Inter School Links

Seamus Dunn, Alan Smith

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INTRODUCTIONSCHOOLS APART? This report is a successor of the two earlier works published as Schools Apart?, (Darby, et al, 1977) and Schools Together?, (Dunn, et al, 1984) . It is concerned with the contribution that the two schools systems in Northern Ireland might make to the promotion of cross community relations, in particular through the development of structured and coherent inter school links. The first research in this series was an attempt to try to "fill the gap between the wide general interest in the subject of integrated schooling in Northern Ireland and the shortage of information about segregated schools". (Darby, et al, 1977) . The questions posed by this work were basic and to do with the need for factual information. First: what proportion of children in the province are educated separately according to religion? Or, to put that another way, do the terms Catholic School and Protestant School represent a fair description of the schools? Second: what are the essential differences between the two sets of schools? And in what do these differences lie? Is it in curriculum, or in managerial and administrative structures, or in the qualifications of the teachers, or in the pervading religious ethos, or the cultural choices as in school visits, text-book choices, media programmes listened to, games played, and so on? Third: how do the two school systems perceive each other, and do these perceptions match up with any form of reality. The report indicated that at that time there was a genuinely segregated system. There was little evidence of any significant level of crossover between the two systems, and this was equally true of teachers and of boards of management. But the results also seemed to indicate that in broad terms the differences were less immediately obvious than the similarities. For example, they were certainly more like each other than they were like schools in England or in France. With respect to such matters as teacher qualifications, work profiles of principals, classroom practices such as streaming, many aspects of the curriculum, many of the games played, there was little obvious difference. Later Dominic Murray carried out a more detailed study with two neighbouring primary schools, with broadly similar results. (Murray, 1983 and 1985). SCHOOLS TOGETHER? There were two particular results of this research which seemed to contradict each other. The first was a conviction, expressed by almost all those interviewed, that large scale integration of the two school systems (whether desirable or not) was not likely in the immediate future. And the second was a high level of regret and anxiety about the consequences (or just the possible consequences) of the existing separated schools. The most logical way to reconcile these two apparently contradictory views was to try to discover to what extent the separateness of the two systems was complete and unbroken. It was this that led to a follow-up research, which began in 1982. This looked closely at the extent to which links existed between the two school sectors at local level, by carrying out a survey in four different communities in the province. The results were published as Schools Together? (Dunn, et al, 1984). The results could be summarised as indicating that, in the context of the contribution that schools might make to the promotion of cross-community relations, very little that was worthwhile was going on. Most contacts between schools took the form of singular, one-off isolated events, which tended to have no structure or follow-up or enduring quality. The characteristics of worthwhile activities were not defined by the researchers but emerged out of interviews with teachers and school principals. They were: Children need to be brought together systematically and on a long-term basis. Short-term activities without development are of limited value. Children must be brought together for a valuable and well-planned purpose, and not just to learn to like each other: that is, growth in relationships can only take place within a context that has some worth in itself. Travel outside the region is important, since, in Northern Ireland, venues and context have so much hidden meaning and local symbolism built into them. The sum total of these characteristics suggested that this kind of activity required subtlety, creativity and a great deal of thought and planning. It was unlikely to happen overnight, and it was not always likely to be within the capability of a single school or pair of schools to think it out and plan it properly. INTER SCHOOL LINKS The project, Inter School Links, which is described in this report, is a consequence of these two researches. It's task was to try to seek answers to questions such as the following: What can schools do, and what do schools do, to ameliorate the consequences of separation? What forms do joint activities or partnerships or inter school involvements take? How can inter school cooperation be generated and made part of the fabric of a school so that it persists after the period of the project? What resources are needed to make co-operation feasible, and how can they be costed? How can successful procedures and initiatives be transferred and disseminated to other schools and to other areas? Which approaches fail, or do not persist, and why? There is a tendency for initiatives not to survive after the project ends. Can this be avoided? It can be argued that this approach, through the 'development of co-operative links, is the most problematic way to go about the promotion of better community relations though the schools, and that the only really worthwhile approach is to promote a general and widespread form of school integration. However, even if this were true - and taking into account the continuing growth in the number of integrated schools - the great majority of children in this province will continue for the foreseeable future to be taught in religiously separated schools. This is not to express a preference, or to try to play down the importance or the growth potential of integrated schools, but only to acknowledge the current reality. And so, if we wish to have influence on a considerable part of the problem, we must do it through the existing system, and one obvious and important way to do this is through inter school links. Since the Inter School Links project was established there have been a number of developments in education in Northern Ireland which have important implications for work of this kind. These have included a considerable increase in the availability of money from the Department of Education for Northern Ireland, (DENI), specifically for cross-community work between schools; the preparation of a printed guide for teachers by the Northern Ireland Council for Educational Development, (NICED), which will soon be published; and a dramatic increase in the number of new planned integrated schools. Recently, this project has been funded to continue for another two years until 1990, so this report is in a sense a preliminary one and will eventually be succeeded by a final report at that time. We are grateful to all the schools involved in this project for their co-operation and enthusiasm at all stages in the work. In particular the principals and staffs who were always available, not only with support and ideas, but with the levels of energy and work that made progress possible. We are also grateful to the DENI for the funding which made this project possible, and in particular to the support and counsel of Donald Davidson. Eric Bullick, the full-time field officer for Mutual Understanding, attached to the Western Education and Library Board, (WELB), must be thought of as a full member of the team and his contribution to the development of the project was extensive and complete at all levels. We are also grateful to the WELB, and in particular to the chief officer Michael Murphy, and to David Vaughan and Victor Carson for their support and willingness to help at all times. At the beginning of the project a liaison committee, which met regularly, was formed to provide counsel, help and advice and we are extremely grateful to all members for their patience and support. The members were: Eric Bullick. Field Officer, Western Education and Library Board. Victor Carson. Western Education and Library Board. Donald Davidson. Department of Education for Northern Ireland. Vivian McIver. Department of Education for Northern Ireland. Very Reverend Dean McLarnon. Council for Catholic Maintained Schools. David Stevens. Irish Council of Churches. Finally, an earlier draft of this report was read by the involved school principals in Strabane, by all members of the liaison committee, by two external referees, and by Valerie Morgan of the Faculty of Education of the University of Ulster. We are grateful to all of these for suggestions and advice.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUlster University
Number of pages71
Publication statusPublished - 1989


  • education mutual understanding northern ireland

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    Dunn, S., & Smith, A. (1989). Inter School Links. Ulster University.