A Pupil Baseline Study in Northern Ireland: Reported Willingness to Challenge Sectarian Bullying in School

Ulrike Niens, Karen Kerr, Paul Connolly

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Topic Background: Peace education initiatives in schools are often based on social psychological theories assuming that social identity affects ingroup and outgroup attitudes and, in turn, behaviors relating to relevant outgroups. However, research evidence on the role of children's social identity has often failed to take account of different social identity dimensions or to conceptualise behavior in the context of children's understandings of the social world. While recent research relating to bullying and bystander behavior amongst children has addressed the latter point, this has rarely been considered in conjunction with a differentiated view of social identity. This paper is therefore distinctive as it will address the role of social identity dimensions with regards to reported behavior as captured in bystander scenarios relating to outgroup derogation. This is particularly important in the context of divided societies, where peace education initiatives are crucial in promoting positive community relations for the future and where such initiative may be hampered by communities' concerns about loss of identity. In the context of Northern Ireland, a divided society emerging from conflict, social identity, outgroup attitudes and behaviours have been key concepts addressed by peace educators for many years.

Research questions: This paper therefore set out to investigate the relationship between social identity, measured as affiliation with the group and exploration of its meaning for the child, sectarian attitudes and pupils' reported willingness to challenge sectarian bullying in their school environment in Northern Ireland.

Research methods: The findings are based on the analysis of a baseline survey, which forms part of a randomised control trial of an intervention aimed at promoting community relations and reconciliation. The trial includes 35 primary and post-primary schools and about 800 pupils from 8-11 years old who completed an online questionnaire at the start of the programme. Main instruments for this study included adapted scales measuring identity affiliation and identity exploration, sectarian attitudes and scenarios capturing pupils' intentions in bystander situations relating to sectarian bullying.

Analytical framework: Results are analysed using regression analysis and additionally investigate gender and religious differences.

Research findings and/or contribution to knowledge: Results are discussed in the light of the role of social identity dimensions and their relationship to outgroup attitudes and willingness to challenge outgroup derogation. The paper concludes with potential implications for peace education initiatives in Northern Ireland and beyond.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Sept 2012
EventBritish Educational Research Association, Annual Conference - University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom
Duration: 4 Sept 20126 Sept 2012


ConferenceBritish Educational Research Association, Annual Conference
Abbreviated titleBERA 2012
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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