms of promotion and career development, whilst the parents are interested in seeing more schools open so that travel will be less of a problem and secondary schooling will be available outside Belfast.
Alternatives to the present process of opening completely new schools also have to be considered in any future planning. The Education Reform Order sets out procedures through which existing schools can change their status to become integrated. In the present social and political climate of Northern Ireland such changes currently seem fraught with difficulty but it is conceivable that in the future they may be more acceptable. This would raise a whole new set of questions for the parents and teachers involved in the original integrated schools, as they would have to consider their relationship with a set of schools approaching integration with a completely different history and possibly totally different underlying aims and values. This raises the further question of whether in the long term the main contribution of integrated schools will be through the establishment of a new structure which will run in parallel with the two existing sets of schools or whether the main effect will be through subtly changing the educational climate and the relationships and expectations of both parents and teachers in the controlled and maintained schools.
With this range of possibilities and the current uncertain but relatively open agenda, there is an urgent need for some more detailed analysis of the possible patterns which may emerge over the next 10 or 15 years. This would have to take into account the demographic and geographical constraints which in a relatively sparsely populated and still predominantly rural community are crucial. If the integrated schools can develop an effective organisational structure, such an analysis might be one of its priorities but at present there does not seem to be a forum through which such questions can be addressed and this may have damaging consequences in the medium or long term.
This research has tried to examine a social and educational phenomenon which is at a relatively early stage of development and which is changing rapidly. This means that we can only provide a snapshot of where the integrated schools were at a particular moment. During the two years of the project there were major changes, the provisions of the Education Reform Order and the introduction of the Common Curriculum altered the framework within which the schools operate, four new schools opened, new parents and teachers became involved with the schools and long established figures moved out. At the same time in retrospect we believe even more firmly than we did at the outset that it was essential to carry out an investigation at this stage. To have delayed in the interests of 'letting the situation settle' or 'letting the schools find their feet' would have meant that many of the formative early experiences of both teachers and parents would have been forgotten and lost.
The central impression which comes out for us is one of complexity. The phrase parental involvement' is used so often and so glibly in many educational contexts today, as if everyone knew what it entailed and as if its benefits were obvious. The reality is much more clouded. The potential is there, but both parents and teachers are struggling towards a definition of what they mean by and want from involvement. At they same time, although the objectives are still unclear, they are having to try to create mechanisms which will allow them to interact productively without threatening or intimidating one another.
The study had both a specific contextual remit to examine the integrated schools in Northern Ireland and also a wider aim of illuminating the general area of parent-teacher interaction. Against this background the main conclusions are in two groups, those relating directly to the situation in Northern Ireland and those which are pertinent to integrated schools but also have implications for schools throughout the United kingdom. As is perhaps inevitable in research of this sort the report raises as many questions as it answers, so the concluding summary also constitutes an agenda for further research.
Specific Issues for the Integrated Schools In Northern Ireland
(a) The development of structures
It is clear that the integrated schooling sprang from a real grass-roots' initiative which had no links with any of the established religious or political factions in Northern Ireland. This was its great strength during the early period since it protected it from identification with one community and easy attack from the other. A point has now been reached, however, where existing patterns should be re-evaluated and additional structures may be needed. There is uncertainty about whether the parents' councils are fulfilling their function of involving all parents and providing a clear channel for contact with staff. Liaison between the schools could be assisted if there was a forum which all the schools felt able to use to exchange experiences and co-ordinate future planning. Government agencies and the funding bodies are also putting on pressure for the establishment of a structure through which they can interact with the schools collectively. In all these areas structures are needed but there is a clear tension between the high levels of individual initiative characteristic of the founding period and the new demands for more corporate action. The outcomes are still very unclear but one danger is that if the parents and teachers themselves do not evolve structures they may be imposed from outside in formats which might well be at odds with the philosophy of those directly involved.
(b) Moving from primary to secondary school
The primary-secondary interface is a crucial area which is likely to affect the development of integrated education. As an issue it is only just beginning to surface as it is only now that considerable numbers of children are reaching the end of an integrated primary education and their parents are having to decide where they should go for their secondary education. Outside Belfast this is a difficult and sometimes distressing experience for parents and children. The possibilities which must be considered include, the setting up of at least some integrated secondary schools outside Belfast. weekly boarding or negotiation with existing secondary schools to see whether some of them could make any specific provision for an intake of pupils from an integrated primary background. If some thought is not given to this transition it could be that anxiety about what is to happen when the child is 11 could be a factor which might deter some parents from using the schools. From a research perspective it would be very valuable if information could be collected about children leaving integrated primary schools who go into each of the secondary sectors - integrated, catholic, Protestant, grammar, intermediate and comprehensive. Such an investigation merits a research study in its own right.
(c) The career patterns of teachers
The effect of teaching in an integrated school on the medium and long term career patterns of the teachers also needs to be analysed. Most of the teachers came from the segregated school sectors into the integrated schools but there is as yet little evidence that moves in the reverse direction will become common. If in the future teachers do move freely it could have a considerable effect on the whole profession but if the teachers in the integrated schools are isolated they may become frustrated and disillusioned. Again this is an area which should be monitored over the next few years.
(d) Integrated education and parents in mixed marriages
One group of parents for whom the schools have particular importance are those in 'mixed Roman Catholic/Protestant marriages. When we began this research we knew that there was anecdotal evidence that many parents in mixed marriages were involved with the schools. As the study progressed the evidence clearly supported this view and it also became apparent what importance these parents attached to the availability of the schools.
People in mixed marriages can feel isolated and vulnerable in a polarised society such as Northern Ireland. Support from their families may be at best qualified and many social contexts can be awkward. In the integrated school movement they seem to find a setting in which they are not only fully accepted but their particular experience is valued. A connection with the schools therefore seems to have a wider significance for this group and would be very valuable if a more detailed study could be made of in this area. At present there are studies of the demographic aspects of mixed marriages, their incidence, geographical distribution etc. but there is very little information about the social implications.
Wider Issues Arising
Our second set of conclusions raises a number of wider questions relating to parent - teacher interaction which we believe have significance for schools through out the United kingdom. The issues have been analysed in detail in the main sections of the report but to reiterate the central conclusions:-
(a) There are considerable difficulties in sustaining parental involvement after the initial period of innovation. A new initiative generates enormous enthusiasm and commitment, individuals and groups are prepared to give very large amounts of time and expertise in order to achieve a clearly defined objective such as opening a school by a specific date. It is less easy to sustain on-going enthusiasm and interest in the running of an on-going institution. This appears to be true even when there is strong ideological and religious motivation as is the case with the integrated schools in Northern Ireland. In contexts where the issues are less emotive it may be even more difficult.
(b) The formation of actual or perceived cliques is very difficult to avoid. Such groups may well be seen by others as wielding power and influence and also as 'closed'. This perception of exclusiveness seems to be worrying since it may inhibit the process of ensuring that 'new' parents continually come forward to sustain an ongoing but evolving relationship between parents and teachers.
(c) It seems clear that individuals or small groups with strong opinions can exert great influence. This can significantly affect school policy and have far reaching implications. The potential effects this could have if particular social, political or religious groups gained control of schools raises fundamental questions about society's views on the formulation and direction of educational policy.
(d) The evolution of structures which allow a range of levels of interaction between and amongst parents and teachers without any group feeling under threat is crucial This covers mechanisms for strengthening individual parent teacher interactions, and provision of contexts in which discussion within the parent group and amongst the staff group can be facilitated as well as strengthened structures for the two groups to exchange views and co-operate.
(e) The general labels 'parental involvement' and 'parent-teacher co-operation' are oversimplified. Both processes are multi-layered and there is an urgent both to investigate these layers further and also try to support parents and teachers as they try to develop structures to make interaction at all levels more productive.
Much of this concluding section may sound pessimistic and negative, focusing as it does on areas which raise issues needing further analysis because of their complexity. We would be anxious not to conclude on such a note. The integrated schools represent one of the most exciting and innovative developments in education in the United Kingdom.
Throughout our interaction with the schools, the parents and the teachers we have been struck by the energy, enthusiasm and thoughtfulness of those involved and by the strong underlying commitment to providing the best possible education for the children who attend the schools. Changes in almost all aspects of their operation face schools throughout the United Kingdom. The integrated schools have already gone further along some of these paths than others and they can therefore continue to provide valuable case study material to illuminate the next stages for others.
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