Report on the Inquiry into Shared and Integrated Education
Date: 01 July 2015
Reference: NIA 194/11-16
Mandate Number: Mandate 2011/16 Fifth Report
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Following consideration of a wide range of policy initiatives and proposals in respect of Shared Education and as a consequence of its review of Area Planning in which widely varying views on the demand for and treatment of Integrated Education were recorded, the Committee agreed to undertake an inquiry into Shared and Integrated Education.
The Committee’s scrutiny was informed by: numerous written and oral submissions; school visits; informal meetings and evidence events. With Assembly Education Services and Assembly Research Services, the Committee also undertook focus group studies with school children from across Northern Ireland in order to determine attitudes to, and experience of Shared and Integrated Education.
The Committee was greatly impressed by examples of sharing and co-operation in many schools in different sectors and phases across Northern Ireland. The Committee agreed that in order to widen participation there should be a statutory obligation on the Depart-ment and its Arms Length Bodies, in line with recent legislation in respect of the Education Authority, to encourage the participation of all schools in Shared Education. The Committee felt that Shared Education was best defined as a whole school educational improvement activity which could take place across all educational phases. The Committee believed that the societal objectives, though secondary to the educational objectives, were important and should extend beyond the reconciliation of the 2 largest communities in Northern Ireland in order to incorporate all relevant Section 75 groups.
The Committee felt that in order to better support Shared Education, the Department should study and disseminate the inclusive and welcoming ethos of successful Integrated; non-Integrated and Special Schools as well pre-school settings and nursery schools across Northern Ireland. The Committee also felt that in order to boost the confident participation of all schools in Shared Education, the Department should provide a programme of support for teachers and wider school communities.
Given the anticipated substantial financial investment in Shared Education, the Committee supported the development and publication of objective impact measures based on both educational and societal progress.
The Committee also supported a flexible approach to the inclusion of single schools in Shared Education programmes where these benefit the wider community and the adoption of shared management or other innovative Shared Education arrangements in rural areas where these are cost effective.
Given the relatively limited uptake of Integrated Education and the very different views expressed by sectoral bodies in respect of its facilitation, encouragement and definition, the Committee agreed that the Department should undertake a strategic review of its ap-proach and relevant actions to-date relating to Integrated Education.
The Committee also felt that the Department should consider the promotion of so-called natural mixing of children from different backgrounds in non-Integrated schools. In order to support further natural mixing in schools, the Committee supported consideration of a revision to the Home to School Transport policy in order to support attendance at Jointly Managed Church schools.
1. The Committee recommends that the statutory obligation to encourage, facilitate and promote Shared Education – as set out in the Education Act (Northern Ire-land) 2014 - should be extended to the Department and all of its relevant Arms Length Bodies. The Committee further recommends that the obligation should include the consideration of the incentivisation of participation by all schools in Shared Education.
2. The Committee recommends that Shared Education be defined as curriculum-based interactions that always foreground educational improvement and involve children and young people in sustained whole school/organisation activities across all educational phases while making optimal use of existing IT infrastruc-ture.
3. Further to Recommendation #2, the Committee recommends that Shared Educa-tion should be defined as promoting attitudinal improvement and meaningful contact involving children and young people from all relevant Section 75 groups in line with the objectives of the CRED policy.
4. The Committee recommends that the Department should do more to disseminate the good practice in Integrated, other mixed non-Integrated and Special Schools as well as pre-school settings and nursery schools in respect of the development of an inclusive ethos in order to promote Shared Education more widely.
5. The Committee recommends that the Department should work with the Education Authority to provide consistent support for Shared Education collaborations with a tailored programme of training and guidance for teachers, parents, children and communities so as ensure the appropriate recognition and celebration of cultural differences and thus the confident participation by all schools.
6. The Committee recommends that the Department should give consideration to a wide range of agreed, objective impact measures for Shared Education based on educational improvement in the first instance and societal reconciliation progress in the second. The Committee further recommends that information in respect of the educational and societal impact of Shared Education should be published regularly by the Department.
7. The Committee recommends that the Department should give consideration to the inclusion of individual schools or educational providers in Shared Education programmes where this can be shown to lead to educational and societal benefit for the wider community and where the participating children and young people include significant levels of representation from different Section 75 groups.
8. The Committee recommends that the Department should do more to promote and secure the support of communities for innovative cost effective approaches to sharing in education in rural areas including e.g. federative or shared man-agement arrangements or other solutions including Jointly Managed Church schools or amalgamations, as appropriate. The Committee further recommends that in order to ensure that support is properly targeted, communities engaged in Shared Education should be required to demonstrate initial and longer term edu-cational and societal benefits.
9. The Committee recommends that the Department undertake a strategic review of its approach to Integrated Education, the terms of reference of which should include: the effectiveness of its actions in encouraging and facilitating this form of education in particular its assessment and treatment of parental perceptions and demand for Integrated Education in the Area Planning and Development Proposal processes; the roles of the sectoral bodies; and the relevance of minority community designation in the enrolment of Integrated schools.
10. The Committee recommends that the Department should give consideration to the reasons underpinning natural mixing in non-Integrated schools and should also consider measures that it should adopt in order to promote this practice while supporting the principle of parental preference.
11. The Committee recommends that the Department should give consideration to revising its Home to School Transport policy so as to provide support for chil-dren attending Jointly Managed Church schools in line with that currently avail-able for children attending Integrated schools.