Official Report: Minutes of Evidence
Committee for Education, meeting on Wednesday, 11 February 2015
Members present for all or part of the proceedings:Miss M McIlveen (Chairperson)
Mr D Kinahan (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr J Craig
Mr C Hazzard
Mr T Lunn
Mr N McCausland
Mr R Newton
Mrs S Overend
Mr S Rogers
Mr P Sheehan
Witnesses:Mr Paul Lawther, Belfast Education and Library Board
Mr Ray Gilbert, North Eastern Education and Library Board
Mr Nicky McBride, South Eastern Education and Library Board
Mr John Unsworth, Southern Education and Library Board
Ms June Neill, Western Education and Library Board
Inquiry into Shared and Integrated Education: Education and Library Boards
The Chairperson (Miss M McIlveen): We have a representative from each of the five boards here today: Paul Lawther, assistant senior education officer at Belfast Education and Library Board; Ray Gilbert, senior education officer at the North Eastern Education and Library Board; John Unsworth, assistant senior education officer at the Southern Education and Library Board; June Neill, deputy head of curriculum advisory support services at the Western Education and Library Board; and Nicky McBride, the chief administrative officer at the South Eastern Education and Library Board. Thank you very much for coming; you are all very welcome. I ask you to make an opening statement. I am not sure whether each of you wants to make one in turn; I assume you have agreed the process outside.
Mr Ray Gilbert (North Eastern Education and Library Board): Thank you, Chair and members, for the opportunity to meet in relation to the inquiry into shared and integrated education. I am delighted to be here. John Unsworth and I will both say a few words by way of opening statement.
I will start off by setting a little bit of context. We represent the five education and library boards, which since 1973 have had a wide range of educational functions, including education for young people, support for teachers and schools and a range of other services. Over the years many of those services have been provided, as they are still, across the community divide. For example, professional development for teachers is a fully integrated process. There is, therefore, quite a lot of background and experience of working in an intercommunity group through that. We appreciate that we are here today as representatives of the education and library boards, but we are some eight weeks away from moving into the Education Authority, and we understand that context. We also set what we say today in the broader context: education is currently, and has been in the past, important in our society to developing community in a post-conflict society, so that we move into a position where we try to build those cross-community relationships. We hope to build on a lot of practice that has gone on for a long time.
Obviously, the education and library boards have, and, in a number of weeks' time, the Education Authority will have, significant responsibility for educational provision in Northern Ireland across all educational sectors to ensure that there are a suitable number of educational places available, including in the integrated sector.
We set our presentation today in the context of recognising that there is a continuum in the whole area of sharing. At one end, there might have been, in the past, occasional cross-community contact between young people from different religious backgrounds; at the other end of the spectrum, there is fully integrated, immersed education; in between, there are things like controlled integrated provision and, obviously, the shared education concept. The boards have in recent years been involved significantly with external partners such as the International Fund for Ireland (IFI), the sharing education programme (SEP) and Atlantic Philanthropies in a range of shared education projects. We hope that we bring a reasonable amount of experience of working with schools on this kind of cross-community work.
We are also significantly involved currently with the OFMDFM shared education signature project. The education and library boards have members on the project board, including some of us here this morning. We have been significantly involved in the development of that project, particularly at the present, and June Neill, to my right, from the Western Board is leading operationally on putting together the first tranche of schools to be involved in the first phase of the project. Getting the signature project up and running is a very important role. Beyond that we in the Education Authority will have a significant role in providing support through the development officers we are in the process of appointing. They will support schools as they bring forward their shared education projects and, more importantly, in the whole area of capacity-building, because we want this to be mainstreamed into the normal life of our schools.
By way of summary of where the five education and library boards are on shared education, I can say without equivocation that there is a very supportive attitude to shared education right across the five education and library boards. We as officers reflect the views of our members and of the commissioners of the South Eastern Board. That has been reflected in the very significant involvement of boards in shared education projects over time and particularly in recent times.
The benefits of shared education are not only what we have observed through our work with schools. There has been significant research done by the University of Ulster, Queen's University and the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) on the projects that boards have been involved in through school partnerships. There is a full range of projects, and we see real benefits. There is emerging research that shared education activity can raise standards. I know that you have had presentations from Professor Colin Knox of the University of Ulster, who has done work on this. There certainly is emerging research evidence that would tie in with educational evidence which we have had for quite some time that, where young people, for example, write for an external audience, the standard of writing is often higher than when writing for their own teachers whom they see every day. Certainly, in the curriculum-based projects we have been involved in, we see the impact on the learning of young people working together and working with teachers from other schools.
Obviously, there are significant wider benefits. A significant ambition for shared education is to build cross-community confidence and trust, recognising that we are all human beings and are very similar in many ways, but also learning to respect our differences. These are benefits that broaden out to the community. Significantly, we have seen in some of the shared education projects that boards have been involved in an impact on the community through governors and also parents. I quote an example from the North Eastern Board, which we presented to the Committee before in the progress in English (PiE) project, which specifically targeted rural areas, where there was quite often a significant community divide. When the schools, the governors and the parents came together, it had a significant impact at a very simple level. People were meeting colleagues from other schools on the streets and were able to engage in conversation because they knew them, where, perhaps, previously they would have seen one another as part of a separate community.
We recognise that there are opportunities for potential economic benefits in these very stringent times. We are involved in the shared campus programme. The Western Board is involved in the Lisanelly project. My colleague from the Southern Board is involved in the project in the Moy. I am involved directly in the Cross and Passion/Ballycastle High School project. These are the three projects that were approved in the first round of shared campus provision. Certainly, the early work recognises that that kind of provision affords significant opportunities for efficiencies: you can perhaps have a single block for STEM or a single set of playing fields, as opposed to replicating these for each school.
We also recognise, and, again, the evidence of recent shared education projects shows, that when teachers work together, it creates a professional development network. Teachers from different management types learn together and work together. We have had projects that shared teachers from schools of different management types, which, as with all continuous professional development (CPD), are on a totally cross-community basis. School partnerships have had significant benefits, particularly for smaller schools, whose teachers are often quite isolated, in the form of working with colleagues from other schools and sharing ideas and best practice.
Obviously, the clear and significant benefit is to our children and young people as they develop their attitudes and experiences. They recognise their own and one another's culture and learn to respect and trust one other. That, we feel, is very significant. I will hand over to John at this point.
Mr John Unsworth (Southern Education and Library Board): I will follow on from what Ray has said. I know that the Committee is particularly interested in the key enablers that support and facilitate the development of shared education. We are focusing in on shared education, but much of what we say will apply to integrated education as well. As Ray said, we are speaking from our experience as boards in supporting and facilitating a lot of the research and development work in the projects, which has led us to the point that we are now in this whole process of developing and implementing shared education. I am sure these have been brought to your attention by other contributors, and in many senses they are obvious, but there are things that we can say directly from our own experience enable and facilitate the effective and successful development of shared education.
The first enabler is clearly visionary and determined leadership. In all the projects that we have been involved in and all the communities that we are working with now in our boards to develop shared education in response to local requests and local desire, it is clear that where it works it is because of visionary and determined leadership. That is leadership from the appointed staff at the school — the principal and other teachers — as well as, very importantly, from the governors. Our experience has been that it takes that vision, even if there is only one in a school to say that this is something would be worth doing for the sake of our school and our wider community. That leadership and vision need to be built, encouraged and sustained, but, from our experience, if they are not there, they cannot be imposed. Nor would we, through any of our work, seek to impose them on schools or communities. That leadership and vision among staff and governors have to be present, nurtured, supported and developed, if shared education is to be truly effective.
Another key enabler is effective communication and engagement with the local community: with parents, the wider community and other schools, obviously. In most situations we are talking about a direct partnership between two, three or, in some cases, four schools. There is a need to build those relationships, that understanding, that trust in the wider community, and, in our experience, to proceed carefully and with attentiveness to the issues and concerns that communities may have. Effective engagement with governors and parents and the wider community is therefore a key enabler.
Another key enabler is the provision of support, time and resources. There is, we believe, clear evidence of the need for pump-priming at the start when school communities say, "This is something we feel is the right thing to do for our community, by coming together to develop shared approaches." There is the need for an injection of time, energy, resources and very focused professional support at the early stages. What we have been able to do, through a number of the projects, is give that support in a way that the process does not become dependent on it, but in a way in which the balance of input and support externally, if you like, decreases over time. One of the key issues that we find in our work on shared education is the need to develop approaches which are sustainable and which do not depend, in the longer or even the medium term, on additional funding and input of external support. Our observation and experience is that it is certainly needed in the early stages. We have been fortunate to have had access to resources through IFI, Atlantic Philanthropies and other sources, such as OFMDFM and the Department of Education through the signature project, to enable that sort of injection of support and professional expertise. Again, our experience is that, if that is not present, and it is not put in the early stages, the success of any programme or project will be seriously hindered.
Another observation of what we see makes for successful shared education is that it has to become part of the way we do things around here, in the school community. It is not an add-on, an initiative or the latest bright idea to come out of wherever that we have to do. It is most effective where there is ownership within the school communities and also when it just becomes part of the way we do things — this is the way we provide our history, or this is the way we do Personal Development and Mutual Understanding (PDMU) between our schools. Those are examples of some of the areas of collaboration, but it could be much broader than that. It has to become part of the way that the schools provide their educational experience for their pupils, rather than an add-on or an additional initiative. Again, we have experience in the work we have been doing of seeing how that can be done so that it becomes embedded in the day-to-day life and operation of the schools.
We see those as some of the key enablers which, from our experience, will help to make shared education effective. The boards have been privileged to have had access to resources to take forward some of that work. As Ray has mentioned, we have now been charged with taking forward a signature project on behalf of OFMDFM, DE and Atlantic Philanthropies, and that is a very exciting opportunity for us. We look forward to bringing the lessons that we have learnt across the boards in this work into that project, which, we hope and believe, will help to pave the way forward for the further development of shared education across our system.
Clearly, there are a number of issues still around. Obviously, you will be aware of the consultation on the policy and the definitions of shared education. From our experience, those are very important issues, which certainly need to be discussed and explored across our society to arrive at a shared understanding because there are a variety of understandings in the system at present. That is our experience. We think that that process, that consultation, will ultimately be a very helpful one in terms of our system arriving at an understanding and definition, or definitions, of shared education.
There are a range of other issues which, no doubt, you have been exploring or will explore. For now, that is sufficient for us to bring to your attention.
The Chairperson (Miss M McIlveen): Thank you very much, and thank you for your presentation. Thank you for your written briefings as well. Ray, you mentioned this morning and in your written briefing, the educational, societal and economic benefits of shared education. How would you prioritise those?
Mr Gilbert: I think, obviously, the societal benefits are extremely important because we are moving through the process in a post-conflict society. We all want to see the development of our society in Northern Ireland. Our experience, and the evidence from the research that has been done around some of the projects that we have all been involved in, is around making that core change to people's attitudes and how they approach colleagues and that sense of trust, understanding and recognition. I suppose that, at a very simple and basic level, it is an understanding that, as I said earlier, we are all simply human beings. We are very similar, and yet we have differences but respecting individual cultures in that and learning to live together, even though we come from very different cultural backgrounds. So I think that, in terms of a broader impact, those societal issues are extremely important.
The economic issues are very pressing and, certainly, I think that we should be exploring where there is potential emerging from shared education. Again, I will use an example which I am very familiar with, of the work in Ballycastle. I know that you have had a presentation from colleagues in Cross and Passion and Ballycastle High School. Certainly, we are working through a process at the moment to look at how those schools can benefit from capital investment made more efficiently, rather than providing the particular requirements for them as two individual schools.
This is an important point as well. I talked earlier about the continuum. Communities in Northern Ireland are all in very different places because they all have had very different experiences. Some are ready for the full process of integration, some for sharing and some are not yet ready. We have to set everything in that context. However, in the example that I refer to where, hopefully, there will be a significant economic benefit, there is a situation where there are two schools: one of 600-plus pupils and one of 430, in a relatively rural area. If you look at the basic sustainability figures, you might raise a question around the 430-pupil school. However — I know that Barbara Ward and Ian will have shared this with you — the fact is that, in Ballycastle, the planning is done for 1,000 children, to get the best educational pathways and opportunities for those children. There is over 25 years of shared-class experience there. The economic benefits that will come out of investment that takes account of that, as opposed to providing perhaps duplicated facilities when there is a significant pressure on capital, means that, hopefully, others can benefit from making the capital more readily available to a broader range of schools.
So, in summary, I think that the societal benefits are likely to be more far reaching, but we cannot lose sight of the potential for learning together as well when we do shared facilities.
Mr Gilbert: Absolutely, and we recognise the emerging evidence that, where young people learn together, it can have a major impact on their performance in their educational output, not just in GCSEs or A levels but that broader issue around the wider educational benefits. I am not sure whether my colleagues want to add anything to that.
Mr Unsworth: Let me just pick up on the educational benefits. We know that, through shared education and collaboration between schools, the range of courses and so on available to pupils is wider than it would otherwise be if there were not that collaboration and partnership. Certainly, through some of the projects — June may be able to speak more about this as well — we have evidence that, where pupils from different schools are coming together to learn together in a subject, for example, A-level history and politics done in a shared class is going to be very different. The way those children learn and the depth of learning that they will have, in a sense, because they are learning in a shared classroom rather than in separate ones, is different. Does it lead to a better grade in their A level? We believe that it does, and that it leads to deeper and richer learning because it is being done in a shared manner.
Ms June Neill (Western Education and Library Board): I think that it is important not have a narrow view of what the outcomes of shared education are. Some of those broader outcomes are in terms of what our aspirations are for the kind of young people we want in this society and what skills we want them to have. It is important for them to be able to dialogue effectively with a range of communities, both in the community, the workplace and so on. I think that shared education fits very well into the current Northern Ireland curriculum in terms of those wider skills that we are looking to impart to young people. Shared education is an ideal vehicle for the delivery of some of those wider skills. Therefore, I think that we need to be careful not to interpret outcomes just in terms of literacy and numeracy. Of course, those are terribly important, and we take that for granted, but there is an additionality that will come from the kinds of experiences that young people will have through interacting with another school and young people of a different community. That is terribly important.
We have a lovely example of that, which John raised, of two schools in Londonderry/Derry, where pupils from what is predominantly a grammar school serving the Protestant population go to the Catholic boys' grammar school to study government and politics at A level. The level of discussions that must go on in that classroom, to me, must enrich their experience of that A level, not only in what grade they might get but in the kind of young people who will come out of that experience, having had an opportunity to engage with diverse and differing views. We need to think about all the potential in shared education for those wider outcomes that we can get from it.
Mr Gilbert: I just want to make a short comment. Picking up on the example that June has given, I was very struck in recent months by the fact that two young people from schools in Derry/Londonderry swapped uniforms and went down the town to see how they were perceived wearing the uniform of the other person. We could talk at length about that, but for those young people to have reached the level of maturity to say, "We need to see things from another perspective" was a lovely example of mature thinking and development.
The Chairperson (Miss M McIlveen): I was interested in the Western Board's paper. You highlighted the concern that by promoting shared and integrated education, you believe that the controlled sector would be disadvantaged.
Ms Neill: It is a particular issue, and I cannot comment on other education and library boards, but we have a significant number — we quoted figures and gave you that information in the paper that we submitted — of schools that are designated in the controlled sector where the population is ostensibly mixed. In fact, in Derry, we have two controlled schools that are predominantly serving the Catholic population, so, sometimes, we need to be aware of the issues. We can generalise about controlled schools working with maintained schools or whatever that this is what it is about. I am not saying that they are not designated as integrated schools. We have only one primary school in the city that is designated as a controlled integrated school, but there is a level of integration in those schools. What can we do to try to nurture those schools to be able to lift the experiences of those schools in working with others? In my experience of the conversations that we have had with the principals in some of those schools, they do not necessarily feel that shared education is something that they are going to engage in, because the definition of shared education is that there are two schools from differing communities but there is a level of sharing. I think that that challenges our definition of shared education. We have to be careful that we do not get something that is terribly prescriptive and that schools that are slightly different fall outside those circumstances. You could argue the same for integrated schools. We would be keen, particularly in the signature project, to ensure that the programme is open to all schools, whether integrated, maintained, controlled or whatever, and that the mix exists in those schools. We need to be careful not to see it in that very narrow way, of maintained and controlled, and to look more about the population in those schools so that appropriate partnerships are developed.
The Chairperson (Miss M McIlveen): Something that is not necessarily missed by this Committee but may be missed externally, and, I would like to think, is not missed by you, given the fact that you are the advocates for the controlled sector, is that it is non-denominational and there is natural sharing in that sector anyway. That came out very strongly in the Western Board paper.
Mr Gilbert: Also, in a recent discussion at the North Eastern Board, there was a significant discussion around that issue and a recognition that controlled schools are non-denominational schools and recognising that, depending on the community that they serve, there is quite a significant mix of our traditional population in what would be termed by some people as a school representing only one side of the community. I know that is something that my members feel very strongly about.
The Chairperson (Miss M McIlveen): There is just one more question from me at this stage. Again, in the Western Board paper — I am not going to show bias towards that paper in any way — you mentioned that the legal definition of integrated education is becoming difficult to define in its own right. Could you perhaps expand on that?
Ms Neill: The notion of integrated as a designated sector and then the whole notion of integration as something that has happened naturally in schools begins to dilute — "dilute"is probably not the right word — to challenge that notion of designated integrated schools.
That is fine, but there is already a level of sharing and integration in certain schools. It happens mainly in the controlled sector, although there are some examples of it in the maintained sector. We need to think about how we work with all the differences that exist. In the years since the integrated sector was established, I am not sure of the extent to which integration in the other sectors has increased. To follow on from Ray's idea for a continuum, for some schools that come together to share, further steps may be shared campuses while maintaining two schools and two identities. For some, further steps may mean going the whole way to integration.
Depending on community support, parental support and all the other things, we have a sort of continuum. We need to look at that continuum more carefully and see how it develops.
The Chairperson (Miss M McIlveen): A number of you were present at our area-planning event last Wednesday evening, so you will be aware of some of the comments made, including one that not all sectors are being treated fairly and that there are sacred cows. Is there a hierarchy of sectors?
Mr Nicky McBride (South Eastern Education and Library Board): That is not something that we recognise. It is certainly not how the education and library boards treat the sectors.
Mr McBride: That is how we would like to provide our services.
Mr Paul Lawther (Belfast Education and Library Board): We certainly provide our services to all sectors on an equal basis. We would not single out one for special treatment above another. Our role is to provide services to teachers, which we do on an equal basis. They are all schools, they are all teachers and they are all pupils. That is what we do.
Mr Gilbert: There is a contextual piece here. As the person who leads area planning in my board, I can say that we continually struggle with the board's overarching responsibility to ensure there is effective provision, and of the right type. However, we are not the managing authority for all that provision.
I concur with my colleagues' comments that, despite what has sometimes been portrayed in the media, there has been very close working-together between different sectors as area plans have been developed. We recognise that that can always improve, and we seek to do that.
I also concur with what Nicky said: boards work with all schools. Even though we are the managing authority for the controlled sector, we have other responsibilities across the full range of schools. I used the example earlier of us having a statutory duty to secure support for teachers across all sectors. One of the interesting things over the years has been that teachers working together on professional development, and so on, are completely integrated. It is cross-community and everything else. Networks grow from that because, for example, maths teachers work together and history teachers work together.
Mr Kinahan: I have hundreds of questions, but the Chair raised three questions that I want to focus on. The definition in the draft Shared Education Bill indicates that everyone is going to have to be in one form of education or the other. Should we be changing that to give us some form of flexibility so that either the Department or the Education Authority can choose where there is to be a different flavour of sharing that must happen? That way, we will not just be tied to the maintained and controlled labels. If so, who should have that power?
Ms Neill: The point that you make is a very important one. There needs to be a bit of flexibility. That follows on from the point that I made about being very rigid about sectors. A more useful way might be to look at it in the context of the particular community and ask whether, as you say, there is a level of sharing and what the mix of population is in a school. We may be excluding schools and certain contexts by being very rigid about what does and does not apply. We need to be aware of the diversity that exists through the sectors that our education system has, and even the diversity that exists within each of those sectors. We need to be very careful that any legislation does not exclude particular contexts and communities, and is therefore fair and equitable to everybody. The willingness of people to come together and share is the key thing.
Mr Lawther: We have many examples of where principals, senior management teams (SMTs) and other groups in schools share, but we do not define it as "shared education". They come together and work together. They share what they do. That is disseminated in schools. The benefit that we are looking for by doing that is the raising of academic achievement in all schools, which, in turn, will produce economic benefits for Northern Ireland. We do not define that as "shared education", but a lot of it has gone on, and has done for a very long time. Perhaps that is something that we should do. It is probably very effective. As I said, it has been in existence. Those networks of principals, other groupings and coordinators in schools and in areas of Belfast have worked together. We are probably not really defining it for them as "shared education", but that it what they do. It probably has a very big impact.
Mr Kinahan: It seems to be coming down to to whom we give the role. Do we need a different body to drive sharing, or do you just do it through the new Education Authority?
Mr Unsworth: One of our concerns is the further division of our system. You have the shared sector. You have the controlled sector. In our experience, that would not be a positive step forward. As I said, some of the projects that we have been doing with the existing sectors and groups have involved integrated, grant-maintained integrated, controlled, maintained — the whole wide range. Our hope is that it will become part of the way in which things are done rather than a completely separate approach to education that needs some sort of separate body.
Language and definitions are clearly very important. The current consultation provides an opportunity for the whole education community and beyond to engage and to contribute thinking. That is a process that is going on in our boards. Obviously, we are not in a position to give you our boards' position on the definitions, other than to say that it is an ongoing process of consultation and discussion. Ultimately, we feel that the definitions will be helpful.
Mr Kinahan: To follow on from the Chair, we have different sectoral bodies, if we call them that, with different strengths and powers in legislation. Is the way forward to try to have bodies that represent everyone, with the same powers and control, or is it to have none at all and to leave it all to the Education Authority?
Mr Gilbert: We have to accept that, in Northern Ireland, there are many education bodies. It is often interesting trying to explain it to someone from outside. The key thing is the very close working relationship between those bodies. As John indicted, in the shared education projects that we have been involved with, it has been a joint effort. Although we work for different organisations, we have a significant and long track record of working together. In many ways, that is an example of sharing. We are respectful of the management position of each of the different authorities, yet we find common ground to work together to the benefit of children and young people. That is not always apparent. There is perhaps a perception that different management types and sectors are paddling their own canoe, but that is not our experience.
Mr Kinahan: I cannot remember who talked about having an audit, or a baseline, on sharing. From looking at the amount of sharing that is going on in all our schools, my gut feeling is that we are at about 25%. Are any of you brave enough to say how much sharing you think goes on?
Ms Neill: I do not know, but I think that that percentage might be low. The issue is what you mean by sharing.
Mr Lawther: It is about how you define it.
Ms Neill: That is the problem. When we are talking about shared education in the context of the shared education policy, the Bill, or whatever, we are talking about sharing that has a particular purpose to build reconciliation, and so on. A lot of sharing is going on in the system. Although you can say, for example, that all the collaboration that is going on between schools on the entitlement framework is a type of sharing, the question is whether that is an example of sharing with that particular purpose in mind and whether it leads to that particular purpose's outcome. In our system, we could encourage lots of sharing and collaboration. We have worked for years with teachers, and lots of various collaborative efforts have gone on. However, this is what we need to distinguish: is shared education about any type of collaboration, or is it about a very specific type of collaboration that has a very clear outcome in mind? That is the challenge.
Mr Unsworth: As part of the shared education signature project that we have been referring to, the Education and Training Inspectorate has developed, in a very collaborative way with us and schools, a framework for shared education that contains a continuum and progression. It is still at the formative stage, but it provides some sort of a way for a school, a school in partnership, an employing body or any member of the public to see where the school or partnership sits in that continuum. We found that to be very helpful. As I said, it is a work in progress. I am sure that the ETI may have already shared, or may wish to share, it with you. It helps put some flesh on the bones when it comes to understanding what we mean. It also helps in our work with schools for schools and partnerships to see how we might deepen and widen the extent of sharing that we are engaged in so that it is not just a narrow thing.
Mr Gilbert: As part of the process of application for the shared education signature project, we have asked schools to evaluate their current sharing against that framework, and, in presenting their proposals, to identify clearly how they will move through the continuum to broaden and deepen the sharing. As I said earlier, when you look at it in a broad sense, it could be everything from once-in-a-while contact through to complete and total immersion. The tool is very useful. It fits in very well with what we are encouraging schools to do, which they are doing it very well at the moment, and that is the whole process of self-evaluation and self-improvement. All of that is part of what a number of us referred to, which is the building capacity strategy. External support and funding is great while it is there, but how many projects have we seen that were great until the money or support dried up? Sometimes, the two are aligned, because the money pays for the support. This is about building capacity. The tool is extremely important in helping schools to get a real sense of what it means to broaden and deepen the sharing between them.
Mr Craig: I have listened with interest to what you are saying about the definition of "shared education" and how it needs to be quite broad. You will hear absolutely no disagreement from me on that. Shared education goes way beyond what some people think about education in the traditional integrated sector. It has huge potential for you, as administrators, and not only in sharing educational experience between communities but in improving how our resources are being used, because there are resource implications.
We need to think outside the box when it comes to shared education. Prior to Christmas, a transport situation arose in my local community in Derriaghy, to which the Ulsterbus manager in the area came up with a solution. There was a bus route that was transporting children to one of the local maintained schools. He was on the verge of having to shut down the service because the numbers were so poor. By varying the route, he was able to transport not only the children to the maintained school but other children who had lost their transport to the local controlled school. I suppose that this goes to show how sad I am: on Christmas Eve, I was sitting in a public meeting with parents in Derriaghy explaining the proposed solution to them. The thing that fascinated me was that they bought into it immediately. They had no difficulty with the concept of the children sharing the bus route. It struck me how naturally a shared resource led to a shared experience and, in some respects, shared education out of nowhere. It was a lack of resources, however, that drove the solution and the shared experience. Such has been my experience of sharing developing naturally. Do you see shared education going down a more natural route? As school finances get tighter, we will naturally have to share resources, not only within but across sectors. To me, what happened in Derriaghy was a prime example. If it happens more naturally, there are fewer difficulties with implementation, because the school communities buy into the solution.
Mr Gilbert: I will comment briefly, although not on the specifics. Nicky may wish to pick up on those. The strategic point that emerges out of that — we have found this in our experience, and it is confirmed by the research — is that there has to be a purpose. You have described a very pragmatic purpose. We have had huge success with the work that we have done, much of which has been embedded in the normal learning of the curriculum. I suppose that things have developed, but that is very different from where we were perhaps 10 years ago, when the ambition was simply to get pupils together to meet someone from the other community. That was at the shallow end of the continuum. Strategically, one of the big enablers, which John referred to earlier, is having a meaningful purpose. I am sure that colleagues can cite experiences from their own shared education projects. The North Eastern Board's two recent major projects — the PiE project in rural primary schools, and the partnership, inclusion, reconciliation, citizenship and history (PIRCH) project, which is for post-primary — are both firmly embedded in the curriculum. I recall attending an event at a school in the Magherafelt area that Sandra will be aware of. Schools had gone on a joint visit to the Normandy battlefields as a contextual part of working together in history rather than as a trip away on the same bus. The outworkings of that were fantastic. The strategic issue at the top end is to have a meaningful purpose, whatever it may be, to bring people forward. I take the point that you make about thinking outside the box. Other colleagues may wish to comment.
Ms Neill: I agree with the point about it happening naturally. The key thing to keep in mind is that we have to start from where people are at. I have been involved in community relations all my professional life, and I can think of an example from many years ago, in which a difficulty with transport forced schools to begin to interact in a more collaborative way. The children were fighting on a shared bus on the way to school, which indicated to the principals that they needed to do something a bit more proactive. As a result of that very negative experience, the schools engaged in a positive experience of bringing those primary-school children together for meaningful work, and they could demonstrate evidence of better interaction. There is something to be said for people working outside of their own experience. We need to be very clear in the system about what we want the purpose to be, and so on, but the starting point for different people has to arise out of their own context and issues. I caution that you cannot drive people to share if they are not ready. That is what capacity-building is for. We need to build the capacity of the system to share. In the past, mistakes may have been made, where people came together when there was still a level of hostility and a lack of trust, things that do not necessarily lead to a good experience. We need to be mindful of the range of contexts in different communities. It is a continuum, from those who are very willing and have been working at sharing for many years to those communities in which there is still a lack of trust and suspicion about what sharing could lead to.
Mr Craig: Another prime example of where sharing tends to occur naturally is in area-learning communities, especially through A-level provision. I am chair of the board of governors at my own school, which now shares with the local maintained secondary school. To be honest, we all had fears and concerns initially for the safety of the pupils, and so on, but the experience was completely different from the fears. Sometimes, practicalities override the fear factor, and, ultimately, the solutions come. It is up to all of us to encourage that. Have you any other experiences of that occurring?
Mr Gilbert: I will make one observation. When I talk to young people, I am struck, as I am sure you are in your day-to-day work, by the fact that they did not grow up in the conflict. I remember watching an interview one evening with a group of young people from a secondary school in Belfast who were asked to comment on their community and politics. Their attitude was almost this: "Why are you asking us this?" We have to remember that the climate among the young people is not the climate that we grew up in. It is very different, and that is great, as it creates potential.
Mr Lunn: Thank you for your presentations. This one is for you, June, I think. The Western Board has made the point that there is increasing natural mixing in its area and that, in a way, the sectoral definitions are no longer accurate. I am glad to hear that, but do you have statistics for that, or is it just an impression? Is it led by the increasing number who define themselves as "other" rather than as "Protestant" or "Catholic"?
Ms Neill: Our paper identified schools and what the numbers were in each of them. However, if you want more detail, we are very happy to provide it. It is in the statistics. From memory, I think that the number of controlled schools in which there is significant mix in the population is about 12.
Mr Lunn: What do you mean by "significant"? I know that I should have read the paper —
Ms Neill: In some cases, we are talking about a quarter and more, while some of them are half-and-half. I mentioned previously two controlled schools in Derry on the city side. A population change has occurred in the city over time.
We have a number of them, they are scattered all over the board area. You will be aware, for example, of Sion Mills Primary School, which is integrated in nature, although not by designation. It is the only school in the village. You have to know the history of that. Herdman's Mill set up one school in the village for the working population. That school is in the controlled sector, but it has a long history of serving both communities. There are a number of examples in Limavady and Strabane. There are perhaps not so many in Fermanagh, where there are a larger number of smaller schools, but in Derry, Limavady and Strabane, there are certainly degrees of mixing in both primary and post-primary schools.
Mr Lunn: I ask you because we tend to rely on the figure of 90% of our school population being educated purely with their co-religionists. That percentage is probably out of date now. Do the rest of you disagree with that percentage now? Is it redundant? It sounds as though it is in the Western Board.
Mr Lawther: It depends on the phase that the school is in. In Belfast, some of our grammar schools are certainly very mixed. They are not termed "integrated schools", but they have pupils from both sides of the community, in some cases a significant number, which would not have been the case perhaps 10 or 15 years ago.
Things have moved, and maybe 90% is not totally accurate now. It may be at primary, but probably not at post-primary and certainly not in the grammar sector.
Mr Gilbert: I will make a comment wearing my other hat as the person responsible for the inclusion and diversity service in Northern Ireland. It is about recognising the significant number of what we call "newcomer" young people. Some of them will fall naturally on either side of the traditional religious divide, but many do not. Significant work is being done on building the understanding of different cultures and so on. That is taking place with significant intensity in John's board, the Southern Board. The point about the flexibility of sharing has been made a number of times. It is not just about the traditional "orange and green" sharing, as we characterise it in Northern Ireland; it is much broader. We have to be mindful of the fact that new communities and significant numbers of young people from newcomer backgrounds are coming into Northern Ireland. Increasingly, other types of cultural diversity are part of our society. As I said, there is very intense community work in the Dungannon/Portadown direction.
Mr Unsworth: I could not say definitively that the figure is 90%. My impression from working in Southern Board schools is that it would be lower than that. The intake of a number of schools, such as the one to which June referred, has become much more mixed over time. Those from the newcomer population in our board area do not necessarily gravitate towards a school from their own religious tradition. They go to the nearest school or to one that makes them feel welcome and included. That may be a maintained or a controlled school.
Mr Lunn: I get the impression — June may have mentioned this — that the proportions at primary level are still pretty much what they were, but, because of the desire of people in this country to send their children to a grammar school, the grammar schools are mixing. We were at Methody a couple of months ago, which is, I think, 45:25 in favour of Protestants. That leaves 30%, and I do not think that they were all newcomer families. There were clearly people who chose not to designate, which is fine with me.
You all talk up the societal and economic benefits of sharing, which I acknowledge, although their extent has yet to be proven. We will find out in a few years' time. June, you mentioned reconciliation as a big factor. I liked the anecdote about swapping uniforms. The departmental officials who were here recently saw this project as very much educational, with societal benefits as a possible bonus. You seem to think that the societal element is vital. I agree. Is that your impression?
Mr Gilbert: My initial reaction to that is this: as educationalists, we have a very particular view of education, and I do not wish in any way to comment on the views of departmental officials on education. We recognise the pressures of the Programme for Government targets and other economic targets in Northern Ireland. Our perspective is across the full range of domains on which education impacts. We recognise absolutely — it has been said a number of times — that it is critical that young people get the best outcomes in literacy, numeracy and so on, but I was struck by something said a number of years ago by, I think, a director general of the CBI. He said that we employ 80% of people because of their qualifications, only for 40% of that 80% to lose their job because they do not have the skills required to do the job in the modern world. The skills needed to operate in the modern world, where probably the only predictable thing is change, include good interpersonal skills: the ability to work with different people and break down barriers. From an educational perspective, we recognise that education is a broad spectrum. We understand fully, and we work very hard at, the raising standards agenda for literacy, numeracy, GCSEs and A levels. We also believe, however, that education is a process of rounding young people before they go off into society.
Mr Lunn: June, you are definitely the revolutionary on the panel. You advocate that, as the balance of a school changes, perhaps you should move away from partisan boards. I do not like that term, but I know what it means. How would you do that?
Ms Neill: I did not quite pick up your point. Will you repeat your question?
Mr Lunn: We share that as well. Your paper makes the point that, as the balance of Protestant, Catholic and others changes in some of your schools, the boards should be less partisan. That picks up on the Drumragh judgement. Will you expand on that? You are talking about controlled schools.
Ms Neill: I am not sure that I am the best person to comment on the implications of that.
Mr Gilbert: Perhaps it goes back to the earlier point. We do not see boards as partisan in any way; we work with all sectors.
Mr Unsworth: The responsibility is to provide support to all sectors, and we do that. There is the added dimension of our also being an employing authority for the controlled sector, but, as we said, that sector is not homogenous in any sense.
Mr Lunn: This is my last question, Chair: who is responsible for the Moy? [Laughter.]
Mr Unsworth: I will not claim responsibility for it, but I have the privilege of serving schools in that community.
Mr Unsworth: I have no problem. I know the Moy and the schools there very well.
Mr Unsworth: So I believe.
Mr Lunn: I do not want you to be political; I am sure that you cannot be. Was the proposed outcome of that situation your preferred outcome when the process started?
Mr Unsworth: What outcome do you mean?
Mr Lunn: I mean that the Moy is moving from two schools with one in each sector to two schools with one in each sector but under the same roof. Some of us find that idea strange. The population there was surveyed by the school, and the figures are imprinted on my memory: 85 contributors said that they wanted the solution now proposed; 70 said that they would go for full integration; and five did not want anything to do with it. It was pretty close. Did you have an advocacy role in that?
Mr Unsworth: No, the board does not have an advocacy role in that sense at all. The board has responsibilities for planning, development and provision. The situation in the Moy came about very much because the community and the leadership in the local schools and more widely wanted it to happen. As a board, we supported and encouraged that once the enthusiasm from the two schools and the communities that they serve became clear. The two schools were part of one of the shared education projects that we managed with funding from IFI. The board and I, as an officer, do not have a personal view or preference, other than to say that this is clearly what the communities, the leadership of the two schools, their governors and the community that they serve wanted. How will that develop in practice? You spoke to the folks there, and I hope that you were encouraged, as I was when I spoke to them, by their vision and their integrity in wanting to do something new, meaningful and sustainable for their community. I admire that integrity and commitment hugely, and how it will eventually work out in practice is in their hands. As a board, we are there to support and encourage, and they have continued to work to develop sharing between the two schools.
Mr Lunn: When the community expresses a preference like that, does the board make a recommendation to the Minister?
Mr Unsworth: No. The development proposal, as you know, goes through the board and up to the Minister. Ultimately, he will make a decision.
Mr Lunn: Do you express any opinion or preference?
Mr Gilbert: From a procedural perspective — I am not commenting on the Moy, which is, for the next eight weeks, outside my area — we have a development proposal procedure. That proposal has to come from a managing authority; in the case of a grant-maintained, integrated or voluntary grammar school, a board of governors; or another maintained school. In the controlled sector, members of the education and library boards have a role to play in agreeing to put forward a proposal. In other sectors, the board, under the 1986 Order, simply notes and publishes "on behalf of". Other than that technical role, it has no advocacy or other role.
Ms Neill: We have to learn lessons from the range of shared campus models. There is the type at Ballycastle; we have one in Limavady; the huge one at Lisanelly; and an interesting one coming forward from Derry. There, they want a shared facility, not on any of the school premises but on the development at the Ebrington site. That is at an early stage.
We need to be mindful of the range of campus proposals. There is a job to be done in monitoring how the various models develop and what impact they have. In many ways, we cannot predict exactly how they will all work out in practice. Like anything, some may work better than others. We should not make judgements in advance of trialling some of the models, but we need to be mindful of what happens as a result of the various types of shared campus.
Mr Gilbert: I will use an example from my area of another necessary consideration. Two small schools in the environs of Toome — Moneynick and Duneane — have a significant history and are seeking to apply for a shared campus project. Sometimes, it makes a nice story to characterise children walking in a door and turning in two different directions. When a shared campus is built on a history of working together in shared classes — as it is in the Moy and in my example — schools in that context feel that they want to move forward together but maintain their ethos. There has, I think, been an over-characterisation of children going into separate parts of the one building. It is about sharing and learning together but respecting each other's ethos. Who knows where that takes you years down the road, but it is about starting from where the community is at.
Mr Hazzard: Thanks for the presentation. On the point that Trevor raised, I take on board that you do not have a duty to advocate. You do, however, have a duty to encourage and facilitate integrated education. To what extent did the board action that duty at the Moy?
Mr Unsworth: The issue of whether the board has or does not have that duty has been under discussion and debate.
Mr Unsworth: The Drumragh case.
Mr Unsworth: The board, in the context of the Moy, fulfilled its obligations, as I understand it. There was not a demand or request from either school or the local community for integrated provision in the Moy.
Mr Hazzard: That is good to have on the record.
In June, we visited County Fermanagh and saw a lot of good work in sharing. We heard that about 38 schools and 14 partnerships were involved. When you talk to the people there, and we have talked to them since, they are frustrated that, apart from the Brookeborough proposal, nothing is being done to the level that they think is needed to take them further along the continuum of sharing. Do you agree with that analysis of the situation? What has been done in the 14 partnerships to advance the sharing proposals?
My next question is to all of you: how many officers in each area are working on shared education proposals? John, you said that we can get better grades out of this. Is there not a danger that we over-egg the pudding? Some of our single identity schools produce the best grades. I cannot imagine that we would get better grades just by putting people from different backgrounds into a classroom. Good teachers should be able to pull out different opinions in a classroom anyway, so is there a danger that we are over-egging the pudding by saying that shared education will somehow improve the grades in our system?
Ms Neill: There are a lot of questions there. I will start with Fermanagh, as it is in my patch. As you know, the Fermanagh programme was run with the Fermanagh Trust, so we were not directly responsible for that, although we are aware of it and had some fairly tentative involvement. In many ways, I am quite surprised by what you said. We are well aware of the Brookeborough proposal. As said earlier, proposals do not come from the boards. Staff in the development section in the Western Board deal with the business of proposals from boards of governors, so I would have to go back to them. At this time, I am not aware of the specific proposals from Fermanagh to bring about shared campuses and so on. I am well aware of the Brookeborough proposal because it is at a further stage of development. We, as a board, would be interested to know what discussions there may have been with individual schools or pairs of schools in various communities, and I can find out. I, personally, am not aware, but others in the Western Board may be aware of what has been happening.
Mr Hazzard: I am surprised at that because the Western Board's area plan specifically names the 14 partnerships and says that they will advance shared plans.
Ms Neill: Yes, but they are probably at an early stage. I am not the person dealing with it, so I do not want to comment in any detail in case I misrepresent anything.
Mr Hazzard: Do two specific sections of the board look at area planning and sharing respectively, or does the same section look at both?
Ms Neill: Area planning and shared education are being looked at together in the same way, but, increasingly, the board has been working to bring together those dealing with the campuses and estate issues and those dealing with the other aspects of sharing, such as the signature project. There is a clear link between the shared campuses and the level of sharing and engagement that has already happened in schools. For shared campuses to be successful, it seems that a significant amount of that has been needed, and we are increasingly recognising that people have to come on that journey through the experience of sharing and developing trust and understanding to the point at which they realise that this may be an issue.
Fermanagh is a unique community for schooling in Northern Ireland. As you know, it is a very rural community. It has a significant number of very small schools, some of which will always be there because of the very rural community and the isolation that would be caused if children had to travel long distances, particularly in the primary sector. A significant number of post-primary schools are in Enniskillen, and the children all travel there. The Fermanagh Trust had significant involvement with primary schools in rural areas on the project that you mentioned. Sharing is particularly challenging in the area because, for example, a maintained school could be 10 miles away from the nearest controlled school. I am aware that some of those schools have come together themselves, almost in mini-area learning communities.
Mr Hazzard: It does not always have to be capital builds; it can be federations or confederations, and it perhaps provides the best breeding ground for what is possible elsewhere.
Mr Gilbert: I will pick up the second question, wearing my area planning hat. We have made the point continuously that area planning is organic, changing and moving. It does not simply happen, and then we all implement the plan. It is very much an ongoing process that has to be reviewed in the context of development. We are seeing things coming through. I cited the example of schools near Toome coming forward, and we have other examples. Quite a number of small schools in the North Eastern Board have looked at their provision and said that there may be different ways of working, and they are engaging with us on that. I just wanted to make that point that area planning is an organic process. Hopefully, the impact of previous projects and the current shared education signature project will influence how that moves forward.
You asked about the number of officers. Over the years, each of the boards had dedicated officers working on related issues such as community relations, equality and diversity (CRED) projects and so on. Some of those officers are sitting in front of you. One of the benefits coming out of the OFMDFM project is that we are in the process of appointing dedicated development officers. There will be up to 10 in the first instance, and we are going through the recruitment process. They will become very much involved in supporting the first cohort of the signature project and helping schools potentially seeking to apply for the second cohort.
Another angle on this is that we understand that further funding may come through the Peace IV initiative, which is specifically targeted at schools with little or no history of sharing. As I understand it, there is capacity within that four-year funding package to add further development officers as and when required to meet that demand. We stress a point made on a number of occasions: it is not about providing external prop-ups; it is about building capacity and growing from the bottom up. John will pick up on the last point.
Mr Unsworth: I will pick up on your point about the risk of over-egging the pudding. Our experience of working in shared education is that important educational benefits can come about when there is sharing. Based on our experience, we firmly believe that a breadth and depth of learning is possible when a wider diversity of backgrounds and views is available. I totally agree that that is not beyond the skill and capability of a very good teacher in a single identity school. Of course, that happens, and you are right that some of the most effective, successful schools are perceived as single identity. We do not want to overplay it, but our experience is that when sharing happens, there is more opportunity than might otherwise be available.
You picked up a very important issue, which is that there is a risk of elitism: schools not involved in shared education might think that somehow they are not as good. In all our board areas, we recognise that it would be very difficult for some schools to engage in shared education because they do not have any schools geographically near to them to share with. We are very attentive to and aware of that. We do not want the kind of elitism to develop whereby, if you are not engaged in shared education, somehow you are a worse type of school — absolutely not. Where the opportunity is there, and where it can work and make sense in a local context, our experience is that it adds to the learning or it has the potential to.
Mr Hazzard: Thanks.
Ray, I accept your last comment about the organic nature of area planning. Sometimes, the public and various members of the Committee would like a bit more cajoling to be done to help to drag organisations or individuals along. I think that the public would like to see a bit more of that.
Mrs Overend: Thank you very much. The discussion has been really interesting this morning. A lot of my questions have been asked. Our stakeholder event last week reaffirmed the belief that a lot of our controlled schools are not single identity by any means, and your paper shows that, June. In my constituency, I am learning more and more that there is a wide variety of people in that sector. Do you believe that the end goal of shared education should be integrated schools, whether that is with a capital "I" or a small "i"? Should that be the end goal of the education system in Northern Ireland?
Ms Neill: For some schools, that may be the end point, but, as we have said before, this is on a continuum. Some will naturally come to the point at which they say that integration is what makes sense to them. We need, however, to be respectful and make sure that what comes from sharing is right for people. At this point, in Northern Ireland, we have to accept that we have a range of schools in different sectors and diversity within them, and it is not about driving a particular school. To me, what is most important is that we all want to see that shared education, in whatever school, contributes to promoting a more cohesive society with mutual respect, respect for difference and all the things that we want to move forward with. So, regardless of the kind of school — integrated, mixed, controlled, Irish medium or whatever — we must ensure that the end point is mutual understanding and that young people walk out of school fit for a diverse society. That is probably more important than starting to tinker and asking whether we want more integrated schools. If we have more integrated schools and that is what people want, that is fine, but we should not tie ourselves to it being about changing sectors.
Mrs Overend: Looking at the sectors, we now understand that a lot of them are more diverse than we previously thought. It seems that the non-Catholic population is more likely to be in sharing mode. Therefore, the Catholic-maintained sector might need more encouragement to share because it is not happening in its schools. Will those schools need more encouragement?
Mr Gilbert: It is a very complex issue. We are very conscious that none of us represents the Catholic Council for Maintained Schools, and we certainly would not want to speak for it.
I have experience of very mixed schools in all sectors. The point that keeps coming through is that there is no single characterisation; it very much depends on the community context. In my board area, and other colleagues will relate to this, I have a very high number of rural primary schools and quite a significant number of rural villages in which there are two types of primary school, both of which, in sustainability terms, may well be struggling. Lots of examples of working together are emerging.
Sandra, you made a point about the end point. That, too, is very community driven. Some communities whose schools are into sharing may, a number of years down the line, have developed and moved on so that people question whether there is really any point in having two schools, each with a distinctive ethos. They may ask whether the ethos of both schools can be accommodated in a single approach, whether that is fully integrated or shared. There is some work being done in the Department on another management type, which is a shared church school approach. We have had some involvement in that project, and Danny will be aware of that.
So, it is about getting it right for the communities. Looking at my board area, the legacy of the conflict is much starker in some communities than in others. Therefore, we keep making the point about growing it from the community, and the really good success that we have seen has been a consequence of that. John made the point earlier that it can never be top-down. We cannot have an ambition for everybody to look a certain way in 10 years' time. What we are really saying is that from a societal and educational benefit perspective, we hope that people will become better at understanding each other and better at working together, regardless of where they come from in the community, and our society will benefit from that. We are already seeing a very different society from the one of 10, 15 and 20 years ago.
Ms Neill: An unwillingness to share is not the only reason why people do not share; sometimes it is just the geography and how the population is divided. The classic example for us is Derry, because it is predominantly nationalist and has a large number of schools that serve mainly the Catholic community. All are very willing to share, there are very good relationships between the schools and the area learning community there is very well regarded across Northern Ireland. However, the ability to share is determined by the capacity of the schools. When the number of schools in a particular sector is small and everybody wants to share, those schools have only so much capacity to share with others. It is not that people are unwilling; sometimes, it is just not appropriate or there may be challenges that come from schools being very far apart. People may be willing to share, but other things prevent it.
Mrs Overend: That is great. Thanks very much. I appreciate your perspective on that and agree with you.
In regard to resources and resourcing the sharing of education, the current resources are on the capital side. How could it be resourced better on a day-to-day basis?
Mr Gilbert: There are three elements to that. We have significant evidence of schools investing their own resources, where it is of benefit to the school and there is a history. The second layer of that is the recurrent resourcing that is becoming available through the signature project. Again, that is a significant resource, and the Peace IV initiative, which will come after that for the schools new to sharing, will be another significant resource. We recognise that, as this thing develops, there may be increased capital demand. In light of the Stormont House Agreement and other things, I suppose there is a question in the system around whether we are ready for the level of shared campus investment that might be available and what the impact of that will be on other schools that are waiting for development in other sectors. Again, I am probably wearing my area planning hat in that regard.
Mrs Overend: We would need more resource funding, rather than capital funding, to help support the sharing.
Mr Gilbert: There always has to be a balance, but the important thing, which we referred to earlier, is that we cannot become dependent on resources. We have to build the capacity to sustain it, because the resources are not always likely to be there. We have seen over the years, across our community, too many projects collapsing because the resource has gone. Generally, when the resource goes, the support goes. One of the encouraging things we have seen, post projects that we have been involved in, is how schools have used their own resources. Maybe not to the same degree, but they have amended and adjusted their practice. They have cut their cloth. The willingness to do that is important. John made the point earlier about initial support and pump-priming being needed to get things up and running, but that must not be done in a way that cannot be sustained. In fact, it should be a decreasing recurrent resource situation.
Mr McCausland: The paper from the Western Board is quite interesting, because I had never really read that section of the Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 before; you just tend to hear it quoted. It is interesting to see it put down. It is noticeable that there is not capital "I" or capital "E", and there is no reference in that extract to the governance of the school. It simply states that there should be Protestant and Roman Catholic children educated together. That seems quite a broad and inclusive definition of integrated education. The paper states:
"Examination of the legal definition prompts the question as to what ‘integrated education’ means in the Order, as opposed to ‘Integrated Education’ and if it is implied that ‘integrated education’ is an ‘umbrella term’ and ‘Integrated Education’ is a Sector within it."
That is really, really interesting, and it is something that we may need to get clear advice on because obviously we have no legal expertise. There are judges who comment on these things, so it will be interesting to see what comes of that.
In our papers, there is a reference to the T:BUC shared education campuses and the second call for expressions of interest. Those go through the boards first; they have to get the endorsement of the boards. One of the gateway criteria is evidence of community, parent and pupil support. How do you judge whether there is community support?
Mr Gilbert: In terms of the process that has been set up there, the education and library boards, as the overall responsible bodies for area planning and provision, are required to endorse any applications, but we do not evaluate them. We take a look to see that, in broad terms, they meet the requirements and that there is support from the governors and the community and so on. The actual judgement is made by the Department.
Mr McCausland: Yes, but you say that you look at whether there is community support or not. How do you judge whether there is or not?
Mr Gilbert: In the submissions that we have received to date, there is, for example, evidence that the board of governors has discussed it with parents and so on. They provide evidence that they have done an exercise in engaging with the community to ensure that it is not simply an idea that a school has come up with that is not impacting in the broader sense. There is a variety of ways in which that evidence is presented.
Mr McCausland: If there were a project such as this and 99% of the people in the community in that area other than the board of governors and the PTA knew nothing about it, would that meet the criteria?
Mr Gilbert: Again, as you have quoted, the criteria show that there has to be broad community support, and therefore that needs to be evidenced. There were examples in, I think, all of the boards that came forward for the first tranche that were not actually endorsed by the boards. While we put them forward to the Department, because we were very conscious that we were not the judge and jury on this one, the boards themselves, regardless of what sector they originated from, were asked whether they were prepared to endorse. There were examples that came forward that blatantly did not really address the key areas in the criteria, and boards did not endorse them.
Mr McCausland: The parent-teacher association is the representative voice, in a sense, of parents. It is not the representative voice of the community.
Mr McBride: There is probably a useful resource in relation to our youth service, which works in the communities and does a lot of valuable work through its informal education processes, working in their own communities and across communities as well. That is a useful gauge. It is outside of my area of expertise, but it is another evidential aspect of the community work that is done and is something that could be tapped into and explored as well.
Mr McCausland: I make the point that I think that community support has to be more substantial and more demonstrable than simply a board of governors with whatever number of people on it and a parent-teacher association that may well have another 10, when the other 20,000 people who live in the area know nothing about it. Twenty does not really equate to 20,000. I think that it is important to make the point that, in bringing these forward and endorsing them, it is not left then to a very late stage when this is away down the road and, when somebody raises an issue, they become the worst person in the world because here was a project and everybody was behind it. You bring people along from the start, and I think that the schools should be going out and talking to people at their own door and leafleting the area to say, "We are thinking about this. What do you think?"
Mr Gilbert: I totally and absolutely accept that point, and, probably, at this stage, as you will be aware, there were, potentially, 10 shared campus projects in the Programme for Government. Only three were approved in the first tranche, and all three were very mature projects and were very clearly able to demonstrate that. In getting that level of significant capital investment, it would be very false to take that forward without a very strongly bedded approach. With all three — Lisanelly, Ballycastle and the Moy — there was oodles of evidence of very significant community involvement, and one imagines that that would have to be the case. It is an absolutely very well made point.
Mr McCausland: It would be helpful, when boards are assessing whether to endorse them or not, that they make sure that they have clear, firm evidence of that broad community support. Ray, you talked about children coming together, and you referred to children coming together with different cultures. We have had a point made by a number of the academic folk who have been in over the period that sharing really only works well when children come together on a basis of equality. I use Pierre Trudeau's illustration of Canada and America: Canada is in bed with an elephant. Sharing works when you get people coming at it from a basis of equality. You work across all sectors. Do you see any differences in the way that different sectors view cultural traditions and expressions and how that is embraced in the schools? That is one of the issues. We can talk about religious differences and children getting an RE background in a school or whatever. By cultural traditions, I am talking about traditional music, games etc.
Mr Gilbert: I think that there are some very good examples. The creation, five or six years ago, of the inclusion and diversity service was very explicitly for newcomers and to move us beyond what was the English as an additional language service. That was very focused on language, which is only one element. There is a very significant programme of intercultural awareness that is done with schools and all sectors, because that service services all sectors, not any particular sector. We were chatting before, and I think that colleagues have some very interesting and specific examples of cultural sharing. I know that John has some examples from the Southern Board.
Mr Unsworth: Through IFI funding, we managed a programme called the primary curriculum partnership programme, which brought together schools, mostly primary schools in the same village, to engage. They were doing it through the medium of personal development and mutual education, which is an area of study on the revised curriculum. They used that as the vehicle to come together in shared classes. As Ray has already indicated, exploration of their own cultures within their single-identity schools was part of that process, and then there was coming together to explore each other's cultures. That certainly included looking at different types of music, different types of flags and emblems, and visiting each other's churches. Some very rich and, indeed, moving learning experiences came out of that, and I can think of specific examples that I visited where the Lambeg drum was being played alongside Irish traditional music. There was another situation where schools were exploring what the loyal orders mean in their village, because these were things that children in both of the schools in the village had experienced.
Mr McCausland: Did the maintained school have a traditional music group of its own?
Mr Unsworth: In the particular instance that I am thinking of, yes, it did.
Mr McCausland: Did the controlled school have its own fife and drum tuition?
Mr Unsworth: In the particular instance that I am thinking of, yes, it did.
Mr Unsworth: They actually came together then to make one music group for a particular event.
Mr McCausland: I am interested in getting a perspective from across the boards.
Ms Neill: I do not think that you could say that that is widespread. It does occur, but there is still a lot of work to be done. I think that you could have a perception that, in certain schools, it is very clear what we are talking about in terms of what the culture that is appropriate to that community is. When you go into other schools where there is a very diverse population, schools will be challenged, no doubt, by the range of culture that exists in their school and how they have due respect to all of that culture. In the recent IFI projects, we did similar work to the Southern Board, where we did very direct work around cultural understanding within and between schools because we were very clear that there needs to be a connection between what happens in the school and, in doing that in your school, moving out and discussing and looking at those issues in the wider context of other communities. There is a richness in doing both of those things, and there is a value in both of those things. My experience is that cultural understanding needs to be something that comes out of the curriculum in an individual school. It will be enriched if that cultural understanding then comes into a situation where you are looking at it in the context of other cultures. What is similar? What is different? Why is this your culture? Why is that my culture? Those are the kinds of questions. There is quite significant evidence from some of these projects that quite young children in primary school are very capable of engaging in quite high-level discussions about culture, provided that our teachers have the capacity and the skills to manage those kinds of discussions with children. That is one of the things that we will be thinking of in terms of capacity. Our teachers have to be the facilitators of that kind of dialogue.
Mr Lawther: I am not sure that I can add much more to that. There have been a number of projects in Belfast and in all boards, such as community relations, equality and diversity in education (CRED). That has been ongoing for quite some time, where they have brought schools together from different backgrounds to experience the different cultural identities that they have and have been very successful. St Patrick's, along with Ashfield Boys' High School, have an involvement in a shinty project, through which they have been to Dublin and, I think, Glasgow or Edinburgh in Scotland. Those things have been going for quite some time, and I think that they all contribute to what Northern Ireland is about and how education is progressing.
Mr McCausland: I was talking to Andy McMorran the other day, and I make the observation that I do not find many shinty teams around the Shankill or the Newtownards Road, so it is a bit of an artificial thing.
Mr Lawther: It is. I mean —
Mr McCausland: It is in that sense. I think that the key point is that you are absolutely right in so far as there are a number of schools that do Lambeg and fife tuition, but it is a very small number, and it is all being funded out of the budget of the Ulster-Scots Agency. It puts the money in to do that, because that has not been something that teachers have been encouraged to do, maybe through our teacher training. I think that there is an issue about teacher training and about how culture is dealt with in St Mary's, Stranmillis, Queen's and so on. There is a big issue there that needs to be unpacked if we are going to bring children together. You will get difficulties and problems. It is not good for the children, the system or anybody to have that. That issue has been an elephant in the room, or maybe put into the "too difficult" cupboard for too long in the controlled sector in particular. It comes back to the point that it is not about the ethos of the school, it is about the culture of the child. It should be child-centred; the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child should be implemented.
Mr Lunn: Just on the music issue, it is a fact, surely, that almost all schools promote music very actively, not necessarily of a traditional nature for one sector or the other, but on a basis that could easily be shared and, in fact, is being shared across schools. Nelson makes that point continually about the controlled schools not advocating Protestant cultural-based music, if you could call it that.
Mr Lunn: Yes, but you know what I mean. It is a fact that the musical output of schools is something to be proud of, in the form that it is now delivered. I think that it is great.
Mr Unsworth: Very much so. Our music services, across all five boards, are some of the best examples, and have been for many years through the most difficult of times, of young people from different backgrounds coming together and sharing.
Mr Gilbert: I was going to add that point. I made the point earlier about music services being one example of working together completely. For example — I am sure that there are other examples that colleagues could cite — we have a harp orchestra that is made up of young people from a range of traditions who work together and are fantastic when you see them. While it is coming from another direction, it is another part of the service that we provide that encourages young people to work together, live together and so on.
Mr McCausland: Since he got a chance to come back on the schools bit, I want to respond to that point by saying this. The key point here is not inclusion, it is exclusion:
"Education always reflects a society's views of what is excellent, worthy, necessary".
The point I make is that, if a thing is excluded, it is seen as being, in some way, second-rate. That is why bringing the culture of the child into the school is good educational practice across the board. I do not think that anybody can argue with that.
Mr Unsworth: To pick up on June's point, one of the things that we have found in our experience of these projects is that it is absolutely essential to explore those issues with the teachers first. In best practice, that is what you would do. There have been some very difficult and challenging workshops that some of our colleagues have done with teachers in their single schools and then bringing them together. However, we find that it is essential for the teachers to have explored these issues before they then can come together to help facilitate that learning with the children. Our experience is that that is the sort of practice that really makes a difference, where it is not hidden, set to one side or excluded, but openly explored.
Mr Rogers: You are very welcome, and I apologise for missing the first bit. I read somewhere about the strategic plan for cross-sectoral collaboration. Bearing in mind that sectoral definitions no longer consistently reflect the original make-up of the school, do you believe that the new Education Authority will be a key driver in bringing that forward?
Mr Gilbert: The potential of the new Education Authority will be that we will have a single strategic approach, and I think it will be one of the key drivers. We are currently five separate organisations doing very similar work, but we are accountable through five channels. The new single Education Authority will bring us together as a single body, so yes, in time, as the transition takes place. I would not want to characterise us as all very different. Hopefully, it has come across this morning that, regardless of the fact that we work for five different organisations, we do very similar work and we work very closely together. However, one would hope that moving into a single strategic authority will have benefits, Province-wide. One of the big challenges for the new authority will be around service Province-wide, because it is a single authority and, therefore, to use that old phrase: what you get in Ballycastle should not be drastically different to what you get in Belleek, provided it meets your needs. So, yes, I think that there is potential there, Seán.
Mr Rogers: Do you think we can learn anything from the past in terms of managing conflicting priorities? I think, in particular, of area-based planning. In our first attempts at area-based planning, all we had was so many thousand empty seats and whatever. So we end up, it being Northern Ireland, with at least two area plans: a maintained one and a board one. Maybe, in some theoretical situation, three maintained primary schools over a large country area were coming together. However, had we been looking at building a shared future together, there would have been another option, whereby the maintained primary school could join with the local controlled primary, which would help to meet the challenges, particularly of the rural White Paper and access to services. At least it would keep a primary school in the area.
The other part of that question, really, is what work has been done with cross-border education authorities in terms of working that through? The Brollaghs of this world, where it is a small maintained school on the borders of Fermanagh and you have small Protestant primary schools in places like Cavan and Monaghan. If there were a close relationship with some of the schools here, it would at least maintain a school in those areas.
Mr Gilbert: I will make one brief comment on that. It is something that I feel very passionately about. Despite how it has been characterised, area planning is about educational provision for children. Certainly, for those of us involved in it, it is not about who can get the most empty seats taken away. It is about making sure that there is sustainable provision for children and young people. The point I made earlier was that, as this develops, there will be the sort of change that you are outlining. Certainly, one assumes that that will be paid attention to as we move forward. June might want to comment on that.
Ms Neill: You raise an important point, Seán. We need to be careful that education policies and initiatives of various kinds do not end up in conflict with one another. At the minute, there is a bit of tension between the notion of shared education and sustainable schools. In one village — it is an issue in some of our villages — you could have two schools that want to come together on a shared campus in a shared way for a shared future but for the sustainable schools policy.
My feeling in all that is that, if we are really serious about sharing and being in the way that we do things, regardless of all these sectors and whatever, sharing needs to be something that is embedded across a range of education policies, so that we do not end up in a situation where one policy conflicts with another. There is potential for that as we bring shared education in this way into the whole system. Just as we would do for other things in terms of equality, we need to impact-assess everything else and ask this question: does this encourage sharing, or has it any potential to actually militate against sharing? That has to be embedded in every policy in education. Otherwise, to my mind, we are still tinkering at the edge of the system. If we are serious about embedding it, then sharing must be fundamental to every education policy. Any policy may not be about sharing, of course not. However, one example at the minute is the review of the transport policy. There is a nonsense that goes on where children in the entitlement framework have to take a bus to the school that they are enrolled in and then, at the cost of the public purse, they get a little bus to take them to wherever they are going when they could have hopped on a bus in the morning that would have taken them to the school that they were going to. That is maybe not a particularly good example, but it is an example of how we need to keep all policies up to date, so that they reflect and support sharing. That is the most important thing in all that.
The Chairperson (Miss M McIlveen): Just in conclusion — I do not mean to pick on you directly, Nicky — in the absence of a paper from the South Eastern Education and Library Board, can you perhaps give us an overview of your experience of sharing within the board?
Mr McBride: I am probably not the best person to ask about that, Chair, to be perfectly honest. In comparison with other boards, there have probably been fewer examples of shared education on a formal basis in the South Eastern Board area. I am encouraged to note that, on the second call, there have been a number of schools applying for it, but there does not appear to have been the history of shared education that we have heard, for example, in Moy, Ballycastle and those areas. That is not to say that they have not been happening on an informal basis. We have some examples of that, but they are not formalised to any great extent.
The Chairperson (Miss M McIlveen): When you go back, can I ask that you collate some information for us so that it can at least be included for our deliberations? If any of you feel that there is anything that we have missed or there are particular recommendations that you would like to highlight, please feel free to forward that to us as well, as we move through this process. Obviously, that will also inform us as we move towards a definition and the Bill for shared education. It will be useful for us.
I thank you for your time this morning; it is very much appreciated.