Northern Ireland has achieved political stability and its devolved government is now tackling public policy issues neglected during periods of sectarian violence. Notwithstanding the prevailing political optimism, one legacy of the conflict is a deeply divided society. This is particularly manifest in the education system where around 90% of children attend either state (controlled) schools (de facto Protestant) or Catholic (maintained) schools, with integrated schools accounting for less than 6% of the school population. In an attempt to address this duplication of services, in the context of 85,000 empty desks, external funders have piloted an initiative entitled The Shared Education Programme (SEP) where schools working in cross-community partnerships deliver shared classes and activities in order to improve education outcomes. This paper attempts to: quantify the educational returns for pupils participating in the SEP; articulate the qualitative reconciliation benefits from the perspective of teachers, parents and pupils; and, locate the findings of the research in the ongoing policy debate about restructuring education provision in Northern Ireland at a time of budget retrenchment and declining school rolls.
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