A public policy specialist from the Shared Education Learning Forum (SELF) today called for greater cross-community school collaboration if Northern Ireland is to meet its targets in the Programme for Government.
Colin Knox, Professor of Comparative Public Policy at the University of Ulster, was speaking at the SELF second annual conference entitled ‘Supporting the Programme for Government Commitments on Shared Education’. The event took place at Riddel Hall at Queen’s University, Belfast.
He said: “existing models have shown that shared education can significantly contribute to the Education Minister’s agenda on raising educational outcomes and, in doing so, contribute to a more reconciled society.
“There is strong evidence to suggest that if schools are incentivised to collaborate together in areas where one is strong and the other weak, improvements in teaching and learning; pupils’ behaviour; and education achievement can be gained. Shared education can be the mechanism to deliver this and the way education should be delivered moving forward.
“It will result in a wider curriculum choice for pupils across the schools involved; encourage student mobility between schools through shared classes; and support collaborative staff development activities,” he added.
The conference was attended by Education Minister John O’Dowd, who addressed attendees. He said: “I am committed to encouraging schools to share facilities and resources across and between sectors, with the interest of pupils at the forefront. The Programme for Government sets out four key commitments on shared education, which I and my Department are currently working diligently towards. Indeed the Ministerial Advisory Group that I established in July will report its findings to me in February. By taking steps towards more shared education, we will deliver real educational benefits, ensure the best use of the resources available and, ultimately, bolster community cohesion.”
The conference was organised by the three groups who make up SELF: Queen’s University Belfast, The Fermanagh Trust and the North Eastern Education and Library Board’s Primary Integrating/Enriching Education (PIEE) Project.
The event was supported by the International Fund for Ireland and the Atlantic Philanthropies as part of the Sharing Education Programme, which encourages schools to work together and provide the means for sustained contact among people from different communities to promote understanding and reconciliation.
The conference looked at some of the work achieved since the programme launched in 2007 and which now involves 162 schools, across 47 separate partnerships and more than 12,771 of pupils throughout Northern Ireland.
Dr. Adrian Johnston, Chairman of the International Fund for Ireland, and speaking on behalf of the Fund and the Atlantic Philanthropies said:
“The economic benefits are clear, but shared education is not about providing new funding models, it’s about schools working on a collaborative basis, sharing resources and benefiting greatly from doing so. The partnerships participating in today’s conference have proven that effective models already exist which can advance education and promote reconciliation.
“We would like to see them adopted by the wider school community, supported by policy and incentivised by adequate resources so they become embedded in the life of all schools. Shared education is a vitally important subject and that’s why today is a vitally important day.”
Professor Tony Gallagher, Pro-Vice Chancellor and Professor of Education at Queen’s University Belfast and spokesperson for SELF said: “The Sharing Education Programme has demonstrated that by running shared classes, on a sustained and regular basis, schools can increase opportunities for pupils, improve standards, and promote better understanding and new friendships.
"When schools work together there are benefits to be had for principals and teachers, pupils and young people, and the wider community. Resources are used more effectively, and the quality of learning for all in the school community, teachers and pupils alike, is improved. Most important, young people learn together and they learn from each other, and this will help them build a shared and better future, together."
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