Shared Education Improves Learning in Northern Ireland
Resource type: Grantee Story
Northern Ireland is a deeply divided society and the education system reflects the level of separation between Protestant and Catholic communities. More than 90 per cent of children attend religiously segregated schools. A declining school-aged population, however, has required administrators to find new ways of collaborating. The shared education programme involves two or more schools from different community backgrounds working together to share expertise, classes, facilities and teachers.
In Londonderry/Derry, two Catholic secondary schools, St. Cecilia’s College and St. Mary’s College, are sharing academic expertise and weekly citizenship classes with a Protestant school, Lisneal College. Recently, Lisneal faced pressure to improve standards in its science courses.
“I found it hard to reconcile the Science Department I knew with the results of the inspection. I knew the Lisneal College teachers were good and wanted the best for their students. To get ‘unsatisfactory’ meant they didn’t. I knew they were mislabeled.
The educational board advisor came to St. Mary’s, where I was then Head of Science, and asked if I would assist the Lisneal science team. The relationship was already there. The people at Lisneal knew I respected them as professionals. It would be easier for me to do it, not a stranger with preconceived ideas from having read an inspection report.
I said to them, ‘I know how you feel. It happened to me.’ They didn’t need to be fixed; they needed support.
To turn around in three years and jump four levels is amazing! The Head of Science at Lisneal called yesterday to say they are now classified as ‘outstanding.’ He is over the moon. It was as if I got the grade myself, I was so delighted!”
— Martine Mulhern, Principal, St. Cecilia’s College; Former Head of Science, St. Mary’s College
“Shared education means the sharing of educational resources and expertise. It’s about building trust and relationships between schools, and raising achievement throughout the city. Because our teachers have been able to access specific assistance and development from teachers with deep expertise in science – who happen to be from a different community – we now have more students studying higher level science, and more going on to study science at university.”
— David Funston, Headmaster, Lisneal College
“There is a collective responsibility. If we really believe in shared education, if we can help, we should and we will. For example, when the Head of our Special Needs Department left, there was a gap in our expertise. We knew that Lisneal was strong in special needs and we asked if we could have insight. Now, we are taking our lead from them in how we structure and track progress in our special needs programme.
Success breeds success. If all the other schools in our city are doing well, we will do be doing well.”
— Marie Lindsay, Principal of St. Mary’s College
“Reconciliation is a byproduct of our schools’ sharing expertise. It’s being steered by the principals and the teachers in the classroom. There’s only one way forward, and that is to have much more integration.”
— David Funston