18 January 2006

Mixed schools 'not as sectarian'


**Well, duh!"

People who attend integrated schools in NI could create a new political common ground, researchers have said.

Academics at Queen's University in Belfast said educating Catholics and Protestants together shows young people end up with less sectarian views.

Their report follows six years of research into the political attitudes and identities of young people.

It suggested those at integrated schools were more likely to reject traditional identities and allegiances.

Professor Bernadette Hayes, Professor Ian McAllister and Lizanne Dowds used a range of surveys to study if the attitudes of people who had an integrated education differed from those who went to a segregated school.

Their report, published on Wednesday, is entitled: "In search of the middle ground: Integrated education and Northern Ireland politics."

Professor Hayes said: "These results, tentative as they are, add weight to the studies which have shown that integrated schools can and do have an impact on the outlooks of the pupils who attend them.

"Moreover, our study - based on a large sample of the adult population - suggests that the positive effects of integrated schooling extend into later life.

"As the numbers experiencing integrated schooling grows, these individuals have the potential to create a new common ground in Northern Ireland politics."

The report suggests:

--Protestants who attended an integrated school were less likely to say that they were British or unionist; however, they were not willing to adopt an Irish or nationalist identity.

--Catholics who attended an integrated school were less likely to endorse an Irish identity, but were more likely to say they were neither unionist nor nationalist.

--80% of Protestants who attended a fairly mixed or segregated school favoured the union with Britain, compared to 65% of those who went to an integrated school.

--51% of Catholics who attended a segregated school supported Irish re-unification, compared to 35% of those who had experienced integrated education.

BBC Northern Ireland education correspondent Maggie Taggart said: "There is an argument that parents who choose integrated education are more likely to be liberal minded and that is transmitted to their children.

"However, recent research suggests the type of school a child attends has a bigger influence on attitudes than parents.

"Researchers say long term research is needed to find the truth of the matter."

Integrated education has been promoted as a way to break down Northern Ireland's sectarian divisions.

The first integrated school in Northern Ireland was Lagan College which opened near Belfast in 1981 and there are now 57 integrated schools with more than 17,000 pupils on the roll books.

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