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Public Views on Shared Education in Northern Ireland

Resource type: Grantee Story

Northern Ireland is a deeply divided society and the level of separation between Protestant and Catholic communities is reflected in its education system. Less than 6% of the school-aged population is educated together. The system of education in Northern Ireland is undergoing significant administrative and structural change. A declining school-aged population, coupled with more than 50,000 surplus desks, has meant that schools are now being required to think about new ways of sharing and collaborating with one another. The degree to which parents are prepared to let their children share and collaborate more closely with a school from the “other community” is largely untested. This grant seeks to address this deficit by conducting a “deliberative poll.”

Purpose and Impact of the Grant

This grant will provide parents with an opportunity to determine, through use of deliberative polling, how far they are prepared to engage in shared education at a local level in Northern Ireland. Deliberative polling uses public opinion research, stakeholder participation and the media to help measure and change attitudes through informed discussion and debate. The work aims to identify the conclusions people would arrive at if they were given the opportunity to become more informed about a policy issue.

The poll will be the first of its kind in Northern Ireland. It will test, in concrete terms, the extent to which communities are prepared to accept shared education, within the context of falling school rolls and surplus places. Intended short-term outcomes include:

  • Increased media profile on issues of shared education
  • Policy makers influenced by robust research
  • Findings contribute to the thinking of the ongoing Strategic Education Review.

The poll and findings will also contribute to a range of long-term outcomes, including:

  • Greater understanding of shared education among key stakeholders resulting in increased collaboration
  • Greater understanding of shared education among general public
  • More localised agreements on options for shared education
  • Increased number of shared schools and inter-community collaboration
  • Replication of polling methodology to other policy areas.