CCRU home background on CCRU community relations equality and equity research

Centre for the Study of Conflict
School of History, Philosophy and Politics,
Faculty of Humanities, University of Ulster

Education for Mutual Understanding: The Initial Statutory 
Years  frontispiece

Education for Mutual Understanding: The Initial Statutory Years

by Alan Smith and Alan Robinson
Published by the University of Ulster, Coleraine 1996
ISBN 1 85923 047 4
Paperback 107pp £5.00

Copies are available in bookshops or, by post, from:

Pat Shortt
Centre for the Study of Conflict
University of Ulster
Northern Ireland
BT52 1SA

T: (01265) 324666 or 324165
F: (01265) 324917

This material is copyright of the Centre for the Study of Conflict and the author(s) and is included on the CAIN web site with the permission of the publisher. Reproduction or redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.

Education for Mutual Understanding:
The Initial Statutory Years

by Alan Smith and Alan Robinson

Centre for the Study of Conflict
University of Ulster



Conceptual development within the curriculum
EMU in Transition
The values underlying EMU
EMU and Cultural Heritage: complementary themes
Key components of an agenda for EMU

A framework for implementation within the school
The EMU Promoting School
EMU and
... the whole school ethos
... the curriculum
... community relations

Roles and responsibilities within the school

The Cross Community Contact Scheme

Co-ordination within the education system

Training and professional development

Evaluating further progress

Summary of recommendations




The Centre for the Study of Conflict is a research centre based in the University of Ulster. Its main work is the promotion and encouragement of research on the community conflict and to this end it concentrates on practical issues to do with institutional and community structures and change. It publishes papers and books arising out of this work including: a series of research papers particularly designed to make available research data and reports; a series of Majority-Minority reports.

We are very pleased to publish this new report on Education for Mutual Understanding by Alan Smith and Alan Robinson. It is the final report of a three-year research and evaluation project which concentrated on the introduction of a cross-curricular theme, Education for Mutual Understanding (EMU), to the school curriculum in Northern Ireland.

The first report on this work was published in 1992 as EMU: Perceptions and Policy, and involved research into how those within the education system perceive EMU, The next stages of the project involved work with teachers in schools, and with people from the wider education system who are involved in the implementation of EMU. The purpose was to identity and examine those approaches to EMU most likely to be fruitful. The results of this work form the basis for this final report and represent an insight into the development of EMU within schools as part of the curriculum during the initial statutory years (1992-95).

The Centre has recently published a number of other reports on topics such as Sport and Community Relations, Parades in Northern Ireland, Policing a Divided Society, and 'Peace Education'. This report on EMU is one of three new reports to be published at this time, the other two being on 'Mixed Marriages' and on 'Ethnic Residential Segregation in Northern Ireland'. A full list of the Centre's publications is printed at the back of this volume

Professor Seamus Dunn
Director, Centre for the Study of Conflict
January 1996.

Return to publication contents


The Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 introduced Education for Mutual Understanding (EMU), and the related theme of Cultural Heritage, as part of the curriculum for all grant-aided schools in Northern Ireland. The statutory provisions relating to these educational themes came into operation in respect of all pupils in Key Stages 1, 2 and 3 and in the first year of Key Stage 4 from 1 August 1992.

The former Northern Ireland Curriculum Council produced guidance material to support the definition that,

Education for Mutual Understanding is about self-respect, and respect for others, and the improvement of relationships between people of differing cultural traditions. (NICC, 1990)

The objectives state that as an integral part of their education the themes should enable pupils.

to learn to respect and value themselves and others; to appreciate the interdependence of people within society; to know about and understand what is shared as well as what is different about their cultural traditions; and to appreciate how conflict may be handled in non-violent ways. (NICC, 1990)

There is no direct assessment of individual pupils concerning EMU and Cultural Heritage. In 1992 a Statutory Order conjoined the objectives of EMU and Cultural Heritage thereby emphasising the close relationship between them.

The Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order, 1989 also places a statutory responsibility on school governors to report annually to parents on steps taken to promote EMU.

Although the themes are a mandatory feature of the curriculum, cross community contact with pupils from other schools remains an optional strategy which teachers are encouraged to use. Schools can apply for financial support from the Cross Community Contact Scheme administered by the Community Relations Branch of the Department of Education for Northern Ireland. A number of voluntary and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) also offer various forms of support to schools (FOCUS, 1995).

EMU: Perceptions and Policy

The period between the introduction of legislation and the inclusion of EMU in the curriculum provided an opportunity to consider the implications of EMU's transition from a voluntary activity to a statutory requirement. A research project based in the Centre for the Study of Conflict at the University of Ulster investigated how the introduction of EMU was perceived by individuals within various domains of the education system and was published as a report, EMU: Perceptions and Policy (Smith and Robinson, 1992).

This initial research confirmed that the inclusion of EMU in the statutory curriculum had been largely unanticipated with less than a third of schools having a policy in place. It also became clear that teachers' perceptions of the theme and its purpose were diverse and varied and not restricted to community relations issues in Northern Ireland alone. Teachers also identified more universal aspects, such as gender relations, human rights and ethnic diversity in a European and international context as deriving naturally from the aims of EMU.

In the short term, however, a survey Indicated that most schools would rely heavily on a strategy which concentrates on generating more contact between Catholic and Protestant pupils from different schools. This is reflected in the number of schools involved in Department of Education, Cross Community Contact Scheme which has grown steadily since its introduction in 1987.

In 1987 only 13% of primary and 24% of second-level schools were involved. In 1991 this had risen to 23% of primary and 39% of secondary. By 1994 42% of primary and 59% of second level schools were involved in cross community contact through the Scheme (see Chapter 4).

The first phase of the evaluation had therefore established some base lines in terms of perceptions of EMU within the system, levels of cross-community contact and views on strategies for implementation.

Recommendations from the research highlighted the need:

  • to clarify the conceptual framework for EMU;
  • to promote better co-ordination concerning EMU within and between the various domains of the education system:
  • to give more priority to teacher education and training in EMU;
  • to clarify long term strategies for the evaluation of EMU.

Further development

During the period following the publication of EMU: Perceptions and Policy the evaluation developed in two further directions.

A second phase worked closely with the EMU co-ordinators from a small number of schools to track their progress as the co-ordinators engaged in a school-based development process. This provided essential insight into the practical issues and difficulties in the implementation of EMU at school level.

A third phase of the evaluation worked in a participatory way with a range of professional and voluntary personnel throughout the education system who are engaged in the development and implementation of EMU on a daily basis. These included teachers from primary and secondary schools, field workers from voluntary organisations, education advisers from a range of statutory authorities, teacher educators and administrative and professional representatives from the Department of Education. As part of the formative evaluation process the researchers facilitated two major conferences which drew participants from all these domains. These proved to be particularly helpful, not only in ascertaining progress, but also in providing a forum for those involved in the field to share ideas and develop a sense of common purpose.

This report is the outcome of these latter phases and represents an evaluation of the progress which has been made on a number of fronts. In particular, these phases have provided valuable insight into the progress which has been made within the education system on important issues such as the conceptual development of EMU, the process of implementation at school level and action on practical issues such as dissemination, co-ordination and training during the short period of time since EMU became a statutory feature of the curriculum.

Return to publication contents

Summary of recommendations

This project has not been a typical policy evaluation in that it has sought to provide a qualitative insight into the developments which have taken place over the initial, three-year period of government policy to include Education for Mutual Understanding in the Northern Ireland Curriculum. The original project proposal emphasised a 'stakeholder' approach which would encourage a wide range of interest groups in education to participate in the evaluation process. As a consequence the evaluation has been formative in that it has also contributed to the development of thinking about EMU within the system. Indeed, in the absence of formal structures for liaison within the system, the project itself often provided a forum for debate and discussion on matters related to EMU.

The end of the project comes at a time when there is a recognised need for renewed institutional commitment to EMU. The relevance of the theme, and the values it represents, persist irrespective of changes in an uncertain political environment. There are concerns that established posts to support EMU should be sustained and strengthened, and that the contribution of voluntary organisations becomes recognised more fully. A significant concern is the lack of progress which has been made in developing a comprehensive plan for education, training and professional development to support teachers in the implementation of EMU.

The insecure and often temporary positions held by many of the personnel in key organisations also raises Issues about the prospects for continuity and stability in the development of EMU. Without the establishment of more durable structures for liaison and promotion within the system (which are not solely dependent on the commitment and enthusiasm of individuals) it has been suggested that EMU may become a temporary manifestation within the Northern Ireland Curriculum during the 1990s.

Despite this there is some evidence to suggest that government support for Education for Mutual Understanding, along with a range of other community relations initiatives, has helped change the discourse in Northern Ireland by introducing a language which allows people to express their support for cultural pluralism and political dialogue rather than sectarianism and political violence. The challenge now is whether such initiatives can help young people move beyond the 'polite exchange' so that they engage with each other in meaningful discussion of controversial social, cultural, religious and political issues.

The following is a summary of findings and recommendations arising from this evaluation:

Conceptual development within the curriculum

1. In curricular terms, the introduction of EMU to a statutory framework has helped clarify the values which those working within formal education are being asked to promote. This has been helpful in disassociating the theme from narrow political objectives.

2. There are overriding concerns about the extent to which the themes are evident at classroom level and the effectiveness of a cross curricular strategy for the implementation of EMU.

3. Despite concerns about the overall visibility, initial evidence suggests that, of the six cross curricular themes, EMU is one of the most discernible to pupils. Cultural Heritage has a much lower profile.

4. The complimentary nature of the two themes suggest that they should be formally amalgamated into one theme (EMU) with a single set of four objectives.

5. The impact of EMU continues to be limited by the fact that teachers find it elusive. No clear agenda has emerged. It would be helpful if curriculum guidance identified the components of a more specific agenda for EMU.

6. Two important areas for educational development are noticeably absent from most current activities undertaken as part of EMU. One is a focus on civil and human rights and the other is a concern to encourage young people's understanding and participation in political processes.

Civics, human rights and education for political participation are particularly relevant strands of EMU at a time when the broader society supports a commitment to political dialogue rather than political violence.

7. During the initial statutory years of EMU within the curriculum there is little evidence that teachers have been able to develop progression towards approaches to address the more controversial aspects of EMU.

8. Inspection reports and research studies have drawn attention to the difficulties which schools encounter in developing coherence in the way that educational themes such as EMU are planned and implemented across different subjects and years of schooling.

The prospect of a moratorium on further curriculum change that has been promised by government now offers a five-year period for some of these long term issues to be addressed.

A framework for implementation

9. During the initial years of its introduction to the statutory curriculum it has become clear that the aims and objectives of EMU will not be secured through a minimalist approach which solely requires teachers to incorporate the theme within their subject areas. A more comprehensive framework which includes the commitment of teachers on whole school issues as well as some voluntary involvement in cross community contact will be required.

10. The aims and objectives of EMU have important implications for issues of whole school concern including the nature of relationships within the school and its policies for discipline and pastoral care.

11. The statutory requirement to incorporate the aims and objectives of EMU within areas of study in the curriculum has important implications for the teaching methods and learning processes within the school.

12. The inclusion of EMU within the statutory curriculum carries an implicit expectation that, as part of their teaching, teachers will attempt to address issues which are relevant to community division within contemporary society in Northern Ireland.

13. There is an expectation that the inclusion of EMU within the statutory curriculum will draw attention to the role of the school as a focal point for relationships within and between communities.

Whilst this framework has become clearer during the initial years of EMU within the Northern Ireland Curriculum, it is by no means widespread and it remains to be seen to what extent schools are willing to move beyond minimalist, statutory interpretations of EMU in practice.

Roles and responsibilities

14. The most important factor in developing EMU in a comprehensive way throughout the school is the support and commitment afforded the programme by the Principal and senior management.

15. It is crucial that coordinators for EMU do not become isolated, but develop effective links with senior management and support networks which involve colleagues.

The Cross Community Contact Scheme

16. The number of schools participating in the Cross Community Contact Scheme in 1994-95 has increased to 45% of all schools (42% of primary schools and 59% of post-primary schools).

17. The number of pupils who have participated in cross community contact programmes is more difficult to determine. One estimate is that during 1994-95 less than 20% of primary and less than 10% of secondary pupils participated in cross community contact programmes organised by schools.

18. It may be unrealistic to expect that every pupil participates in a cross community contact programme every year Schools should be encouraged to concentrate on a small number of annual programmes which offer progression and quality of experience.

19. The Department of Education, Community Relations Branch should retain responsibility for:

  • the administration of core funding for NGOs;

  • the administration of EU education programmes;

  • the monitoring and evaluation of the above programmes.

20. In retaining responsibility for the core funding of NGOs the Department of Education, Community Relations Branch should:

  • develop a coherent set of published criteria for the funding of NGOs;

  • establish 3-year funding cycles which provide early warning if funding is to be terminated;

  • evaluate how the core funding programme helps secure DENI policy objectives for community relations and EMU.

21. The administration of the Cross Community Contact Scheme for schools should be devolved to the Education and Library Boards, but steps should be taken to secure agreements so that:

  • full-time, advisory posts for EMU are created in each Education and Library Board:

  • each ELB receives adequate resources for the administration of the Scheme:

  • each ELB puts forward a comprehensive plan which outlines a strategy for the overall support of EMU (in terms of whole school and curriculum development, cross community contact and provision for in-service training):

  • Boards should have some flexibility to support programmes which do not necessarily involve cross community contact between pupils, but nevertheless contribute to improvements in practice and the development of EMU,

  • The number of teacher cover days available to support cross community contact between schools should be clearly identified. but Boards should also have some flexibility to provide cover for teachers engaged in curriculum development and training related to EMU.

22. Regular co-ordination between the Inter Board EMU Panel and DENI Community Relations Branch should take place.

Co-ordination within the education system

23. The implementation of EMU would be enhanced by improved levels of co-ordination within the formal education system. To date improvements in the level of co-ordination have been mainly restricted to those working within similar domains (between Boards, between voluntary groups. between teacher educators).

24. The emergence of an Inter Board EMU Panel is a significant and positive development. The Panel should be encouraged to take a lead in creating a co-ordinating structure which is broadly representative of statutory, voluntary and academic interests in EMU

25. Opportunities should be sought to encourage better co-ordination and interaction between formal education, the youth services and community activists regarding the improvement of community relations.

Training and professional development for EMU

26. Needs in terms of education, training and professional development to support the implementation of EMU have been identified at the following 5 levels:

i) An initiative by the ELBs or RTU directed at governors and Principals was considered to be the key to creating an overall climate of support;

ii) Training from Boards for co-ordinators on matters relating to policy and review and to increase the skills involved in carrying out their job:

iii) School-based initiatives which raise awareness within the whole teaching staff and include training on methodology and processes such as conflict resolution (EMU co-ordinators supported by ELBs);

iv) The inclusion of appropriate preparation and training on EMU as an integral feature of Initial Teacher Training courses by the Universities and Colleges of Education:

v) Opportunities for professional development in EMU as a feature of certificated postgraduate courses at Universities (including management courses).

27. No co-ordinated plan to support the implementation of EMU within the system has emerged. The Inter Board EMU Panel should be encouraged to convene a representative group of statutory, academic and voluntary providers to develop and implement such a plan.

28. The inclusion of issues related to EMU in senior management training remains the single most important aspect of a training agenda for the foreseeable future and remains unaddressed.

29. Significant opportunities for training which supports EMU are available through RTU delivery mechanisms (inter-Board courses on 'minority' issues; issue conferences: annual Summer School; accredited short courses). but these have not been utilised.

30. Within higher education greater co-ordination on EMU between the Colleges and Universities should be encouraged (perhaps through the establishment of a representative group which meets regularly) so that the quality of experience at pre-service level can be considered. Some consideration might be given to the rationalisation of the EMU content in professional development courses within the Universities and consideration might be given to gaps in provision within management courses.

31. Considerable experience in the practical and methodological issues in implementing EMU exists within voluntary organisations and this should be drawn upon by statutory and academic agencies where possible.

Evaluating further progress

32. The evaluation of progress and impact of EMU remains problematic. A co-ordinated approach might focus on the following Issues within the system and involve a number of different agencies:

i) school-based approaches which concentrate on annual reviews of what progress has been made to support EMU at the level of the whole school, within the curriculum and in terms of cross community contact (EMU Co-ordinators supported by senior management and a school EMU group);

ii) an evaluation of the quality of EMU programmes within the curriculum and how progression might be achieved more successfully (Inspectorate);

iii) an evaluation of the quality of cross community contact programmes between schools (Education and Library Boards);

iv) an analysis of school Annual Reports on EMU (undertaken by ELBs, DENI or CCRU);

v) an evaluation of the core funding programme for non-governmental organisations which support the work of schools (DENI, Community Relations Branch);

vi) academic studies, including those based on social identity theory; those which trace former participants in EMU programmes; and approaches which explore the relationship between biography and social attitudes (academics in association with voluntary reconciliation bodies).

Return to publication contents

© CCRU 1998-1999
site developed by: Martin Melaugh
page last modified:
Back to the top of this page