Pupils build relationships between communities
ALMOST 60,000 pupils are helping build relationships between communities and enhancing their learning through shared education projects.
A report on partnerships between schools from different sectors has highlighted many educational benefits.
The Controlled Schools' Support Council (CSSC) analysis looked at programmes from the perspective of principals.
The number of schools involved in shared education partnerships has grown significantly in recent years.
The availability of funding through the Shared Education Signature Project and Peace IV has helped projects develop.
These can involve young people of different religious beliefs working together or collaborations between those who are experiencing socio-economic deprivation and those who are not.
The aim is to deliver educational benefits to children, encourage good relations and promote respect for identity, diversity and community cohesion.
Almost two-thirds of schools were involved in projects last year.
The relationship between two north Belfast interface nursery schools - Edenderry and Holy Cross - has previously won a global peace building prize.
The Buddy Up scheme is one of many projects between the pair stretching back more than two deacdes.
Pupils from each school become buddies for a year and enjoy regular play days together.
"In the beginning we were nervous about engaging the parents but the support has been overwhelming," said Edenderry principal Nancy Magrath.
"Parents were keen to be involved, now there always something on for the parents and strong friendships have formed."
In Enniskillen, there is a three-school partnership between Devenish College, St Joseph's and St Fanchea's which focuses on art and music for Year 9s. There are now 90 pupils taking part.
Pupils designed umbrellas for the town's St Patrick's Day parade while Devenish and St Fanchea's also set up a joint netball team.
"Involvement in shared education has opened up new opportunities for pupils across each of the schools," said Devenish principal Simon Mowbray.
"It also allows pupils to form deeper relationships and explore different viewpoints, particularly when studying history. Mutual understanding and respect for each other's cultures can grow and develop."
CSSC chief executive Barry Mullholland said the report showcased the actions just some schools had taken to develop shared education, as well as exploring the benefits, challenges and pitfalls.
"Shared education projects deliver educational benefits to children, enable schools to access and share resources and support pupils and school staff to build relationships and engage with those from different backgrounds and cultures," he said.
"Shared education adds to the educational experiences schools offer."