Sharing Education Learning Forum Conference

Wednesday 28th September 2011, Hilton Hotel, Belfast

A conference organised by the Sharing Education Learning Forum (SELF) met in Belfast today (Wednesday 28th September) to hear the lessons learned from more than four years of Sharing Education and to look at its future in Northern Ireland’s schools.  

The conference, which was held at the Hilton Hotel, Belfast and called ‘Sharing Education – the Next Steps’ was organised by the three groups who make up SELF including Queen’s University, The Fermanagh Trust and the North Eastern Education and Library Board’s Primary Integrating / Enriching Education Project (PIEE). 

The Sharing Education Programme is funded by the International Fund for Ireland and The Atlantic Philanthropies. The Programme encourages schools to work together, to find new ways of ‘sharing education’ which offer additional curriculum-based educational opportunities for students, and in doing so provide the means for sustained and regular contact among people from different communities to promote understanding  and reconciliation.

The conference looked at some of the work achieved since the Programme launched in 2007 and which now involves 150 schools, across 48 separate partnerships and more than 10,000 pupils throughout Northern Ireland.     

The Fermanagh Trust is responsible for 25 cross-sectoral partnerships involving 41 primary and all of the 14 post primary schools in the county. The North Eastern Education and Library Board’s Primary Integrating / Enriching Education (PIEE) Project is working with 11 partnership across 27 primary schools while Queen’s University currently looks after 12 partnerships across 71 schools including 43 post primary and 28 primary schools.     

In Fermanagh, over 3000 pupils engage in weekly curriculum-based, shared classes from 55 schools. Queen’sUniversity recently completed a preliminary analysis of their current partnerships and found that they had generated 3,000 shared classes and over 4,000 hours in which pupils from Controlled, Maintained and Integrated schools shared classes and learned together. The NEELB’s PIEE project produced a similar analysis of their project and found 834 hours of shared classes using 165 shared resources and facilities had taken place overtwo years.

Denis Rooney CBE, Chairman of the International Fund for Ireland, and speaking on behalf of IFI and the Atlantic Philanthropies said: "Today is about learning the lessons of the last four years so we can look to the future of sharing in education with real ambitions for its continued development and continued success.

"We would now like to see the models of sharing education, which are represented here today and we have helpved to establish, adopted by the wider school community and supported by policy and adequate resources to help them become embedded as part of every day school life. Now is the time for the key stakeholders in education to reflect, engage and negotiate the pathway to a sharing education with appropriate objectives, targets and delivery mechanisms."

Professor Tony Gallagher, Professor of Education at Queen’s University Belfast and spokesperson for SELF said: "Over the last four years the Sharing Education Programme has demonstrated that by running shared classes, on a sustained and regular basis, schools can increase opportunities for pupils, improve standards, and promote better understanding and new friendships.

"When schools work together, principals and teachers benefit, pupils and young people benefit, and the wider community benefits. Resources are used more effectively, and the quality of learning for all in the school community, teachers and pupils alike, is improved. Most important, young people learn together and they learn from each other, and this will help them build a shared and better future, together." 

 Quote

 I am tasked as an elected representative to deliver education across the board and protect the public purse. So no institution - I am talking about this in the broader sense - will be able to in the future simply look at the needs of their sector …'

- Education Minister John O'Dowd, 30th August 2011