Sharing classes between separate schools: A mechanism for improving inter-group relations in northern ireland
Hughes J., Lolliot S., Hewstone M., Schmid K., Carlisle K.
One manifestation of division and the history of conflict in Northern Ireland is the parallel education system that exists for Protestants and Catholics. Although recent decades have seen some advances in the promotion of integrated education, around 95% of children continue to attend schools separated on ethno-religious lines. In 2007 a programme for sharing education was established. Underpinned by intergroup contact theory, and reflecting educational priorities shared by all school sectors, the programme seeks to offer children from different denominational schools an opportunity to engage with each other on a sustained basis. In this article the authors adopt a quantitative approach to examining the impact of participation in the Sharing Education Programme on a range of outcomes (out-group attitudes, positive action tendencies and out-group trust) via, first, intergroup contact (cross-group friendships) and, second, intergroup anxiety. Their findings confirm the value of contact as a mechanism for promoting more harmonious relationships, and affirm the Sharing Education Programme as an initiative that can help promote social cohesion in a society that remains deeply divided.