Who got that cash?

September 28, 2007

The School of Education at Queen's University, Belfast, is managing a Pounds 3.7 million programme to bring together schools in Northern Ireland across denominational divisions.

A mix of 60 primary schools, Irish-language institutions, grammars and secondary moderns have teamed up in 12 cross-denominational partnerships for the Sharing Education Project, which is funded by the International Fund for Ireland and Atlantic Philanthropies.

In one project, Catholic and Protestant secondary schools will see if they can deliver a jointcitizenship programme. In another, a secondary school is offering modern language classes to pupils in several primary schools, as well as to their parents in the evenings.

Two schools are collaborating to run a further maths A-level course, as well as astronomy classes that neither would be able to do alone.

"The long-term goal of this is to establish reconciliation processes," said Tony Gallagher, head of the School of Education.

Research on "contact programmes" - where students from Catholic and Protestant schools met each other and participated in a few joint activity sessions - suggests that they have had limited effect, Professor Gallagher said. The Sharing Education Project "has good solid educational reasons for it as well", he said.

Professor Gallagher hopes it will make collaboration an integral, continuing part of schools' normal activity.

Denominational schooling in Northern Ireland has been bitterly defended by both sides in the historic conflict.

"We're working towards an integrated education system, which is stepping around the argument about ownership of schools," Professor Gallagher said.

"It's almost like recognising there are these institutional boundaries that exist in schools in Northern Ireland, and we're trying to make those boundaries more porous," he added.

The project started with the new school year. Some teachers have already made their first-ever visit to a neighbouring school.

As well as managing funding, the university is training teachers to deal with diverse classrooms and to handle controversial discussions. "One problem is that one of the ways we have dealt with these controversial issues for years is by not talking about them," Professor Gallagher said.

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