Recognising difference while promoting cohesion
The role of collaborative networks in education
in Tolerance and diversity in Ireland, North and South
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At the point of its creation Northern Ireland inherited a system based on Irish National Schools. Established with an inclusive ambition, this system became predominantly denominational in character and what emerged was a system of State schools that were Protestant in all but name, and a parallel system of Catholic schools. In the 2000s the debate over a shared future included a focus on schools, and saw the emergence of a new model of shared education in which schools from different sectors work in collaborative networks. Set within the context of consociational and integrationist approaches to conflict resolution, this chapter explores the impact of these structural arrangements for schooling on attitudes and community cohesion. It argues that traditional debates which attempted to balance cohesion and identity interests were based on an assumption that schools operated largely as autonomous units. If schools are seen as part of an interdependent network then new possibilities emerge in networked solutions, which may allow for the privileging of both identity and cohesion. The chapter explores the outworking of this in the Sharing Education Programme (SEP) which has run in Northern Ireland since 2007.

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