Project Details

Page last updated: 15th January 2013

Sarah Hodgett

What direction for Northern Ireland’s education policy? A study of preferences for separate, shared or integrated schooling in Northern Ireland – taking account of cultural identity and intercultural sensitivity

Dates: September 2012, ongoing
Department: School of Education, Faculty of Social Sciences
Supervisor(s): Professor Alan Smith, Dr Jackie Reilly

Northern Ireland is populated by communities or cultures characterised through oppositional identities “Catholic” or “Protestant”. These identities are multi‑faceted and encompass the religious, national, political, social, ethnic and cultural choices or heritages of the individual. Differentiation between these groups manifests itself in society in a number of ways, evident from government policies to the workplace, schools, home and society generally. Following devolution and the Good Friday Agreement (1998), good community relations have remained an important policy issue. The Programme for Government 2011–2015, set out by the Executive, focuses its priorities on ‘building relationships between communities … and advancing the aims for social cohesion and integration’. Accordingly, following from the Shared Future initiative, the Executive promoted a new approach – the Cohesion Sharing and Integration Policy. Nearly three decades after the initiation of community relations policy the same dilemmas remain over accommodating diversity. There are different theoretical approaches to accommodating diversity (multiculturalism and interculturalism) – it is timely to investigate the appropriateness of these approaches to Northern Ireland.

Education in Northern Ireland remains one of the key institutions in which cultural social division and difference between "two communities" are produced and reproduced from generation to generation. Upon analysis, it is evident that community relations policy and education policy in Northern Ireland are inter‑twined. With the advent of community relations policy focusing on sharing, so too education policy has shifted from integration to shared schooling initiatives. In school level education, we can see distinct ideas of separate, shared and integrated systems. Consequently, the main policy question is – should government promote school level education reorganisation that supports separate schools or a system that promotes increased integration?

This study aims:

  1. To assess the implications of multicultural and intercultural theory on cultural identity and school choices
  2. To carry out a critical analysis of community relations and education policies related to sharing and integration
  3. To assess potential directions for education policy – by considering the opinions of key stakeholders from a top down and bottom up perspective

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Contact Details

Sarah Hodgett


PhD Student