Shared Education — A Bright Future for Northern Ireland’s Education Sector

The ECPC praises the success of Northern Ireland’s PEACE IV Shared Education initiative in promoting the development of new friendships among children by fostering respect for diversity

by Michael F. McCarthy and N. Shemrah Fallon

Omagh Integrated Nursery, Omagh North Nursery, and Christ the King Nursery — a variety of play and craft activities that supported the children’s development as well as promoting the development of friendships. ©2020 Early Years.
Omagh Integrated Nursery, Omagh North Nursery, and Christ the King Nursery — a variety of play and craft activities that supported the children’s development as well as promoting the development of friendships. ©2020 Early Years.

ECPC members play an active role in the formation of Shared Education (2012–2021)

Carving a path forward

To better understand the value of this initiative to the current and future generations of families and children in the region, let’s go back in time to when it first all began.

Report cover, Advancing Shared Education (2013)
Report cover, Advancing Shared Education (2013)

“[Shared Education is] a new concept where schools from across the religious divide could begin to share curriculum and extracurricular activities but still hold onto their ethos and management structures.”

She emphasized the important role that ECPC members and member organizations have played in promoting Shared Education, and in advocating for a formal piece of legislation.

The Early Years mounts a significant lobby for ECD

According to Pauline Walmsley, Chief Executive Officer for Early Years — the organization for young children,

“Early Years mounted a significant lobby to ensure that the piece of legislation addressed [early childhood development] and the child’s commencement on the education journey and not just school.”

The Ministerial Advisory Group along with Early Years successfully advocated for Shared Education to be utilized from early childhood through the third level of primary school.

“[Shared Education] was seen as a major breakthrough and a new direction for an education system.”

The Shared Education Act (Northern Ireland) 2016

The Shared Education Act defines “shared education” as collaborative education with “those of different religious beliefs, including reasonable numbers of both Protestant and Roman Catholic children or young persons” and “those who are experiencing socio-economic deprivation and those who are not.” The Act outlines five objectives of shared education:

Cover Shared Education Act, N. Ireland, 2016
Cover Shared Education Act, N. Ireland, 2016
  1. promote the efficient and effective use of resources,
  2. promote equality of opportunity,
  3. promote good relations, and
  4. promote respect for identity, diversity, community cohesion.

Implementing Shared Education: A two-part delivery system

In 2018, the Special European Union Programmes Body (SEUPB) allocated nearly €30 million to the Shared Education project from the Peace IV Programme, a long-standing initiative created by the European Union to “support peace and reconciliation” in Northern Ireland and the Border Counties of Ireland. The two-part initiative is delivered to pre-schools, and primary and post-primary schools, and will run until 2022.

1. Sharing from the Start

Acorn Montessori School, Sligo, and Cosy Cats Childcare, Co Sligo joint sports day — the ‘Sharing From The Start Olympics’ — to encourage discussion about the different countries taking part. ©2018 Early Years.
Acorn Montessori School, Sligo, and Cosy Cats Childcare, Co Sligo joint sports day — the ‘Sharing From The Start Olympics’ — to encourage discussion about the different countries taking part. ©2018 Early Years.

2. Collaboration and Sharing in Education (CASE)

The second program funded to implement Shared Education initiatives is the Collaboration and Sharing in Education (CASE) project. CASE is implemented by the Education Authority, an organization sponsored by Northern Ireland’s Department of Education, in partnership with Léargas, an NGO that manages education programs. The project currently targets 135,000 students, 2,000 teachers, and nearly 300 primary and post-primary schools across Northern Ireland and the six Border Counties of Ireland until March 2022. The CASE project website explains that “through working in partnership, the participating schools will promote community cohesion, enhance educational outcomes for all pupils and provide shared professional development” with the ultimate goal of “build[ing] a culture of good relations amongst children and young people in a school-based setting.”

PEACE IV Shared Education Week 2021 — Launch of evaluation findings

Omagh Integrated Nursery, Omagh North Nursery, and Christ the King Nursery — a variety of play and craft activities that supported the children’s development as well as promoting the development of friendships. ©2020 Early Years.
Omagh Integrated Nursery, Omagh North Nursery, and Christ the King Nursery — a variety of play and craft activities that supported the children’s development as well as promoting the development of friendships. ©2020 Early Years.

ECPC Chair acknowledges the importance of Shared Education

To celebrate the success of the Shared Education project, Claire Dorris, Policy and Research Analyst from the United Kingdom’s National Children’s Bureau, invited ECPC Chair Dr. Rima Salah to speak in support of the week-long online event.

International reflections on PEACE IV Shared Education, by Dr. Rima Salah, Chair ECPC

Facing a brighter future

Hope for lasting change for future generations

Glass water Preschool and Loughinisland Preschool, Co Down joint St Patrick’s Day event learning about different cultures and music. ©2019 Early Years.
Glass water Preschool and Loughinisland Preschool, Co Down joint St Patrick’s Day event learning about different cultures and music. ©2019 Early Years.
Glass water Preschool and Loughinisland Preschool, Co Down joint St Patrick’s Day event learning about different cultures and music. ©2019 Early Years.

Coming up

Don’t miss Part II, “Taking the High Road: Peacebuilding through Early Childhood in Northern Ireland ”. Follow us on Medium to stay informed!

References

Connolly, P., Purvis, D., & O’Grady, P. J. (2013). Advancing Shared Education: Report of the Ministerial Advisory Group. Department of Education (Northern Ireland).

About the ECPC

The Early Childhood Peace Consortium (ECPC) is a global movement of United Nations agencies, Non-Governmental Organizations, academia, practitioners, and the private sector focused on sharing scientific and practice-based evidence on how investment in early childhood development (ECD) can contribute to sustainable peace, social cohesion and social justice. We recognize that investing in ECD is a powerful and cost-effective strategy for reducing violence, poverty, and exclusion and for building peaceful societies.

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