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Integrated Education, Intergroup Relations, and Political Identities in Northern Ireland

Bernadette C. Hayes, Ian McAllister, Lizanne Dowds
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/sp.2007.54.4.454 454-482 First published online: 1 November 2007

Abstract

Education is often seen as a means of achieving social change. Underlying this view is contact theory, which argues that increased contact between social groups will help reduce prejudicial attitudes and alleviate racial and ethnic divisions. This article tests and extends these propositions by examining the long-term impact of segregated and integrated education on political identities and attitudes. Using a pooled sample of surveys conducted on the adult population in Northern Ireland between 1998 and 2003, we address, for the first time, the question of whether or not experiencing a religiously integrated education has a significant effect on the political outlooks of Protestants and Catholics. The results suggest that attendance at a religiously integrated school—either one formally constituted as integrated or a religious school incorporating a proportion from the opposite religion—has positive long-term benefits in promoting a less sectarian stance on national identity and constitutional preferences. The results also support recent research that has shown that the impact of contact on intergroup relations may not only vary significantly in terms of the nature of the contact situation but also in terms of the societal status of the groups involved. We conclude that as the numbers experiencing integrated schooling grows, these individuals have the potential to create a new common ground in Northern Ireland politics.

  • integrated education
  • social contact
  • intergroup relations
  • identity
  • Northern Ireland