Teaching across the divide
: The experiences, identity and agency of teachers who teach across the traditional sectors in Northern Ireland

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Education is a key mechanism for supporting peace-building and the restoration of relations in post conflict societies. The Belfast Agreement contained a commitment to develop a more integrated system of education in Northern Ireland, yet, twenty years later, schools remain largely separated in-line with the community divisions that defined many years of civil conflict. A series of policies also limit teachers’ options for moving across this divide. The impact of this separation upon pupils has been extensively investigated but there has been a deficit in inquiry into teachers’ experiences. Prior to this research project, nothing was known about the current community/ethnic profile of the teaching workforce in the separated sectors of education. Furthermore, no research had been conducted into the experiences of those teachers who were teaching in a sector not associated with their community of origin. A mixed method approach was adopted to address these twin lacunae. An online survey (completed by 5% of teachers in mainstream primary and post primary schools) identified that the separate systems are served by workforces that are generally consistent with the community composition of the school where they are employed. This pattern is endemic in primary schools and least prevalent in grammar schools where onein-five teachers have crossed the divide. Interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of thirty cross-over teachers – these explored their formative experiences, their practice and their career aspirations. These narratives were thematically analysed; perspectives were obtained on the factors that maintain the ethnic separation of the teaching profession and how this may affect the potential of cross-over teachers to engage with their identity, achieve agency and effect change. It was found that the experiences of cross-over teachers, and their capacity to engage their ‘otherness’ constructively, was affected by a spectrum of personal and structural factors.
Date of AwardNov 2018
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJessica Bates (Supervisor), Alan Smith (Supervisor) & Alan Mc Cully (Supervisor)


  • Post-conflict
  • Education
  • Social Policy
  • Northern Ireland

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