Queen’s University in Belfast has been given a major academic honour for its work on shared education.

The Centre for Shared Education has been awarded a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for further and higher education.

The award was announced in London on Thursday 21st November  and will be presented formally at Buckingham Palace in February 2020.

The prize, organised by the Royal Anniversary Trust, is presented every two years by the Queen to honour outstanding academic work.

It is part of the UK’s national honours system.

Shared education involves pupils from separate schools and different backgrounds taking part in joint classes and activities.

It is distinct from integrated education, where pupils from Catholic, Protestant and other backgrounds are educated together in the same school.

Some community opposition

Queen’s University said that since shared education began as a pilot, in 2007, it had become a core pillar of education policy and practice in Northern Ireland.

The university also said it had been adopted by educators and policymakers in other divided societies across the world.

According to a review, published by the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) in 2018, almost 60,000 pupils and about 580 schools take part in shared education projects.

The ETI said that about £50m had been spent funding the projects.

Their review found that in the most effective partnerships, pupils, staff and sometimes parents and the wider community were jointly involved in planning and running sustained activities.

However, the ETI report also said that a small number of shared education partnerships had faced community opposition.

It also said that sometimes joint projects were an “add-on” rather than an integral part of learning and teaching.

‘Challenges’

“Not all partnerships were at a stage in their journey where they felt able to address issues that could be regarded as sensitive or controversial,” it added.

The ETI also said it was “a challenge” to measure whether pupils’ attitudes had changed as a result of involvement in shared education.

A previous 2018 review by the Department of Education said “challenges” persisted despite a significant increase in the number of pupils, teachers, leaders and parents involved in shared education,

“There remain challenges in certain areas, such as at post-primary phase and within the Belfast region, where, for a number of reasons, levels of participation are not as advanced as others,” it said.

However, the DE review also said shared education had provided additional opportunities for children and young people to engage directly with peers from different community and socio-economic backgrounds.