Integrated schools and intergroup relations in Northern Ireland: the importance of parents

Caitlin Donnelly, Andrea Furey, Joanne Hughes

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Background: Integrated schools were established in Northern Ireland in the early 1980s. With an explicit intention to build better relations between Catholics and Protestants, it has an intuitive appeal in a society which has long experienced sectarian division. Whilst the sector has attracted considerable research, less is understood about how parents’ perceive the approach adopted by schools to build intergroup relations.
Purpose: The present article seeks to address the gap in the literature by exploring parents’ views of integrated education. Drawing on theories of intergroup contact, the paper seeks specifically to explore how parents and Headteachers perceive and negotiate the approach that the schools adopt to build intergroup relations.
Method: In an attempt to probe the deeper meanings that participants attach to integrated education, a qualitative research approach was adopted; semi structured interviews were carried out with 17 parents and 2 Head teachers in two integrated primary schools.
Findings: Through the data analyses, three main aspects were evident. Firstly, the study reveals something of the relational dynamic between Headteachers and parents and the significance of this relationship for determining how intergroup relations are pursued in integrated schools. Secondly, it highlights the nebulous nature of identity salience and the practical challenges of making identity salient within mixed identity contexts. Finally, the study suggests the value of qualitative approaches for exploring intergroup contact initiatives. Conclusions:Overall, the paper demonstrates the inherent challenges of establishing an integrated school where good relations will be developed when multiple interpretations of what constitutes an appropriate response to difference and diversity prevails.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)442-456
JournalEducational Research
Issue number4
Early online date30 Sep 2016
Publication statusPublished - 30 Dec 2016

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  • Integrated Schools
  • Parents
  • Intergroup contact
  • Northern Ireland
  • identity salience


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