Evidence from a Baseline Study of Teachers and Young People in Northern Ireland: Implications for Peace Education

Karen Kerr, Ulrike Niens, Paul Connolly

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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 young people’s social identity has often failed to take account of different social identity dimensions or to conceptualise outgroup behavior in the context of young people’s understandings of the social world. While recent research relating to bullying and bystander behavior amongst young people 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 behavior as captured in bystander scenarios relating to intergroup discrimination. 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 and hardened intergroup attitudes. Furthermore, previous research frequently highlighted teachers’ fears to tackle outgroup attitudes in the classroom, especially in contexts where pupils and the wider school community are seen as entrenched in community divisions (Hughes, Donnelly, Hewstone, Gallagher & Carlisle, 2010). However, there is no research investigating the relationship between pupils’ attitudes and teacher confidence to talk about such issues in the classroom, which is explored in this paper. In the context of Northern Ireland, a divided society emerging from sectarian conflict, social identity, outgroup attitudes and outgroup behaviours have been key concepts addressed by peace educators for many years. Building on this work, this paper provides a detailed picture of young people’s strength of group identification and their willingness to explore ingroup perspectives, sectarian attitudes and their reported willingness to challenge sectarian bullying. Using data from a baseline survey, which forms part of a randomized control trial investigating the effect of an educational intervention aimed to promote reconciliation, the sample involved young people of different denominational backgrounds, attending separate school sectors. The baseline data will be used to compare with post intervention data. Therefore, the data and its findings would be of particular interest to educators and policy makers in other European countries who are working to develop peace education interventions in societies emerging from conflict. Additionally, this paper considers the results from a baseline teacher survey, collected before training and teaching of the intervention began. The teacher survey focused on confidence in tackling sectarian issues in the classroom, previous experience of teaching such issues and their hopes and concerns for the reconciliation intervention. This paper therefore set out to investigate the relationship between dimensional concept of social identity, sectarian attitudes and pupils’ reported willingness to challenge sectarian bullying and to compare this with their teachers’ attitudes to teaching about sectarian issues in the classroom. Method The pupil sample included 35 primary and post-primary schools and about 800 pupils from 8-11 years old who completed an online questionnaire in December 2011 and January 2012. Main instruments for young people’s survey included an adapted version of the Multi-ethnic identity measure (Phinney, 1992) incorporating the dimensions identity affirmation and exploration, outgroup attitude scales, including an adaptation of the social distance measure (Bogardus, 1947), as well as a measure adapted from Palmer and Cameron (2011) involving scenarios to capture pupils’ intentions in bystander situations relating to intergroup discrimination. Results are analysed using regression analysis and take account of potential gender and religious differences. The teacher questionnaire was completed by the 35 primary and post-primary teachers who will deliver the intervention. Results are analysed in terms of how teachers’ responses compare with their pupil attitudes by considering their confidence in tackling sectarian issues in the classroom and how their previous experience and training relate to their hopes and concerns for the intervention. Expected Outcomes Results from the young people’s survey are discussed in the light of the role of social identity dimensions and their relationship to sectarian attitudes and reported bystander behaviour in sectarian school incidents. Furthermore, results related to pupils’ sectarian attitudes will be compared with teachers’ reported confidence in tackling sectarianism in the classroom. The teacher questionnaire also presents interesting findings in relation to teachers’ previous training and experience and how this may influence different perspectives on peace and reconciliation interventions and their expectations of what these could achieve. The paper concludes with potential implications for peace education initiatives and related teacher training in Northern Ireland and beyond. The implications will be of particular interest to policy makers, educators and those working in the area of peace education to design and implement interventions. References Bogardus, E. S. (1947) Measurement of Personal-Group Relations. Sociometry, 10: 4: 306–311. Hughes, J., Donnelly, C., Hewstone, M., Gallagher, T. & Carlisle, K. (2010) School partnerships and reconciliation: An evaluation of school collaboration in Northern Ireland. Belfast: Queen’s University Belfast. Available online: http://www.schoolsworkingtogether.com/documents/School%20collaboration%20in%20NI%202010.pdf. (accessed 27th Jan 2010) Palmer, S. & Cameron, L. (2011, May). What are the moderators and mediators of children’s bystander behaviour in the context of intergroup discrimination? Paper session presented at the UNA Global Biennial Conference 2011: Building Peaceable Communities: The Power of Early Childhood, Amsterdam, Holland. Phinney, J. S. (1992). The Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure: A new scale for use with diverse groups. Journal of Adolescent Research, 7, 156–176.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Sept 2012
EventEuropean Conference on Educational Research - Cádiz, Spain
Duration: 18 Sept 201221 Sept 2012


ConferenceEuropean Conference on Educational Research
Abbreviated titleEERA 2012
Internet address


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