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1. Introduction — Divided Communities

As the title suggests, this is a book about the economics of education in a divided community — Northern Ireland. By a ‘divided community’ we mean societies which are partitioned — or which partition themselves — into distinct and identifiable groups such that persons from these groups lead ‘separate’ lives — that is, lives that do not involve association with persons from other groups — with respect to a number of areas. Housing is often such an area of separation; education is another; work might be a third. In all these cases the result is often ‘segregation’, with people from each group living, studying, and working apart from others.

Vani K. Borooah, Colin Knox

2. The History and Evolution of Education in Northern Ireland

The history of education in Northern Ireland is inextricably linked to its antecedents in the education system in Ireland until the island was partitioned into two autonomous regions (Northern Ireland or ‘the North of Ireland’ and the Republic of Ireland) following the Government of Ireland Act in 1920. The most important development in Ireland’s education system can be traced to 1831 when an initiative by Lord Stanley (the Chief Secretary for Ireland at that time) led to the creation of national schools intended to be non-denominational (but not secular) in their constituency, resulting in longer term harmonious societal relations. Stanley’s vision was reflected in the National Education Board which comprised a mix of seven commissioners from the Anglican, Presbyterian, and Catholic churches. Core school curriculum subjects were taught together except for religious education or instruction which was offered separately and outside school hours. Each of the three main churches moved to adapt the national school system towards their own ends, described by Ó Buachalla (1988: 22) as a system which was ‘undenominational in theory but denominational in practice’. The opposition to national schools from the churches, according to Irvine (2014: 1), was based on the argument that education was ‘an extension of pastoral care and, as such, cannot be separated from religion’.

Vani K. Borooah, Colin Knox

3. The Education Policy Context

Within the international community, Northern Ireland is considered to have reached a degree of political stability with the five main political parties working as a power sharing coalition in a devolved government at Stormont since May 2007. The existing arrangements are rooted in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement of 1998 that ushered in a democratically elected Assembly ‘inclusive in its membership, capable of exercising executive and legislative authority and subject to safeguards to protect the rights and interest of all sides of the community’ (The Agreement, 1998: 5). The Agreement was reached following intensive negotiations in the multiparty talks at Stormont on 10 April 1998 (Good Friday). Stand I of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement agreed to democratic institutions within Northern Ireland. Strands II and III involved North-South and East-West relationships. The former is operationalised through the North-South Ministerial Council and the latter via the British-Irish Council and British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference (Coakley, 2007). A referendum was held in May 1998 to ratify the Agreement. Seventy-one per cent of Northern Ireland’s voters supported the Agreement. This represented virtually all nationalist voters, but unionism was evenly split between supporters and opponents of the Agreement.

Vani K. Borooah, Colin Knox

4. Post-Primary Schools’ Performance

Within the context of educational policy, a school’s educational performance is conventionally measured by the proportion of its Year 12 students (that is the year in which pupils sit their GCSE examinations) who at their GCSE examination obtain grades A*−C in five or more subjects, including English and Mathematics. Hereafter, this level of performance is represented as 5 + A*−C (E&M) and referred to as ‘good GCSEs’. The minimum performance standard for post-primary schools in England is that at least 40% of a school’s Year 12 students should obtain good GCSEs (Torney, 2014).

Vani K. Borooah, Colin Knox

5. Inequality and Segregation

In this chapter, we analyse issues of inequality and segregation. We begin with ‘performance inequality’, first between grammar schools and secondary schools and, second, between secondary schools only. In conducting this analysis, two methods are used to quantify the nature of such inequalities. The first is that of inequality decomposition whereby overall inequality is expressed as the sum of ‘between group’ and ‘within group’ inequality. This technique is applied to grammar/secondary inequality so that inequality in educational performance between the 205 post-primary schools in Northern Ireland can be decomposed as the sum of inequality between grammar and secondary schools and within grammar and secondary schools. The intellectual foundations for this decomposition lie in Theil (1967), Shorrocks (1980), and Cowell and Jenkins (1995).

Vani K. Borooah, Colin Knox

6. Shared Education — An Alternative Approach

It is clear from the preceding chapters that the current structural, school improvement, and community relations policies have had little or no impact on the key problems facing the education system in Northern Ireland and there is need to offer some creative alternatives. DENI recognises the problems as evidenced by the following statement taken from their corporate plan:

We will maximise the contribution that education can make to shaping a strong and shared community and delivering sustainable economic growth … We will, in particular, work to improve attainment for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds … address social exclusion and … close the achievement gap and, in doing so, improve the life chances of young people from our more disadvantaged communities. We will also harness the potential that education provides to redress inequality and to promote opportunities for shared learning for pupils in schools in all sectors. (DENI, 2012a: 6)

DENI was however bereft of alternative innovative policies to tackle the problems so clearly enunciated in its future planning. One such alternative is shared education, the subject of this chapter, central to which is the whole idea of collaborative learning.

Vani K. Borooah, Colin Knox

7. The Economics of Shared Education

It is important at the outset to be clear about what Shared Education Programme (SEP) does and does not do. The two strands of SEP — education and reconciliation — are independent. It is perfectly possible for pupils who are from schools of the same community to share classes and derive the educational benefits that SEP confers but without, of course, the value added of reconciliation. While inter-community school sharing is a fundamental pillar of SEP in its own right, given the geographical concentration in Northern Ireland of schools affiliated to the two communities it is the cheapest route to realising the educational benefits associated with school sharing.

Vani K. Borooah, Colin Knox

8. Conclusions — Embedding Shared Education

We described the origins, rationale, and implementation of shared education in Chapter 6 and considered empirical evidence of its educational and reconciliation impact in Chapter 7. Ultimately, however, for shared education to become a reality it must become mainstreamed in the education system in Northern Ireland. To do this, it must be accepted as an education policy and integral to the way in which education is delivered. This chapter charts the shared education journey so far by examining how it has entered the policy making and implementation process, a passage fraught with problems.

Vani K. Borooah, Colin Knox


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